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Smoke 2004

Adam Simon

 

Nicola Atkinson.Davidson (N. A.D.)’s new DVD work, SMOKE offers a series of what Wordsworth called ‘Spots of Time.’ But here time solidified becomes a piece of candy. Eye candy, Ear candy, Mind candy. With perhaps only one advantage over their chocolate cousins: that when the box is empty and you have eaten them up, you can eat them all over again. I myself have eaten this box of candy many times over. It has pleased me. And teased me. Made me think. And stopped me from thinking. Opened my eyes, and closed them. It has offered me the Here and Then, the Where and Now, and the all important There But for the Grace of God Go I.

 

At each instant of viewing her work I am both held still in a moment of virtual observation and also sent slipping and sliding down a rabbit hole which leads me from today’s ubiquitous digital voyeurism, to the Situationists, the Surrealists, further back to the dawn of cinema, the invention of plein-air painting, the origins of tourism, and back still further to the Baroque – to the tradition of Emblems, those visual rebuses where the image is not a window on to the world, but a microcosmic allegory of the world. The Image as Word. The scene as presentation of the unseen. The visible as map of the invisible .

 

To track this particular rabbit hole which N. A.D.’s work drills in the world; we ought to begin, as they say, at the beginning.

 

From the opening seconds one is plunged directly into the stream of life. Or is one? Perhaps after all it is not life. But Art. Or not Art but Art History. Or simply History. Or just Time itself.


We are in a café. That Modern Site and modern sight par excellence . It could be a thousand places, in a thousand times since the invention of the modern café in Paris a couple hundred years ago – but then here we are already being carried back in a river of history. So yes, the café. A man eats his lunch and reads a newspaper. Behind him, a couple at a table. The man in front is oblivious of us – not knowing ,or if knowing not caring, that an unblinking eye watches him – or not him so much as the play of light upon him – but that couple behind; they are, I think, aware of us – that a video camera is pointed at least vaguely in their direction. They don’t mug for the camera, but steal occasional glances, steal back the glance we point at them, and try to seem, as all good bourgeois subjects do, nonchalant.

 

There is nothing going on here.

 

There is a lot going on here.

 

The man eating in the café along with all the other vignettes on this disk, would be instantly recognizable to the Lumiere Brothers. Or to Monet, Manet or Seurat. I picture them all watching SMOKE on a portable DVD player, relaxing on a lawn beneath the shade of an umbrella drawn by Magritte and held by Guy Debord.


In the next vignette, now outdoors, the connection is clearer, we are back with the origins of cinema, and of a certain kind of painting, and a certain kind of look: an eye which is that of both the Showman and the Tourist . The images are offered up as attractions, like the earliest cinema of attractions , when the image is attraction enough, especially the image of some scenic or merely foreign place. But it is not even a hop skip or jump from these Lumieresque images forward to the yellow Kodak footprints at Scenic Sites which instruct tourists where to take the best picture from, or back to the images and the idea of the plein air painters : a simple view in the world, and of it, dedicated to the surface of things, to their sound and their appearance, and nothing more.


But of course that nothing more is impossible. There is always more.

 

And every one of N A.D’s images confirms this:

 

That just as the most casually captured moment of reality gains significance from being just that moment and NO other, it also becomes allegory, become just that moment and ALL others. For beneath the studied and unstudied casual nature of nature, stands Nature. A Baroque emblem of herself .

 

And so to these two human Sea Lions basking in the sun. A tourist snap shot (though not without the nudge-nudge, wink-wink of naughtiness of a whole history of seaside snaps) is also some kind of emblem – an encoded figure – of what? Vanity? Lust? Indolence? I think maybe it’s an emblem of Mortality. These two bodies resplendent in the sun – the one up both for display and to receive more sun, finally, the heat of the sun, which we can feel with our eyes, becomes to much. He simply cannot keep it up any more, and he gives in to the sun, and must, as all the bodies around him already have, surrender back to the pleasurable nothingness of horizontal stillness. Before our very eyes Eros has become Thanatos. If it were an Emblem it would be titled: Sol Invictus.

 

So we slip back from the dawn of cinema, back to plein-air painting and early impressionism, back further, to when the look was not enough, when every image was an idea too, an allegory, an emblem. A Baroque image not for the intricacy of it’s line or the excess of its form but for the encoding and density of meaning, and the way word becomes image and image becomes Word.

 

This is not an impulse entirely foreign to the modern, but lurking more often in the semi-maudite neighborhoods like that of the situationists and the surrealists rather than the purer formalist lineage – so Debord would appreciate the results of N. A.D.’s derives , and Magritte would well appreciate N A.D.’s ‘Strawberry’ from the Strawberry Garden which is anything but a Strawberry Garden . Her ‘Park’ which is not a park. A ‘park’ which is in fact verb and noun at once where, if they didn’t pave Paradise to put up a parking lot, they’ve picked perhaps a small corner of purgatory. Her ‘Rose’ which is not a rose not a rose not a rose not a rose is a Rrose Selavey . And of course we hear how it smells. Lovely. The artist herself, her voice like the hidden face of Van Eyk in the mirror inscribed, ‘N A.D was here’.

 

Smoke is above all an album. A photo album of someone else’s vacation. As infinitely esoteric and unknowable as it is obvious and plain spoken. Filled with secrets (another favorite N.A.D. topic) and silence. Filled with direct address and music.

 

Music which reminds us that this is a kind of music album too.


If Smoke were a music album it would be one of those oddball British classics like Sgt. Pepper’s, or the Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society - where the now meets the then, where even in the very heart of new Pop lurks the oldest Pop, a touch of vaudeville, of music hall, of Blackpool and Brighton. Wonderland Avenue in Alice’s Wonderland.
Like the music, which N A.D. sometimes uses, inevitably from the truly indispensable Leaf Label, her ‘album’ is a kind of Pastoredelica. Musique both Concrete and Spectrale . It’s Trenet’s La Mer become Bobby Darin’s The Sea played by a monkey on a harmonium recorded in passing on the Venice boardwalk. Or was it the Via Veneto?

 


With hints of past present and future, N A.D. ‘plays’ electronica without the beat, rock with out the roll, Jazz without the Jam. It can’t be minimalism – there’s too much happening. And yet nothing happens. Just the unfolding of the world before our eyes in ever self revealing nature: The Dance of the Seven Veils as The World’s Stripped bare by Bachelorette Number One.

 

Postcards Naughty or just Naught-y? Baroque or just Broke? A scent of Thyme or just Time?

 

The world here, in both it’s most and least picturesque moments reveals always the faint secret smile that for some attests to the Divine origins of all, while to others offers a winked reassurance that only Thinking makes it so.

 

Our Art Tourist N A.D. is an English-Californian-Scottish Basho and her Video Haiku come in at the eye and the ear and instantly enter the Time Capsule of the heart, where we hold the memories we will one day show the Alien Robot Anthropologists, those inevitable last remnants of all Sentient Civilizations, when they come to comb our ruins and wonder who what and where we were.


There-then at the End of Thyme they will see and hear what a Rrose smells like. And know exactly what grows in Strawberry Gardens - forever.

 

 

Foot Notes:-

 

 

As much as the renaissance tradition of perspectival picture making presents a kind of window shaped slice cut out of or into the world, there existed before, and after it, an alternate tradition in which an image stands as an allegorical homologue to the world, and the world itself stands as an allegorical homologue to the World – a kind of Platonic world of Ideas, or emanations – revealing an infinite series of Microcosms and Macrocosms, of worlds within worlds, and images with images. In this tradition the frame doesn’t demark the edges of the view, but rather the limits of a set, and every image contains not a slice of the world, but an entire world. As for the ‘unseen’ and ‘invisible’ see Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and The Invisible where he reminds us that the invisible is not the opposite of the visible but its hidden structure.’


See here any number of works orbiting around Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project.


See works on ‘The Picturesque,’ the origins of Tourism, and early cinema.


See any and all work by Tom Gunning. ‘Cinema of Attraction’ is his coinage. It is the indispensible concept for understanding what remains in effect the undying non-narrative face of all cinema, even the most narrative, which constantly undermines every rationale for the image, whether narrative, information, fiction or non-fiction. The term refers to ‘attraction’ as in a sideshow or circus attraction.

 


‘Plein Air’ refers simply to the tradition of painters painting nature by actually placing the easel in nature. Obviously some painters have always painted nature as nature and in nature, but as a conscious movement it leads to Impressionism and is one of the key markers on the road from the Classical to the Modern and like most such markers is essentially Romantic in spirit.

 


It was once normal practice in painting a landscape of nature, to include in the image an actual figure, a woman, embodying Natura, the allegorical figure of Nature. Just because painters stopped including her in the frame doesn’t by any means suggest that she isn’t still standing there. In a sense every painting of nature is still a painting of Natura.

 


The Situationist term for an undirected walk or excursion. A kind of metaphysical, or pataphysical, ramble meant to avoid the controlling geography of social norms, and free the eye and the mind.

 


Perhaps we ought here not only to cross reference Magritte’s pipe which is not a pipe, but also Walpole’s Strawberry Hill perhaps the first monument to the modern artistic spirit – a neo-gothic folly. I know that in ‘reality’ Strawberry Garden is simply the name of a corner store, but by offering it to us in this way N. A.D. places it into a context with Magritte, Walpole, even Lennon & McArtney!

 


The surrealist’s shared nom-de-plume probably meant: Eros c’est la vie.


Two alternate, and in some sense competing, forms of modernist music, one made more out of the actual sounds of the world, the other out of the base elements of sound itself. The natural source of one being field recording, the other the computer, electronics and the sound lab.

 

 

 

Sponsors :- The National Endowment for Science, Techonlogy and the Arts



 

Nadfly Quick Links ImageAdam Simon

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Smoke

Images from Smoke DVD

 

Smoke DVD

is available to buy through NADFLY distribution

 

Smoke Muscians Profiles

Bill Wells

Lol Coxhill

Plinth

Mike Slaven

Susumu Yokota

 

Download the pdf

Adam Simon essay

 

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