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    Versailles  Exhibition at Gallery 501, 2012 Alberta, CA    Landscapes of   Sovereignty, Special Issue  Public: Art /Culture/Ideas  50, (Nov 2014): 145-152     On one hand, an absolutist garden, the staged grounds of Louis XIV’s Versailles; on the other, an artificial desert, at first glance immense, yet, in fact, no more than a tiny excerpt from the ongoing experiment in vastness that is the Alberta Oil Sands. The garden’s viewer is still, fixed, positioned by the sculptural green, by a classical reason powerful enough to arrest wilderness in a supreme act of political sovereignty that is at the same instant the very paradigm of the beautiful. We are confronted with the classical modern posture, an age in which it was still possible to believe with Descartes that scientific progress would engender a time of generalized improvement, the betterment and perfection of things. The beauty and verdure of the garden is a direct effect of absolutely centralized conception, the total subordination of content to form, the suzerainty of the Idea in all of its effortless magnificence and brutality. The human, glimpsed in the marble figures which populate the garden’s depth, strides upon the earth like a God (or the monarch he models). The desert, meanwhile, seems to index a process that has forgotten entirely the limits of form, that has left behind the era of representation and utopia and entered a modernity intensified to the point of oblivion.  Absolute control certainly, but one which contents itself with the manipulability of the part, rather than with an earlier dream of wholeness perfected. It is almost as if progress had been replaced on the level of the imaginary by a will to negation,  by a desire for the desert itself. No longer is the destructive externality a side effect, an irksome cost, but the thing in itself, the secret telos of postmodern progress. It is not even worth mentioning the obvious, the inexorable culture of automobility, an economy structurally coded to exhaust and deplete the very ground on which it moves; rather, framed in absentia by the window, it rushes forwards parallel to the oblivion, its head turned to the side, to the site of the catastrophe, as if the possibility of linking viewed and viewer, object and subject,  by logic or politics had passed for good. Unlike the garden, which fixes and invites the gaze, this desert would rather be hidden, would like to vanish from the face of the visible.  Unfortunately, to hold the camera steady we would have to take our hands off the wheel.     What form organizes the difference between these two images? Is it a question of causality, the oil sands an automatized amplification of tendencies already latent in seventeenth century rationalism? Is this desert the hideous flower of classical reason? Is it an image of two dispensations of power, the one centralized, spectacular, and paradigmatically political, the other de-territorialized, clandestine, and economic, the despotism of market necessity? Is it an either/or? Is there a nostalgia, here, for the political, for the sovereignty that would be necessary to overcome the decentralized oblivion of growth? Is there, here, a quiet call to a return to form, to a political humanism of the willed effect, the strength of the act? Or are politics and economics both forms of the same tragic fantasy of centrality, the bad hubris of anthropocentrism?  Indeed, one might ask whether or not these are even separate times? Are they, perhaps, instead coeval spaces, fully globalized locales?  In this case a museumified Versailles--gaudy bauble, trifling distraction, consummate postmodern tourist pleasure--rubs shoulders insentiently with the world’s single-most ecologically disruptive . Both are tellingly peopleless: the garden is empty save for its sculptural ideals, figures of a promise imagined as latent to the human while the wasted desert sand contains only the faintest trace of the figural, “bitu-men” scarecrowsdraped in bright yellow plastic designed to keep the birds away. Also there in the background are these two orienting archetypes themselves, the human, from time immemorial, captured in the dialectic between garden and desert, plenty and famine, between rest and work. How do things stand between our oasis and its desert?    
       
     
 Landscapes of Sovereignty  Exhibition at Gallery 501, 2012 Alberta, CA
       
     
  Landscapes of Sovereignty    Exhibition at Gallery 501, 2012 Alberta, CA
       
     
  Landscapes of Sovereignty    Exhibition at Gallery 501, 2012 Alberta, CA
       
     
   
  
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    Versailles  Exhibition at Gallery 501, 2012 Alberta, CA    Landscapes of   Sovereignty, Special Issue  Public: Art /Culture/Ideas  50, (Nov 2014): 145-152     On one hand, an absolutist garden, the staged grounds of Louis XIV’s Versailles; on the other, an artificial desert, at first glance immense, yet, in fact, no more than a tiny excerpt from the ongoing experiment in vastness that is the Alberta Oil Sands. The garden’s viewer is still, fixed, positioned by the sculptural green, by a classical reason powerful enough to arrest wilderness in a supreme act of political sovereignty that is at the same instant the very paradigm of the beautiful. We are confronted with the classical modern posture, an age in which it was still possible to believe with Descartes that scientific progress would engender a time of generalized improvement, the betterment and perfection of things. The beauty and verdure of the garden is a direct effect of absolutely centralized conception, the total subordination of content to form, the suzerainty of the Idea in all of its effortless magnificence and brutality. The human, glimpsed in the marble figures which populate the garden’s depth, strides upon the earth like a God (or the monarch he models). The desert, meanwhile, seems to index a process that has forgotten entirely the limits of form, that has left behind the era of representation and utopia and entered a modernity intensified to the point of oblivion.  Absolute control certainly, but one which contents itself with the manipulability of the part, rather than with an earlier dream of wholeness perfected. It is almost as if progress had been replaced on the level of the imaginary by a will to negation,  by a desire for the desert itself. No longer is the destructive externality a side effect, an irksome cost, but the thing in itself, the secret telos of postmodern progress. It is not even worth mentioning the obvious, the inexorable culture of automobility, an economy structurally coded to exhaust and deplete the very ground on which it moves; rather, framed in absentia by the window, it rushes forwards parallel to the oblivion, its head turned to the side, to the site of the catastrophe, as if the possibility of linking viewed and viewer, object and subject,  by logic or politics had passed for good. Unlike the garden, which fixes and invites the gaze, this desert would rather be hidden, would like to vanish from the face of the visible.  Unfortunately, to hold the camera steady we would have to take our hands off the wheel.     What form organizes the difference between these two images? Is it a question of causality, the oil sands an automatized amplification of tendencies already latent in seventeenth century rationalism? Is this desert the hideous flower of classical reason? Is it an image of two dispensations of power, the one centralized, spectacular, and paradigmatically political, the other de-territorialized, clandestine, and economic, the despotism of market necessity? Is it an either/or? Is there a nostalgia, here, for the political, for the sovereignty that would be necessary to overcome the decentralized oblivion of growth? Is there, here, a quiet call to a return to form, to a political humanism of the willed effect, the strength of the act? Or are politics and economics both forms of the same tragic fantasy of centrality, the bad hubris of anthropocentrism?  Indeed, one might ask whether or not these are even separate times? Are they, perhaps, instead coeval spaces, fully globalized locales?  In this case a museumified Versailles--gaudy bauble, trifling distraction, consummate postmodern tourist pleasure--rubs shoulders insentiently with the world’s single-most ecologically disruptive . Both are tellingly peopleless: the garden is empty save for its sculptural ideals, figures of a promise imagined as latent to the human while the wasted desert sand contains only the faintest trace of the figural, “bitu-men” scarecrowsdraped in bright yellow plastic designed to keep the birds away. Also there in the background are these two orienting archetypes themselves, the human, from time immemorial, captured in the dialectic between garden and desert, plenty and famine, between rest and work. How do things stand between our oasis and its desert?    
       
     

Versailles

Exhibition at Gallery 501, 2012 Alberta, CA

Landscapes of Sovereignty, Special Issue Public: Art /Culture/Ideas 50, (Nov 2014): 145-152

On one hand, an absolutist garden, the staged grounds of Louis XIV’s Versailles; on the other, an artificial desert, at first glance immense, yet, in fact, no more than a tiny excerpt from the ongoing experiment in vastness that is the Alberta Oil Sands. The garden’s viewer is still, fixed, positioned by the sculptural green, by a classical reason powerful enough to arrest wilderness in a supreme act of political sovereignty that is at the same instant the very paradigm of the beautiful. We are confronted with the classical modern posture, an age in which it was still possible to believe with Descartes that scientific progress would engender a time of generalized improvement, the betterment and perfection of things. The beauty and verdure of the garden is a direct effect of absolutely centralized conception, the total subordination of content to form, the suzerainty of the Idea in all of its effortless magnificence and brutality. The human, glimpsed in the marble figures which populate the garden’s depth, strides upon the earth like a God (or the monarch he models). The desert, meanwhile, seems to index a process that has forgotten entirely the limits of form, that has left behind the era of representation and utopia and entered a modernity intensified to the point of oblivion.  Absolute control certainly, but one which contents itself with the manipulability of the part, rather than with an earlier dream of wholeness perfected. It is almost as if progress had been replaced on the level of the imaginary by a will to negation,  by a desire for the desert itself. No longer is the destructive externality a side effect, an irksome cost, but the thing in itself, the secret telos of postmodern progress. It is not even worth mentioning the obvious, the inexorable culture of automobility, an economy structurally coded to exhaust and deplete the very ground on which it moves; rather, framed in absentia by the window, it rushes forwards parallel to the oblivion, its head turned to the side, to the site of the catastrophe, as if the possibility of linking viewed and viewer, object and subject,  by logic or politics had passed for good. Unlike the garden, which fixes and invites the gaze, this desert would rather be hidden, would like to vanish from the face of the visible.  Unfortunately, to hold the camera steady we would have to take our hands off the wheel.

What form organizes the difference between these two images? Is it a question of causality, the oil sands an automatized amplification of tendencies already latent in seventeenth century rationalism? Is this desert the hideous flower of classical reason? Is it an image of two dispensations of power, the one centralized, spectacular, and paradigmatically political, the other de-territorialized, clandestine, and economic, the despotism of market necessity? Is it an either/or? Is there a nostalgia, here, for the political, for the sovereignty that would be necessary to overcome the decentralized oblivion of growth? Is there, here, a quiet call to a return to form, to a political humanism of the willed effect, the strength of the act? Or are politics and economics both forms of the same tragic fantasy of centrality, the bad hubris of anthropocentrism?  Indeed, one might ask whether or not these are even separate times? Are they, perhaps, instead coeval spaces, fully globalized locales?  In this case a museumified Versailles--gaudy bauble, trifling distraction, consummate postmodern tourist pleasure--rubs shoulders insentiently with the world’s single-most ecologically disruptive . Both are tellingly peopleless: the garden is empty save for its sculptural ideals, figures of a promise imagined as latent to the human while the wasted desert sand contains only the faintest trace of the figural, “bitu-men” scarecrowsdraped in bright yellow plastic designed to keep the birds away. Also there in the background are these two orienting archetypes themselves, the human, from time immemorial, captured in the dialectic between garden and desert, plenty and famine, between rest and work. How do things stand between our oasis and its desert?

 

 Landscapes of Sovereignty  Exhibition at Gallery 501, 2012 Alberta, CA
       
     

Landscapes of Sovereignty

Exhibition at Gallery 501, 2012 Alberta, CA

  Landscapes of Sovereignty    Exhibition at Gallery 501, 2012 Alberta, CA
       
     

Landscapes of Sovereignty

Exhibition at Gallery 501, 2012 Alberta, CA

  Landscapes of Sovereignty    Exhibition at Gallery 501, 2012 Alberta, CA
       
     

Landscapes of Sovereignty

Exhibition at Gallery 501, 2012 Alberta, CA