Without doubt the most exquisite exhibit that ever went up on gallery walls was a few years ago in the Selden Gallery in Norfolk Virginia. A photo of the piece here highlights its sheer agony and sheer beauty. The Battleground Horse by Carol Levin, along with approximately ten other pieces of sculpture, was both here and not here; the profound sorrow could be felt greater than all sorrow because of the way it revealed itself as all sorrows—and all at once—to represent us or for us crucially en masse: human, and animal. Although there were few materials, all of those used worked just right: depicted by mere twine, cloth bandages, a glistening eye. Despite this utterly destroyed animal, its prescient head was still lifted. Thanks to Carol Levin, with such a pliant divining sense for anatomical perfection, life has been shown here on its veritable edge of existence: one of sheer genius.
We want to know what makes this so. How is it both a captivating extreme, and yet plangent: so very simply, on the mark? It is an accomplishment that has straddled several lines of potential in answer to our most fervent viewer wishes for that ‘special thing,’ the promise that’s almost always beyond the horizon.
After witnessing something of such strengths, with an unusual, compelling access to a mysterious beyond that may be called ‘empty reality’—implying there is one truth pitted against another—then it’s natural to want to follow the puzzle with hard questions. It can begin with a wide stretch of art histories that resonate throughout their disparate ranges, and their most honored critically fine work, searching through the scalloped unevenness, the inconsistent eras of creative talent, for mental-spiritual dispositions and material techniques: what it all entails. There are the theories that support ultra sensitive psychological treatment, that may underlie the physique of living organisms and also the supporting physiognomy of the creature’s profile in which every detail supports the body and its individualized movements; and, in this, supports the living creature that we can readily suppose exists there, knowledgeably, philosophically within. This would be the ‘Existent’ and the ‘Being’ itself, the so-called ‘ontological’ and ‘deontological’: that in which we deeply, involuntarily—even religiously or inveterately, believe.
It doesn’t come from nowhere but it does, definitively, leave its mark. Yet I hesitate here when I think what Carol Levin might tell us that could humorously fall clattering like two imperatives into aluminum buckets; neither would help us, or satisfy the reach of our more arduous scholars or thinkers. These are “curve balls” that have become chronic replies. Can we avoid words like ‘taste’ (which is one obvious choice)? or the clichéd ‘feeling’ that rocks against the less favored ‘thinking’ (suspected of carrying unwieldy baggage)? how can we sidestep ‘feeling’ and ‘subjectivity’ and the smug catch-all ‘universal’ that provides an adequate filler, allowing the human posture to spread out in a sustaining balletic poise?—or the hieratic signifiers, semiotics, or the less predictable aleatory—systems of categorical use. All these usually lead straight into all those tin buckets quickly deployed. But peeping between interstices I’ve noticed available opportunities that can be generated with little effort, useful enticements, then replacements, made to order to proceed in order elsewhere. It’s probably a nascent process we’re looking for that can be freshly understood, cleanly elevated and fused into a future that we’ll become (more naturally) attuned with, in accord.
First, I need mention that such ingenuous, faithfully rendered yet startling work as Battleground Horse is not always appreciated, often not properly recognized. This multiple-jointed schism, quietly questioning any simple explanation, is incredibly knotted. Too many examples have existed in art, in literature, in philosophy where credit was denied, even (or maybe especially) by relatives, clan-members, for elegant work that had awed and effected others yet made into less to some autre controlling model—going beyond legitimate influence to one that would dominate entirely. This is considered hegemonic—hold on to that concept, hegemony—and oh how interesting it is for the contemplation of social bondage, controls, and alertness, in that hegemony in most eras lead, mitigate, limit or control allegiance. And intelligence. Excellent works have sometimes been destroyed, partially or wholly reconstituted, neglected.
Cultural boundaries apply here, obviously, to aid build-up of condemnation but without the deeper knowledge that had surrounded a (now) diminishing protection of the Arts and Humanities. Mundane taboos or tendentious assumptions exist everywhere, can often strengthen inside personal differences, biases, injunctions, sanctions, and so on, seemingly haphazard. These socially divisive standards are lined up, so we’re told, on a level playing field. But their roles and purposes, despite being in abeyance, merely lie in wait for a slight shift of shapes and shields curved unseen round bitter preludes. They rest on such variables as content, meaning, expertise, technique. At the head, there’s locality, environment, and venue: context. Context is still the lead.
Giving into the artistic power of Battleground Horse at another level might be ‘transcendent forces’ that could include ‘second sight’ and ‘extrasensory perception’ hovering on the edge of mysterious energies outside our immediate or liminal (psychological) line of enticing grasp. These tend to form interesting links that may not have substantial credibility or a dependably unfolding logic unless one develops enough patience to follow such languages as conditional logic, Venn, the intertwining of latent traces, events, Gödel-Escher-Bach, secrets of dreams, vicissitudes of memory, layers of phantom-limb syndrome and other recurring, replenishing threads, the niggling promises of by-ways, that may never be complete even for the artist or author who realizes the (promising or vicious) closing-in of any of those but without seizing an actual close. The saving moment. The change. Nonetheless, to discount these as “out-of-hand,” especially in such an amazing instance as in the Levin piece, could be a loss or foreshortened query clamped over a concomitant gift-giving, principle-expanding cosmos. Any use of outré properties could presume a new form despite unfamiliarity of coincident peripheries, either their resistant or residual commonalities, any fine invitational gloss, or glamorous encouragement that enters into ‘poetic’ fluctuation (mythopoesis) as possible. They are there despite ordinary hesitation that often begins agreeing with the appeal of introduction—on the other hand and in unadorned opposition a critical ‘immediacy of grasp’ can mean a reading, reread phantom, without separation between entries into any fixed comprehension, a compliant or measurable position on the pre-real-presentative, pre-conscious (or, on a different level of precognitive learning—an opened celebratory scale of receptive acceptance, a Welcome).
These differences of scale or precognition remain in an ambient, therefore, uninvestigated state that does not delimit return. This is called metacognition assumed as a ‘near clarified-clarifying state of alternatives’ but existing, importantly and necessarily, apart from ‘’human desires and needs.’ In trying to explain why there is such a different state we’d need consider that there is a possible position in which we can share a sheer drop in function, in temperature as it may be, and in such saving grace as Reason. Add precognition to this list of possibilities, which is one of the recently reconverging considerations of learning potential due to emerging states of discoveries underneath the compunctual, or the dutiful second thoughts, or hesitational thoughts, that disallow or allow various fortuitous or unexpected and in a serendipitous way, finely articulated and in some way ‘critically’ truthful manner. But, more immediately, let’s take on the concept ‘animal’ and the specific figuration ‘animal,’ and the thing as ‘phenomenon’ that passes into, enters ‘cosmos’ or ‘world’ as we know it.
How is it that we know the natural world? To understand and accept it, live inside it? This is the question that makes us stop and consider “selflessness” which I take to be a Levin trait, dispensing with the ego, and countermanding the often over-looked consideration—that exists in the simplistic or unconcerned actuality, enabled to dispense with self-condemnation or self-judgment, seen as a realistic pragmatic allegiance—and her exquisite (unbearable) knowledge of ‘horseness’, dispensing with the ego, and countermanding the often overlooked consideration—that exists in the simplistic or unconcerned actuality, enabled to dispense with the bouncing regurgitating guilt of self-condemnation or self-judgment, called a realistic pragmatic allegiance—where the moments of creation suspend a dialectical process, since dialectics, or argumentation actually act soto voce within this very ’nature of reality’ itself’. This means, strangely enough, that all the true-false, good-bad, healthy-sick, black-white and other likely symmetrical arrangements (contrasting, seen as ethical or moral arrangements; faced by our biblical Job and many others who fought against ‘god’s will,’ the ‘nation,’ or ‘sovereignty) are held in abeyance. This is the “open reality” mentioned earlier.
It denotes a strength of artistic control that extends so far into a realm of art making that it seems nothing else is in contest beyond it or beyond its very moment. It is at this point that the mark is set, where “subjection of the real” seems complete. There’s nothing else that needs to pass beyond, nothing needs be mastered beyond this point. No negative, no negation, no hostile reality comes under the sign of the artist’s will or beyond that creative power.
There is only the horse. Inside, outside, dying and fully cognizant.
It also seems to indicate that there’s one powerful and dangerous use of transformational language (from the Functions of Language [by the theorists Roland Barthes and Roman Jakobson]) that seems to present a danger to any outside judgmental procedures. That is INTENT—the one criterion that may need for a congruent trial and conviction. Intent, I think Levin would agree, is ‘realistically’ (even systematically, cumulatively) impossible to detect. And pursuit of that, in Levin’s amazing strength-beyond-illusion sees only the sign and mastery of the will, and creative power.
Carol M Dupré
Volume 32 no 4 March/April 2018 pp 25-27