When I come across a barren snow-covered landscape, I want to walk away. Something in me says there is nothing in this aesthetic or content for you, so escape now. I nonetheless sat down on the little bench and stayed for Theo Angell’s video work of ghosty trees and bodies against the snow. Then my critical mind kicked in, as it does, and said, you’ll never be able to write anything about this. I tried to sit still. As I sat, I thought of Wallace Steven’s poem “The Snow Man”: “One must have a mind of winter / To regard the frost and the boughs / Of the pine-trees crusted with snow; / And have been cold a long time / To behold the junipers shagged with ice, / . . . and not to think / Of any misery in the sound of the wind, / . . . For the listener, who listens in the snow, / And, nothing himself, beholds/ Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.”
My interpretation of this poem is that it’s about something like Keat’s concept of negative capability—to experience the world (or art) one must give up one’s own personality, and become empty and permeable.
I attempted to become permeable, and got a little further, I think.
As I watched the little black people-shapes scuttle across the screen, I thought “There are no such things as humans, only human shaped holes in the universe.” I picked this useful line up from Arundhati Roy, who applies it to black cats. When she uses it, I think it means that black cats are something like a window into the whatever beyond. In this piece, however, humans seemed like small pockets of void, little sucking spaces in the smooth bleak world. As they moved across the landscape, their actions seemed more and more excessive, wasted energy. And then, rather than black shapes, the bodies became space through which yet more snow-laden trees showed through. Holes in the universe, beyond which there is only the same.
Yet the trees, too, are black figures slashing open the white expanse. Their presence is as jarring as the humans. At times the drama seemed to be of the relationship of men and trees, at other times of the existence of any stubborn life against all that white.
And then, then, the humans suddenly develop, whatisit, volition, and zap the trees into glowing prettiness. It is a relief, a great relief. But why? Why, suddenly, are we in a retro videogame-scape? Why do the humans win this little drama? The color seems unearned. Perhaps that is the point. Perhaps I look too hard and should attempt to remain permeable.
posted by: Taya Noland