Tag Archives: nature

Inaugural Post to the Artist in E-Residency Position

Something From Home Nicole Geary intaglio, collagraph, chine collé 11" x 14"
Something From Home, Exhibited 2013. Intaglio, Collagraph, Chine Collé, 11.00 x 14.00 in. (27.94 x 35.56 cm.

 

I first want to thank the NASSR Grad Caucus Board for such a warm welcome to this blog and, also, to the NASSR community. I am thrilled about the many ways in which my role as an active artist can contribute to conversations about, and in response to, issues in Romanticism, illuminating both historical frameworks and existing political or ideological currents. I’ve been provided such energetic feedback to all of my initial questions that I now feel I am ready to tackle an initial post. To do so, I’ll introduce myself more thoroughly. I recently graduated with a Master of Fine Arts in Printmaking from the University of South Dakota and I am currently living and working in San Antonio, Texas. I teach printmaking, make prints and sculpture, and also involve a good deal of geological and art-historical research in my practice.

To more fully explain my work, I need to talk about where I’m from and what I’ve studied. I’m going to take some latitude to go into a little selected personal history and write at some length about what drives me to make work.

I grew up in North-Central Florida for most of my life, born and raised in a swampy and green part of the state that informed most of my understanding about nature and animals. The idea of mountains, snow, desert, or indeed of other spaces, is foreign to me. I am captivated by the idea of travel while at the same time am imbued with a sense of desire for “home.” In many ways, the work that I make is about exploring the feeling of longing for two places. As a young art student, Jean Baudrillard’s “The Precession of Simulacra” always resonated with me, perhaps because I grew up in Florida, and he most briskly takes Disney down to a mere order of infantile fantasies. [It should be noted that Baudrillard is referencing the Disney Land in Los Angeles, but I hold that the same is true for its own iteration in Orlando, again the simulation of itself.] I believe Baudrillard’s writing on simulacra also held sway with me. I felt that a place could hold a fantasy, a wonder, significance – and be in reality nothing more than a swampland.

By the time I reached graduate school, I’d found that my attention to land and the impression that certain areas had upon me were developing into a research-based artistic practice focused on maps and geology. I was interested in understanding more thoroughly, on a scientific and rational basis, why land was so important to me. I specifically wanted to take emotion out of the equation. It was my point of conjecture that my feelings of homesickness, anger, pain, or regret were, to put it logically, contaminating my results. In an attempt to dissolve those feelings into a solution of metaphor, charts and graphs balanced sensitive marks. It was tricky at first, because old anger and severe homesickness didn’t want to be dealt with. I looked for ways in which I could talk around these feelings without being too blatant. The more I read about maps, the more I realized that signs and signifiers wouldn’t work for me anymore. Replacing emotion with a symbol was too simple an answer; the reality of emotion goes deeper and is felt more thoroughly than any pocket-size road atlas could contain. To go forward and really grapple with emotion I must nod to the oft-referenced Jorge Luis Borges fable and say , “the map is not the territory.”

Geology seemed to have all of the answers. As a printmaker, I work in layers and stages naturally, and the process of observation and investigation is something of a peek into history. I had been slowly growing more aware that to know what my work was about in the present, I needed to know where it came from. I desired to be able to read the strata of my own history. Geologists can do a wonderful thing: they can walk out into the world and, using careful observation, tell you what kind of environment used to exist there thousands or millions of years before. They see the world as it is now and as it was then, peeling back the layers of time before them like the blankets on a press bed to slowly reveal the surprise beneath. Geologists and printmakers both work in strata.

My prints are often akin to a journal page or even a field note, a place for working out internal thoughts or recording events: poetry of inner questioning and curiosity. Formally I tend to be drawn to the work of artists that utilize their own handwriting or found items into prints or drawings, like the pages of a well-loved diary or sketchbook. To me, this is part of the process of knowing. Scientific diagrams are beautiful and clean, as they are meant to be effective teaching tools. What tends to be forgotten is the disarray that went into the collection of data to get to that well-prepared and perfect outcome. I’ve become more interested in the mess that came before.

I welcome any comments in response to this evolution and to these thoughts as I’ve outlined them. As this is my first post, I’d like to share more as I go along, diving into more diverse realms of pedagogy, practice, and specific areas of research.

 

Romantic Living

I realize the title of my first piece sounds like a Redbook article. It isn’t. Yet. But, I thought for my first post it’d be good to introduce myself by talking a little about how I’ve come to do, and view, Romantic studies and, in so doing, gesture towards why I think our field is particularly special. I do this because as we’re making the turn toward the end of an academic term it’s good to pat one’s self on the back and to do the same for others pursuing similar interests. In order to rescue this piece, however, from being mere intellectual biography, which admittedly would be pretty drab, I hope some of you reading will chime in in the comments about what your initial experiences were that initiated you into the field and how that informs (or doesn’t) the work you do now.

I’m generally positioned in eighteenth and nineteenth century art, and moving towards specializing in Blake studies in the Department of Art History at the University of Oregon. What I’ve loved from the beginning about Romantic studies is how my intellectual, social, political, and environmental commitments can exist as an integrated whole—life as a romanticist has to some degree, for myself, as I know it has for others, always functioned as a way of living as a type of art in itself.  Continue reading Romantic Living

Making Means Meet: The Prelude and Risk in Retrospect

This blog represents a “jump-for-joy” moment in my studies where my reading relates directly to an activity that I dearly love: rock climbing. In the process, the news to me was how the act of close reading this small passage in The Prelude that taps into my adrenaline-performance-junky self became more about language and representations of identity. More specifically, it became about how Wordsworth lays bare the way in which the process of *writing* about memories changes them and merges selves in ways that logically conflict, and that teach.

* * *

Yesterday I reread a bunch of books in The Prelude as well as book 1 of The Excursion, and right now I’m rereading (for the first time since a sophomore year poetry class with Robert Pack at Middlebury College) “Michael”. In the process of diving back into all this Wordsworthian juice and joy, I’ve been thinking about individual connections to language, activity (mostly bodily), and histories.

It seemed to me while working through the Prelude, that one important pivot for WW is the body: its a place where outside (nature, society, history, words on a page) meets inside (nature [again], imagination, identity, desire, memory). It is a locomotive human frame that interacts with the motions of nature and that contains the whirrings of ideas and blood. In a very Lockean sense, the body is the gateway to thought and perception of the world at large.

I’m an avid rock climber, and this passage made my palms sweat (Book I (1850) ll. 326-356). Finally, my two worlds — academic and athletic — were colliding in my work. Like free gelato, it’s just too good to be true. (Why didn’t this passage catch me in previous Prelude readings?)

Nor less when spring had warmed the cultured Vale,
Moved we as plunderers where the mother-bird
Had in high places built her lodge; though mean
Our object and inglorious, yet the end
Was not ignoble. Oh! when I have hung
Above the raven’s nest, by knots of grass
And half-inch fissures in the slippery rock
But ill sustained, and almost (so it seemed)
Suspended by the blast that blew amain,
Shouldering the naked crag, oh, at that time
While on the perilous ridge I hung alone,
With what strange utterance did the loud dry wind
Blow through my ear! the sky seemed not a sky
Of earth — and with what motion moved the clouds!

Dust as we are, the immortal spirit grows
Like harmony in music; there is a dark
Inscrutable workmanship that reconciles
Discordant elements, makes them cling together
In one society. How strange that all
The terrors, pains, and early miseries,
Regrets, vexations, lassitudes interfused
Within my mind, should e’er have been borne a part,
And that a needful part, in making up
The calm existence that is mine when I
Am worthy of myself! Praise to the end!
Thanks to the means which Nature deigned to employ;
Whether her fearless visitings, or those
That came with soft alarm, like hurtless light
Opening the peaceful clouds; or she may use
Severer interventions, ministry
More palpable, as best might suit her aim.

The emphases on the “means” are mine, of course. My first thought when reading this passage was: I know exactly what he means when he describes the sensation of being quite high off the deck, “ill-sustained” on “slippery rock,” barely hanging on by half-inch fissures and protected by a bunch of knots (hopefully cams and/or nuts would be involved as well, but not in the author’s time!). Your senses pick up on the most interesting things when you are relaxed mid-route and can observe the vertical environment without being concerned about gear or falling. You find birds nested in cracks (who might poop on you); you notice the “exposure” or the “airy” feel of being up high and having a panoramic view, as if from the side of a tower; and you might notice how your shadow moves with you on the adjacent rock wall.

But in this passage, WW is not relaxed: he’s nervous, hanging by “grass” knots, on a “perilous” ridge. When that’s me (and I use a really good rope, not grass!), I am so NOT listening to the utterances of the wind, I’m not noticing the sublimity of the sky, and I’m definitely not tracking the motion of the clouds unless a storm is rolling in. I would be focused on executing the moves and placing/clipping gear to make sure I reach the top without taking a bad fall, (though I also happen to find this fun).

So WW here is taking a moment of real, physical danger, and mentioning how he notices the natural world in which he is suspended. The rock and the climbing are just a means to an end: that of gaining a different perspective on the elements, one that makes the climber feel incapable of falling, like the birds, and supported by the wind. The question becomes for me: how can the knowledge of bodily peril and discomfort and serene appreciation and enchantment by the motions of the wind and sky exist together? I argue that they can’t (unless you’re comfortably hanging out on a nice, big ledge, or belaying, or celebrating on the summit!). The body’s survival mechanisms don’t readily allow for those separate feelings and emotions to coexist simultaneously. And yet somehow they do in that stanza … Here’s some real-life evidence:

Focusing on climbing so that I can ...
... look around and appreciate the view from the summit!

In this moment, as a poet, and due to his engagement with his changing self, his history and his memories, WW can’t help but write or record tenuousness and fear-factor into this passage. As a kid playing around on steep, slippery, probably potentially fatal vertical rocky terrain, he was fearless (and stupid) and therefore could look around while dangling from a cliff. As an adult, both W and I would find it hard not to think about the painful ends – possible consequences – of falling.

In the next stanza, WW goes fairly “meta” and comments on the fusion of his child and adult perspective and language in the preceding stanza’s moment:  “there is a dark / Inscrutable workmanship that reconciles / Discordant elements, makes them cling together / In one society.” Suddenly, we’re not rock climbing anymore: were thinking about *writing about* rock climbing long ago. The “discordant elements” of fearless child’s play and adult awareness “cling together” as if hanging onto the rock for dear life. Crag meets poem, nature meets society, past meets present, reader meets poet. They don’t get the job done on their own.

The “means which Nature deigned employ”: he gives thanks to them, but precisely for what? For not killing him? Nature seems to encompass the narrator’s reckless desire to climb this rock, the rock itself, as well as an idea or a construct that exists in the author’s memory that urged him to do things that would make an impression on him (or break his leg). Even if the impression is only understood later (like the way in which his books from Cambridge mean more to him in later years than they did while in school). And what means? Why “deigned”? Nature is billed as a teacher here – but one whose lessons you have to learn while potentially soloing a crag and then live on to tell the tale. And nature is stooping to teach you. But doesn’t that sortof mean that we are stooping to teach ourselves, since we are not only affected by, but also create the natural world that we exist in? Is WW learning nature’s lesson not through climbing, or remembering climbing, but through writing about remembering this climb?

Does his attention to the work of writing poetry about memories then, which brings back all the risk that he never encountered in the moment, go hand in hand with an inherent realization of risk? Perhaps the risk in writing about memory is somewhere in the lacunae between now and then, the inability to ever fully return on our own, and the reliance upon readers or audience to make an imaginative “leap” (or climb) in order to attempt to preserve these things which do not endure. The risk infused in the climb was also, perhaps, the risk in recording it.