kim pieters studio

 

 

 

 

 

 

essays & interviews

 

…the fiction of a hill

 

 

 

Letter to H
by kfpieters (process discussion)
 

The Harbour Studio Years, Or How to Ask the Question, ‘What is a Life?’
by Christina Barton

She was only ever what she was; and always is what she was now . . .
Concerning the Work of Kim Pieters , by Carl A. Mears.

The Return Gesture
Hamish Clayton in conversation with Kim Pieters.

There is Time for Waking Slowly – Kim Pieters’ The Golden Fields
by Abby Cunnane

Michel Henritzi (France), asks Kim Pieters (New Zealand), some questions for the magazine
Revue & Corrigee (France).

 

 

quote from ‘the desert Homeric
by Sally Ann McIntyre

 

 

 

 

 

dear H.

i have a plan!!! i think we should go back to the beginning. back to a sort of foundation that will at least provide an anchor with regard to your questions. i have only recently become aware that i—myself—have had a blind spot with regard to discussion about the underlying premises that inform my work. i am happy to answer enquiries but i have noted with puzzlement that there is often a lack of basic grounding in ‘questions’ and therefore my answers inevitably only give part of any meaning and then float off into voids. i knew i was missing something whenever i discussed the work. it seems i have remained silent on what is most close to me: the earth.

letter to H

i am going to attempt to discuss this ground. . i am not sure what this will do and it could be a complete failure. anyway i will try and i am going to write a series of small paragraphs. (well i hope) that start at a beginning and send them to you. part one. part two etc. any one of them may or may not be useful to you. hopefully things will become much clearer and my answers/examples will make more sense to you. i will write them quickly and send to you. i have part one!. will send now xxx k

 

 

part 1: the method

…my process has always been emergent and non-representational, (from the age of 22 actually, way before i could name it. before a naming language therefore….. it is an experience that i have absolutely believed in for nearly forty years.)) (why is another discussion) it does not matter if i am making music, making films, taking photographs, painting or drawing, graphics and heaven forbid writing. (hence my difficulty with linear thought)

what i mean by emergent is my interest in the unpredetermined decisions (and their resultant action) that one makes at any one moment in time. by non-representational i mean i have no intention of re-presenting anything. (not a tree, an expression etc etc) i am creating something of itself in the time i make it. this across genres but let us concentrate on painting. these words…..chance, necessity, contingency, choice.

diversion to improvisational music for a moment …..in the improvised music that i was involved in, you would of course have an instrument that you played. (the instrument could be a tin can, a toy, a computer, a bass guitar or any manner and combination of things) you got to know the sounds of your chosen instruments. no doxa. no orthodox chords. one just concentrated on the sounds it made. one could be simple or complicated when playing the thing. and then—when playing with others—the point for me was to listen intently to what sounds were being produced and to answer or to fold into those sounds a ‘choice’ from the sounds that i could play with my instrument. it was a choice made in that moment. in response to that moment. no preconceived notion or result in mind.

the result however was often highly original. sometimes it ‘worked’ other times not. what makes it work or not is another discussion. we must get on.

in the same way when i go to make a painting i have various criteria at my fingertips. i have the knowledge of the gestures i have made with colour and line over many years. these gestures are the ‘sounds’ i can draw on at any one moment. again no doxa. just the experience of looking and acting with colour and line. i draw on these gestures repeating them and as i do they manifest themselves differently each time. there is always a losing and finding and repeating of gestures.

one of the Most interesting things for me when i begin a work is that i have no idea what the end result is going to be. i cannot predetermine what decisions i might make at any one time in the process. the whole thing is very sensitive to initial and ongoing conditions. simplifying here, i will say…….i begin. i make a mark, this mark needs a response. i make another mark in response to the first. this gives me a completely new arrangement in which i then have to decide what is necessary for the whole field and the next marking. i draw on my knowledge of my gestures. i continue until the composition is finished to my satisfaction. therefore the work is finished when there is no more to add nor subtract from the field according to me at that moment. i might decide something different on a different day or at any one moment in the proceedings.

the image that this process gives me at the end is always shocking! it is something new. something has emerged that i have never seen before. an enigma. it is a thing to itself and therefore open to the world and to me, its first viewer and then to others. the other viewers.

these words….emergent, adaptive, evolutionary.

to create something new each time is a complete pleasure and strangeness and this method that i have developed over many years allows me this experience. it is challenging and at times extremely fraught. i become totally immersed in the creative process that produces this entity and then entranced.

full of wonder at this thing, the finished painting which i consider quite separate from me. i forget that i have made it. i look to see what it offers me. it has qualities, potencies, differences, sensibilities that i can respond to. it keeps its reserve.

the work is predominantly concerned with questions of ‘being’ in the world (human beings included): that is, my interest is mainly ontological and arches over any political, historical, subjective or psychological concerns. What Is this thing? Why is it there? Why this colour? Why is that bit so ugly? What simmers? What strikes? What travels? Why these relationships? What is telling on me? What stories are evoked here? What of the silences?

these questions do not have satisfactory answers. the work remains open. free and rich with continuous possible meanings that can be actualised and revoked at any moment in time. I like it that the work gives me this freedom. I am grateful.

It gives me qualities that flash like signs in the distance. It reconciles me with life. and then i make another painting.

 

part 2: materiality... .

..i align myself with the material world. its mysteries. its pragmatics; these forces are my primary concern when i am making the image. i have always had enormous respect for this unlanguaged part of living. the various pressures…density, shape, colour, falling, folding, moving across, temperature, speed, light, weight…intensities. the ‘sense’ of these not the ‘names’ of them. most of these non human things are involved in dynamic systems. dynamic systems activate most of the world. large and small. what we know and what we do not know. only the human species removes itself with language. due to a weakness in language says plato, it cannot help but distance us from the experience of breathing.

it is a curious thing and has always fascinated me. we sit the breathing and the ‘naming’ of the breathing beside each other. for me the naming is a subset of the experience that is breathing.

it is the experience of sense that i want to let be in the painting. without the naming. i am letting the material be. i am human, i am creating something with these non-human things of matter. i am letting them be, i arrange them into compositions. i make with them a non-representational construction. by building with these traces—i, the human—work in collaboration with the material, the non-human.

the first look at this work is about the experience of sense, not the experience of recognition. you look at a work and to yourself you say woooo….what is that? and something unfolds into being. you really look. you really feel something. later you may language it. words are created from it. the relationships between speech and the unlanguagable form the ‘meaning’ of this composition which manifests as pliable and continuous. the whole thing belongs to the convolutions of time.

 

part three: language.

.. i make paintings in series using a particular colour palette. i make many works. i select usually around seven paintings from the series. the extra paintings become outliers to the set. i give the set a name. each painting in the set is also named. each painting and the set it belongs to is distinct and will never happen again. each work is quite singular.

each grouping has its own qualities. some series are muted and sweet. others are graphic and intense. one could talk about their effects. each painting is an event that generates effects and how those effects are received and processed depends on each viewer and the weaving of their particular sense of things.

at the beginning of this process of making i go through a thing i call ‘the finding’. most importantly i have to find the colours and the hand that belong to this time. but also the texts that i will use. quite a delicate process. something that involves listening closely to the time. to its shape. to its chance events. the texts (very human) are a supplement to the image.

philosophy and poetry tend to be my main reading materials. and it is usually from these i will find the language that resonates for me. they will be sentences, sometimes one word, taken from their original context and relocated to become titles to the work. I wait for the poignancies that relate to the time. once i find them, it is very clear.

the languages never illustrate the image but instead sit beside it, often evocative in themselves. they have their own indicators and histories. the space that is created between the image and the text allows for extensive lines of flight. here a layered and complicated constellation, full of associations, relationships and divergences, can be put into play. and it IS a matter of play. things and names engage in a state of unceasing reciprocity…

“…A language that speaks through enigma, the enigmatic Difference, but without complacency and without appeasing it: on the contrary, making it speak and, even before it be word, already declaring it as logos, that highly singular name in which is reserved the nonspeaking origin of that which summons to speech and at its highest level, there where everything is silence, “neither speaks nor conceals, but gives a sign” …’

 

part four: the encounter

….of course i am the first viewer. & as i have said previously this emergent process that i use gives me a new, singular work each time and this new thing produces a type of shock in me, where i have to ask myself ‘what is that?’ and perhaps have to LOOK for the first time. there is a sort of shimmer in the brain. no doubt any other viewer will be puzzled also. it depends on ones temperament as to how much ‘looking’ will be given the work considering its initial silence.

however attention pays handsomely. (why i prefer to keep works for at least six months to a year after they are complete) (why the works are satisfying to live with) (why i live with them).

at first there is very little, then something grows as thought and feelings start responding to what the work gives out. each work has its own constellations. there are temperatures and speeds; insinuations and exhalations; any manner of forces. clustering intensities, a going across, quiet pools. a friend recently said these words in response to a drawing…’that is magical kim, somehow warm and funny and full and traveling’

something like that. just like that. perhaps that is all that needs to happen

each image presents multiple differences. completely other. at once a resistance to suffocation and a line of flight. there are breaths, communicating intensities: worlds of simulacra and ‘mysteries’. one could land at colour for instance “ Is the sky blue?” what opens out in that question? what is actually possible in our many worlds. different for each person. this is good for our hearts no?. to avoid the irrational. something possible for us.

a curious aspect of the work is that it offers an ongoing experience. for each time i pay attention to its play, it will give me a different field of relations to consider. each time a glittering in my life, a thought can be actualised & with this another sense of what is possible manifests itself. this in turn can change. turn back, go forward, double up, slow down… the story becomes richer with each interaction and the work becomes a continuous life giving thing. a changling that can also—of course—because of speed, remain static for long periods of time.

well there it is, a basic basic outline. a field from which to leap. artists work in so many different ways. sometimes very difficult to decipher. it is hard to trace back. again i am not sure if i have been successful in providing a ground with this letter. i hope so. i would like people to at least be alert to the life affirming qualities that are latent in the work and from there they can do what they like with it. it will be their experience. however rich or poor. they are endless gifts.

 

soon soon kim 

 

 

 

 

Λ

The Harbour Studio Years, Or How to Ask the Question, ‘What is a Life?’
by Christina Barton

 

Kim Pieters calls her practice ‘improvisatory abstraction’. According to Jonas Mekas, improvisation is ‘…the highest form of concentration, of awareness, of intuitive knowledge, when the imagination begins to dismiss the pre-arranged, the contrived mental structures, and goes directly to the depths of the matter’.[1] He considers this to be not so much a method but ‘a state of being necessary for any inspired creation…a constant and life-long inner vigilance…a cultivation [of the] senses’.[2] To improvise is a term often associated with music, which suits Pieters well, as she has a decade making sounds with members of Dunedin’s experimental ‘underground’. Improvisation in music opposes playing from a score. It relies no less on skill or knowledge; indeed, it requires a deep understanding of one’s instrument and its sonic capacities, a sense of timing, and an ability to mix sounds in complementary ways, literally as they are being made. Improvisation requires another kind of consciousness that may take years to develop and a certain inner confidence. It does not result in chaos (give rise to mere noise); forms emerge that have shape, structure, depth and duration. To improvise is to mediate relationships between stimulus, instrument, work, self, and world, holding all in balance.

The purpose of Pieters’ improvisation is to produce abstract forms, the material and visual qualities of which defy easy interpretation. For her, abstraction is not art’s endgame, played out as it was in the early twentieth century, as a search for, or drive towards ultimate truth or transcendence beyond perceptual reality. Instead, it is a valid means to connect with immanent reality as something ultimately unknowable but tangible and meaningful nonetheless. For her, the abstract is already present in reality, in its resistant materialism, its mute facticity. On first acquaintance, her colour fields look natural. Coloured boards with ragged and irregular edges appear like found objects that happen to have accrued hues and surface effects. Likewise, her photographs and moving images seem somehow unmotivated, mere transcriptions; cut from the world and slowed, they defamiliarise normative vision to show arbitrary jumbles of light and shadow, flashes of colour, abstract rhythms. She seems to suggest that life is abstract, already.

Just as improvisation has its place in the spectrum of musical performance, so her abstraction has its relation to the codes, conventions, and histories of art. Pieters’ abstraction is a tactical foray into a thoroughly conditioned field. To prepare a ground, lay down washes of colour, add marks that trace the workings of a hand or delineate shapes, to give works titles and to create sets or series, to frame and hang a flat, roughly rectangular object on a wall, is to accept the logic of painting, embrace its ritual labours, and occupy a place in its historical trajectories. To devote one’s life to such activity is to believe in its worth and possibilities; it is a way of being in the world. To paint now has a particular cadence, a pace amidst the instantaneity of contemporary life, a slowness and a speed that can only be detected by careful tracking of a painting’s surface incidents and forensic exhumation of its undergirding layers. To paint now is to position oneself in a material realm that is in nodal relation to the transparency and infinite multiplicity of the image and the smooth intractability of the screen. It is a chosen practice. Painting—to paint— is not just an activity, but a mode of living consciously, an act of life.

Pieters utilises materials and processes to pinpoint and visualise what it means to be a sentient being. This has nothing to do with an expressive model of painting, in which the unique marks produced by the artist are thought to directly connect to an inner ‘self’. Such a model presupposes separation from the motif—autonomy—as the goal. Rather, world and artist exist as co-equal material entities, and the painting proves a non-hierarchical, indeed intimate relation between them. Pieters begins with something that exists, a material substrate, or an indexical image, and then literally works with it. In her paintings, for example, she has for many years used hardboard salvaged from demolished buildings, so that the shape and surface of her ground is predetermined. Slowly, on top of this dense, smooth, compacted surface (a flat field that resists absorption or penetration) she applies layers of colour in thin glazes. Washes of pigment build up from and run down their tempered ground but ultimately fail to erase it, as nail holes, cracks and gouges reappear, travelling forth through veils of applied pigment. Then on top of this atmospheric suspension that gently intercedes between the artist/viewer and the substrate, Pieters adds her marks: tiny, tensely coiled, miniscule flurries of intense activity that produce meandering lines, arbitrary shapes, smudges and scratchings. To make such marks the artist moves in so close that the painting must become an all-consuming visual field. Where, when, and for how long a pencil will be wielded is determined not by the will of the artist, but by her surrender to the surface and the occasion, her response to the given. We are left with a set of marks that document this encounter.

Here, then, we can track time: the historical time of the ground which has lived a life already; the deep time it takes to work from ground to surface, and the incidental time where one thing prompts another, a detonating instant within the calm of a long durée. So too is a spatial model of the world created, where ground, painted surface, and overlaid marks, being at once distinct and intertwined, suggest a different concept of being in which the ground is before us rather than beneath us, where the air has become a palpable medium, and human activity is lovingly suspended within it. Here, we can register human consciousness enmeshed in material existence; we have proof of life, lived.

In her hands, abstract painting is not pure; nor is the image simply visual. The waters are muddied as painting is brought into contact with words and images are overlaid with sounds. Everything is connected: paintings are conditioned by their place in a series, they are linked through language to other texts, and treated interchangeably with filmic and photographic images. Together in the space of the gallery their combined effect is synchronic, gaps between works turn loquacious. But the connections across media, sign systems, and settings do not produce a coherent whole, a total picture or closure. Pieters is more interested in the clearing, the generative space that opens when two autonomous gestures are placed beside each other, this is a place of possibility at the interstices of different language systems.

If I stand before that multi-part painting in the corner of the long lower Chartwell Gallery, I see four green rectangles that, on closer examination, break into runs and rivulets of washed colour: pinks and blues and browns seem somehow pinned inside the green, coming forward at certain moments during the day as the light from an adjacent strip window casts its glow across their surfaces. I note, too, that there are few surface incidents, the most obvious, the one my eye is drawn to, is close in to the corner of the room, low down on the panel second from the left, where the artist has added a scumbled patch of white above a wobbly dark oval. I am warmed by the flood of colour, calmed by its lack of surface detail, reminded perhaps of the faded colours of water-stained wallpaper in a Georgian interior. But when I read the title: ‘…to walk horizontally along the edge of a word, blinded by sun, to forget what was seen, and what there is, and beneath heel, to gather the fiction of a hill’, I am thrown out of doors, into the landscape on a bright day, and made aware of my act of seeing, my eye ‘walking horizontally’ across the panels as I peer to see what lies on the surface. The words don’t make sense of the work, nor the work the words, but together I’m taken somewhere and made self-conscious about my thought processes. Now, not only is there colour and line, but sunlight and exertion, as I make the journey that is the painting.

The same thing occurs with Pieters’ moving image works. Her films are shot on a digital camera out of doors or in interior settings; there is no narrative arc, no actors, no set up or staging. The camera is turned on, focus is pulled, a view is interrogated, a journey documented. Likewise, the soundtracks have independent existence as recordings of live performances or studio sessions made by musician friends. Pieters draws on an archive of footage and a library of sounds to put specific images and sounds together. They don’t match, except when we watch and listen to them simultaneously; then they seem to coalesce, as if they were made for each other, especially because the length of the film is always exactly the duration of the track. Counter to the workings of conventional film, where a soundtrack is composed to draw out the meaning of the script, add drama and nuance to the action, Pieters’ moving-image soundscapes resist the lure of story-telling to keep the audience alert to their visual and aural experiences; slowing the motion, blurring the image, activating some kind of electronic hum she invites us to immerse ourselves in something opaque but resonant that has been caught on tape, which is already there in the source, but we haven’t noticed.

‘Chiming’ seems a good word in this regard. According to my dictionary, it means to both combine harmoniously and to clash or interrupt. The same effect is produced in Pieters’ photographs that are presented as pairs, two images taken at different moments that are brought together by the artist for whatever reason (a shared colour or shape, a light juxtaposed with a shadow, a relationship between foreground and distance, a certain framing). The viewer cannot be sure of what they are seeing, or of why the images have been chosen or combined, but the more one looks, the more one feels that there is something right about the pairing, even or especially because one can’t quite put one’s finger on it. It is this quality of undecidability that underscores all of Pieters’ productions. By embracing the abstract in life—that which is detectable in and between things, but which cannot be named—she acknowledges the limits of language and sets out another sensual, material, way of knowing.

Perhaps this is why, amongst her various strategies, she puts her trust in colour, the very thing that has been disparaged over the centuries by philosophers and rationalists who have distrusted its visual allure. Colour has been thought of as inessential, something merely added to form as one of its superficial attributes. Being associated with the senses, it has been dismissed as a distraction from the truth that lies beneath or beyond perception, or villified for its bodily seductiveness. Pieters has developed a distinctive palette that can range from the darkest of blue/purples to chalky greys and the palest of pinks, to acid greens and burnt orange. Her pigments are neither bright nor pure, they seem caught in a fine suspension, like sand or grit. From a distance her surfaces seem monochrome, but closeup they prove to be shot through with a range of hues that are not detectable all at once, that come out under certain lighting conditions and change as the eye travels.

Julia Kristeva has called colour the ‘reverse, negative, and inseparable other of transcendence’, in part because it exceeds or retains an independence from the formal logic of representation.[3] Of course colour has meaning: the colours of things help us define them, and colours have been used as semaphores for states of being, or as bearers of symbolic values. But, according to Kristeva, colour is not entirely contained by the codes of language, there is an excess that can be linked to the instinctual, the biological and the phenomenal. Colour is where the ‘subject escapes its alienation within a code’, where the unity of the self is rendered permeable. This is because colour is carried via light, the connecting medium within which everything is bathed. Colour, finally, is a fluid spectrum that binds together and articulates everything it touches by means of complementarity and contrast, projecting out from the surface to touch the viewer’s senses.

Kim Pieters uses her pictorial language to posit a relation to the world, a way of being and knowing that is material and processual. Her works come into being as answers to that question, ‘what is a life?’. They are the products of a life lived reflectively and sentiently, the consequence of a certain dedication. Over the last eight years, her studio by the harbour has served as a safe haven wherein her thinking and actions have unfolded, the space in which words and music, colours and light coalesce. Distributed through the spaces of the Adam Art Gallery, these paintings and images reconvene, interacting subtly with the architecture, to quietly draw the viewer in. It takes time for them to unfold, through careful watching or deep scrutiny, and in that process we become self-conscious of our own looking, which begins as a quick scan, and then slows to a deeper kind of engagement, a mindful interrogation. For me this results in a quickening of my heartbeat, a strange agitation, as if my body has connected to the works to tell me something: that I am alive, and that the stuff of the world is deeply mysterious, yet it is also full of suggestive, pulsing beauty.

 

 

 

Notes

[1] Jonas Mekas, – Arsenal: Institute for Film and Video Art distribution catalogue, quoted in Tate Film Catalogue, To Be Here:The films of Ute Aurand. 21/22 February 2014, Tate Modern, London.

[2] ibid.

[3] For this reference, and others that follow, see Julia Kristeva, ‘Giotto’s Blue’ [1980] which is reproduced in Calligram: Essays in New Art History from France, edited by Norman Bryson, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1988, pp. 27-52.

this work was first printed in the catalogue book ‘Kim Pieters: What is a life?’
published by Adam Art Gallery, Te Pataka Toi,
Victoria University of Wellington. New Zealand.

 

 

Λ

She was only ever what she was; and always is what she was now . . .

Concerning the Work of Kim Pieters , by Carl A. Mears.

 

 

Prologue

Part One, Dirty Eyes

“DIRTY EYES assumes the position of a specific object
 
 with no specific form
Cinema is not by its nature a metaphorical medium
but presents a visceral visual structure that allows
the viewer to develop metaphors in relation to
their needs & desires
The players are objectified & not in fact
open to empathy 
 It is always obvious that they are a
means to an end “

— Lawrence Weiner

 

 

Everything after all, comes from somewhere. In an excessive age, the long-gestated works of Kim Pieters are not excessive. Until one is struck by those reiterated moments which by her are so obviously cherished, dwelt upon like a half-sucked lozenge; the recent duotone shapes for instance, which emerge and retreat, and emerge and retreat while staying stationary. Cool blues, grey hues, they lie there: random seeming percussive devices that will fire up surreptitiously to energise their arena, cause frolic in our eyeballs and appear to disappear. Unusually restrained but not excessive.

Later, the lookers feeling fanciful and seeking wider for clues, might ruminate upon her family name: Pieters. Easily enough the Dutch-ness is summoned; her discipline, the seriousness and the quasi-religious dedication, they are surely leads. There is an older-fashioned awareness of being, which we can sense, moderated with irreverent humour: not as dismissive as the children-of-excess are today, respectful even—self-mocking, perhaps. Delft blue eyes contemplate a reaction in the visitor, always questioning. Okay, yes then, a Dutch biscuit please perhaps, in the ordered and excessive concentration of her living-working-being-real-artist space, with distinct and pale, scented teas in fine old, odd, porcelain.

Concentration is indeed of her being; self-education feeds her voracious curiosity. Books are stacked high, stalked with neat book marks, while creeping potted plants balanced aloft loftily – fill the studio warehouse with modulated colour and add foliate drama to the fullness of the adventure of the studio-visit. Light – bright sun-stricken stuff – permeates; its entry mediated by coloured celophane gels teeteringly taped on high grubby windows. This light is remarkable, for it has also negotiated to be here: after penetrating the granularity of those old panes, then passing through the botanical leafiness, the hanging and piled-up things, it slows down enough to hover in the haze of dust motes that float like tiny thoughts.

Eventually the visitor scans for, and finds the only clear space. This is a section of wall, its whiteness compromised by over-strokes of colour, dribblulæ and crustacea of dried, striated, and scumbled pigment. The marks extend perpendicular to each other, upwards and sideways, but the phantom paintings there that used to occupy and activate at the median height, have been removed. The marked wall is interesting but enervated. The whiteness grinds to a jagged line just at the reach of a roller extension.

The paintings, when they are brought into clear space, can seem drawings they are so light. Drawings with colour and stuff; recognisable and sort of unrecognisable, on surfaces that are ordinary, to a degree, but most particular. They can be very large and very raw, as they are painted upon torn pieces of hardboard. Broken; scored and snapped Masonite. After the sheets are handled into position, stapled or tacked into place before painting; they are – as if rescued, to become mysterious slabs of counterfeit wall again. But when they are finished with Pieters, they are separate from the architecture by their untamed broken edges to be painting/drawing supports, and even paintings, not drawing but painting. The lines, the stains are so delicate, but so very deliberate; there is human frailty and decisive ambiguity; the colour irradiates. Is there ‘existential poise’? If so – then here it is . . .

I find myself using the word ‘sophisticated’ to describe her most recent paintings, unlike the similarly serious works – on handmade paper with deckled edges, and found hardboard supports – I was first shown sixteen years ago. Though similar we talk of the words that might be used to describe their differences: ‘knowledge’, ‘confidence’, ‘knowingness’, the understanding that some things are no longer necessary, the elimination of the extraneous and the already known, the too obvious.

Within the artist’s congested studio, one hundred metres from the harbour wharf; one pilots around narrow passages between the books and packages of mysterious things. In the small area reserved for painting, every horizontal surface is covered with tubes and pots, pencils of all kinds; brushes of course. Most interesting to guest and voyeur, are the mystery pots with no commercial labels, mixtures with cryptic notations on the lids, like ‘auntie’s preserves’. There are a lot of them, small, carefully ordered.

There is a history here of colour, of experiment and striving. This is evidenced, too, by the array of lighting shining on the wall of ‘operations’. One becomes conscious that there has been an enduring attempt to battle fickle natural light and to supplement it with a more sustained amalgam of artificial illumination. One senses the effort to control or stabilise the pigments in relation to the illumination needed to see, and to develop the not inconsiderable skill of anticipating the changes in tone and hue when wet colours dry. This is the serious business of a serious artist; science and mechanics mix with a free-ranging sensibility orchestrated by strong instincts and firm, though inarticulable belief.

This artist is undaunted by the impossibility of pertinent utterance. Of course she will try and, in doing so she draws on poets and philosophers, who have been consumed and digested by her over the last dozen or more years, whose words now exist as a part of her legitimate vocabulary; alongside informed opinions on her art-world heroes. It is a fine mix. Without formal instruction in such material, the meanings she distils are genuine and provide original observations, without the embarrassment of either hearsay or the impolitic correctness of second-hand knowledge. She experiences her articulation. She has always argued her identity.

The proof of her cogitation is laid out on the surfaces of her drawings/ paintings, like multiple and contiguous scientific experiments. This is where the real arguments lie; their benign simplicity defying categorisation as much as the complex graphics of William Blake. There is always an almost invisible line of text—often a quote or a poetic reference—along the bottom of each work, which serves as title but also as a mantra, to hold in the mind while one learns to look.

On my other screen at this writing moment, adjacent to this text is an image of a medium-sized painting. It sat well in the window of a Dunedin gallery, hung on tongue and grooved boards, almost rhapsodic in tones, hints, and shades of blue, acting in time as well as in space. Hesitant and gravity prone, the thin emulsions shift; minute surface details hint at far off events, in distant galaxies perhaps. Yet, the whole entity sits deadpan without illusion or allusion, a field of skilfully, knowingly balanced colours. Our gaze can meander; possibilities, distant memories, and feelings emerge but never fix.

From the first time I saw her work, I was fascinated by her concomitant involvement with the world of music and her passion for photography and film. The combinations of moving and still, image and sound, are not to be dismissed as experimental dabbling. As her painterly sophistication has matured through practice, so too has her vision in her photographic and cinematic images, become much more discerning. Her eyes have learned to see and hear. Tellingly, her involvement in group music activities has diminished, out of recognition, perhaps, that those involvements are no longer necessary, though she still listens hard and wrestles meaning from that activity.

Her intelligent appraisal of form and the necessary knowledge she has accumulated towards enquiry, led me years ago to tell her that her works were not paintings at all; that she was ‘not a painter’, solely or even at all. Although I was being flippant at that time, and provocative, there is an element which is still true, in that her paintings are works of planar thinking alluding to time as much as space, just as her moving images are considerations of the event—or multiple events—through time.

Behind this observation is my slow-brewing conviction that art – despite the gross proliferation of art works – is a branch of philosophy that utilises direct sensorial experience, thus dispensing with the noumenon – the thing-in-itself, the intellectual thing that underlies perceptions, according to Immanuel Kant. Pieters abjures the inherent mediation of the word. She extracts raw information from a visual reality by means of digital photography but also through the forms of her painting and her control of paint, of mark. The sensorial distillations which inform her experience of the world bypass the strict intellectualism of Kant, they jostle through the matrix of her various media, are organised like the carefully regimented pots of paint on her working surface. Like trays of splendid butterflies, not dead but hovering for apprehension, for grasp.

Over there is a steam punk Super-8 VideoPro camera she was using when I first met her, and which I had so envied! Whenever I visit, there is an improved version of the camera she had the last time I saw her. For her, high definition enables improved optics; DVD will no longer suffice, she requires projection from a hard-drive to get as close to the ‘original’ as possible. Raw data is also necessary for the tiny scale of her still images, to achieve their punch and particularity. And constantly the window gels are changed to argue with the telling of her eyes . . .

Of course, as much as poetic literature and the history of ideas about perception have fed her practice, so too has the history of film. Béla Tarr in particular, and the slow evolution of Tarkovsky’s early narratives, have allowed her keen vision to slow down, to contemplate the passage of time with the calm fixation of a meditative yogi. She has read film theory for a long while, and is well versed in Gilles Deleuze, his attitude to film and in Antonin Artaud’s views on action and performance. Strangely, Artaud’s drawings seem to have left her untouched, but the passions of his conviction might even have consolidated the rigour of her lifestyle, without of course the chaotic ingredients of M. Artaud’s per se. The negation of colour in classic film has allowed Pieters to consider time and movement as an essence, which is neither to be diluted, nor polluted by irrelevant nuances of colour. In this way there is rigour, and method, and discipline to sustain the wide wonder of her practice, while it slightly, surely, and slowly evolves.

Rigorous dedication to her methods is certainly not common in this age, nor even in an artist of her generation, and particularly not with a relatively unsung artist in this country. Many practices subsist at the necessary level of ‘paying off the mortgage’, doing as little as possible to maintain the right to use the ‘artist’ noun. With Pieters, rather, one might consider figures in history: Giorgio Morandi for instance, or even the heroic ideal of Vincent Van Gogh; Seurat á propos her singular investigations into colour; or Bourgeois, perhaps, as models for her single-minded pragmatism. Yet, none of these, in fact, have any evident relationship to her creative practice, nor her lifestyle!

Non-sequiturs abound with Pieters. Her interest in European tradition without direct connection to that history; the variety of passions paired with what might seem desultory or casual observation; the singular personal application as dedicated as any Paracelsus but without the accompanying alchemical nonsense; her unsentimentality. Every aspect of her activity is recognised as of the utmost importance to her developing self-awareness as an artist; to be explored or discarded, along with the ancient Volvo. Hers is a practice of truly independent self-discovery, from her youthful realisations that were naive to the point of wilful, to the hurdles which might have stopped a weaker sister in their tracks: the destruction of her home and a mid-life’s work by fire, for instance. All such events large or small, have been treated as pauses for thought, time for evaluation and change, a rueful shake of the head; Amsterdam after the occupation. On a bicycle.

She has made the massive decision to live alone in an artist’s garret in a cold climate, with few niceties as might amuse or even console a mature woman, apart from her necessary literature and music. This has become or rather she has made, a veritable greenhouse of growth and discovery for herself. These discoveries, move continually forward, veritas energising her whole being. They are shared with a variegated group of loyal friends, artists of all kinds, writers, poets, musicians, who have also learned to listen and test her decidedly independent thinking. She will often try on arguments, to see if they fit. New comers are invited – to also be tested – perhaps the absence of actual European experience has fuelled her pursuit of meaning, of truth, and of becoming a whole person. We debate survival in concentration camps. An artist without guile, without compromise, she has become an entity of startling coherence: traditional in an old-fashioned way, but contemporary in ways that are outside prevailing contemporary orthodoxies.

To mention this next subject, is to stray into unknown territory. Pieters has heroes: writers and poets: women, New Zealanders and from elsewhere, and international artists whose work is not represented in any New Zealand gallery, Cy Twombly for instance. There is at least one massive volume of Twombly’s work, among a stack of others. His life and work, all digested for unusually, she reads art books; studies historic poetic opinion: Mallarmé. Yet Pieters has not done the obligatory and conventional overseas trip, she has never seen the real work she reads about, never absorbed the stuff she cannot begin to visualise from printed images. For me, there is an almost morbid interest in watching her develop as an entirely New Zealand artist. Contemporary, polymorphous and knowing, multi-skilled perceptually probing. Not too bad so far; without any real experience of her heritage in Europe or the contemporary landscape of the world gallery, which like many other internationally experienced contemporary artists, she might view as a Titantic moving out of sight, out of time, and out of sych: doomed as spectacle.

Beauty or the sublime are not concepts in play for this present generation. A dearth of the real, the jewel of cool; and ensuing histories of Goth Steam Gangster Punk Twerking Riot has made those words: ‘beauty’ and ‘sublime’, decidedly uncool. But in that cluttered garret near the dock, there is emerging beauty. There is a lithe and tuned sensibility to colour which is at once fragile and strong, line which is flexible and controlled; both without sentiment, neither hesitant, cutting like a scalpel.

Aestheticos, the Greek word for a ‘gasp of surprise’, which engendered the gestalt of Greenberg and others in New York in the 1950s and 1960s, is of course the semantic origin of our word ‘aesthetic’. That ‘gasp of surprise’ is elicited time and time again, in that wharf-side garret, certainly not by the picturesque environs, but by the artist’s works that have been made there. There is little more to say about their exquisite, seemingly spontaneous generation. Except – look and learn; slow down; consider the Lilies of the Field, perhaps? She is after all the first child: the daughter of a Dutch horticulturist immigrant.  Everything does come from somewhere, even from the fact truncated European traditions that may have endured, back there, were jettisoned by father and growing daughter, here. The first born could move free of gendered constraints, into a new world of discovery and sensation, and of meaning. Everything after all comes from somewhere. 

 

Epilogue

Part Two, Dirty Eyes 

“Each passage of the day
from the middle of the middle of the middle of the morning
to the middle of the middle of the middle of the afternoon
to the middle of the middle of the middle of the night
has at that point in time no destination other than
with all due haste to bring continuity into a realm
of contiguity
Only at that point can hope be seen as a possibility
in the dawn & in the sunset
The concept of perception becomes a necessity
& in the end requires DIRTY EYES “ 



— Lawrence Weiner, text for a film, New York City, 2014

 

 

Carl A. Mears, Aramoana, Aotearoa. April 2014

 

 

this work was first printed in the catalogue book ‘Kim Pieters: What is a life?
published by Adam Art Gallery, Te Pataka Toi,
Victoria University of Wellington. New Zealand.

 

 

 

 

Λ

The Return Gesture
Hamish Clayton in conversation with Kim Pieters, April 2014.

Hamish Clayton: You’ve a leaning towards densely philosophical writers and thinkers—Baruch Spinoza, Giorgio Agamben and Gilles Deleuze, for instance—often invoking them as parallel exemplars of your own work; yet your deployment of those models, it seems to me, is as much swayed by an aesthetic appreciation, an intuition, for the elegance of theory, where it exists, as much as its contents and discontents. There is a posture, a certain sense of performance and handling, which underlies and freights theoretical approaches to reason that your work seems to imitate in a visual language. How do you see theory and philosophy in relation to your creative, artistic practice?

Kim Pieters:  Reading has played a large role at various times in my life and in the last five or six years there has been a concentration, (that has given me much pleasure), on generally European continental philosophy. The writers I enjoy the most discuss life with discernment and imagination; the living of it and very often the creative act itself. There is a depth and play that I am acutely interested in; that I relate to and recognise; it is a great joy. This has been exceptionally liberating for me, as, before this, my action in the world was more a leap of faith, in the Kierkegaardian sense. That is, without anchor in my social milieu and certainly not within any major art historical framework of my time. Nowhere did I recognise myself (perhaps a blindness) but in these texts, Yes.The tendency in thought that I follow is discussed by such thinkers as Spinoza, Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietszche, Henri Bergson, Walter Benjamin, Martin Heidegger, Deleuze, Luce Irigaray, Elizabeth Grosz, and Agamben, amongst many others. All these people have an inclination to examine what it is to live a life as a human being—here, now; you, me, and us. Deleuze especially investigates a transcendental empiricism, which makes its appearance as an experience without either consciousness or subject; this paradox particularly intrigues me.And then there are some beautifully elegant writers as you say; Roland Barthes and Maurice Blanchot spring to mind; they are magnificent. The happiness in coming across a new musing that pleases me is a wonderful experience in itself, as is the development of intricacies within familiar thinking. Because of this, what has happened here has been an ongoing discovery of some complex articulations within philosophical writing of an instinctive or intuitive act that I have followed since I began to make art, many years ago—indeed more than thirty years. I can only surmise that what I am doing is quite human. How I now use that articulation is perhaps another matter. And yes, there is something in what you say about a parallel tone.

HC Your work feels remarkably articulate, eloquent, but in a quite paradoxical sense: something is happening, something is being said, but it is expressed in a language refined as if to a register or a pitch beyond human hearing. Or, alternatively, as if whatever is being said is open to negotiation, perhaps even interpretation.

KP … or could I venture open to ‘transduction’ ? This idea of response to the work of art as a transduction appeals to me, especially if the manner employed is that of a type of return gesture: to resolve the work’s intention into a gesture or a constellation of gestures. I think you do this sometimes, as a writer, in a beautiful way; so I thank you; this acuteness of observation makes me very happy. Perhaps it is a matter of holding, at the same time, something and nothing.

HC Paintings that refuse to resolve themselves into stable subject matter must be, to my mind, paintings that look towards both figuration and abstraction. They must hover at some cusp, however shifting. Equally, the way you seem to either channel or manipulate a text suggests a finely-poised balance between yielding to a field of knowledge on the one hand and yet remaining resistant to claims of universal truth on the other. In this way I can see, I think, why a poet like Stéphane Mallarmé appeals to you.

KP Figuration, representation and even narrative is definitely opaque in what I do; I actually look away from it. Abstraction is my field; for me it is ‘the open’; to interpret via transmutation is a reasonable notion when considering my work. Mallarmé of course explored this territory extensively, for example he touches on many wonderful ideas in his poem ‘A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance’(1897): the constellation, the night sky, the space of thought, the shipwreck and the question of god: amongst others. But I think he did a sorrowful thing in opposing chance and necessity. In my work I fuse the two; for me it is vital that chance and necessity work together. I tend not to ask the question ‘what is the truth?’ but instead ‘what is a life?’. This returns me to the now which is a necessary place for me. Being here makes innocence and affirmation imperatives—a nihilistic attitude to life is anathema to me. But this does not mean I will exclude an analytical view, however I prefer to spend my time on generative critique if I critique at all.

HC Your recourse to philosophy doesn’t necessarily require that theory is cleaved to in order to generate meaning—there are others ways of ‘reading’. So to be versant in philosophy or poetry is not a prerequisite to be versant in the paintings. There is a potentially complex system of values in play here: when you nominate, for instance, an inclination towards the “enigmatic, beautiful, [and] intelligent.” [1]Thinking more about the play of paradox in your work, I want to call on Abby Cunnane’s idea: “everything in [your films] is first like something else, then itself.”[2] To elaborate on that, as I see it, everything feels “like” something else, until, in a logical head-spin, it ends up feeling “like” “itself”. This idea feels paradoxical, though not necessarily problematic: her suggestion reminded me, for instance, of your view that image and text can occupy, or hold, or represent, “two autonomous moments” in the same painting.[3]

KP Theory as sentience is a very nice idea! And again it was Mallarmé who wrote, in a now-famous letter to his friend Henri Cazalis in October 1864: “To paint, not the thing itself but the effect it produces”; in a beautiful twist the effect returns the thing to itself. And here I refer to ‘the thing itself’ in the sense of Plato’s seventh letter as discussed by Agamben rather than Kant’s idea of it.[4] Let’s quote Abby Cunnane again: “everything in [my films] is first like something else, then itself.” The clearing generated by situating two autonomous elements beside each other can open out into a golden field. This field is knowable and truly is itself, but remains unsayable. My work certainly can be philosophy for non-philosophers. I feel the only requirement needed to enjoy the paintings is a particular sense of humanness. Being human of course is a complicated business.

HC I don’t really find a tension between the image and the text in your work—I’m not sure that there is, necessarily, or entirely, a “disjunction between … elliptically evoked texts and … images”. [5] I wonder if this disjunction is an assumption; one rooted in an essential difference, at an abstract or fundamental or theoretical level, between text and image. It seems to me, in terms of the timbre of the language and the image, that there is a similarity, in the fleeting sense of meaning and subject and narrative, which your images share with your choice of texts. And through this, then, there may be a dedication to formalism, a delicacy in evocation. So Mallarmé is invoked in both the theoretical and aesthetic senses.I would say there is a harmony between the measured refusal of your painted images to ever resolve themselves into specific subject matter and the obfuscating effects of accompanying texts, whether texts chosen by you in support of your work or those you’ve written yourself—such as the elegantly unspooling titles.

KP Yes more or less so; the tension is perhaps only aggravated in those who seek a naming or a defining representation. Those who are at home in affect, in tones, in qualities, will feel less tension. But there is certainly also an intentional disjunction; it is positioned with respect to the original autonomy of each of the elements. The air is purposeful if quiet (or not) between image and text in the paintings; between sound and image in the audio-visuals, and between the juxtaposition of two photographs side by side. Here, something is summoned; a further pressure of unsayability is presented in the opening between. It is from this lack of clarity that meaning, thinking, feeling has the opportunity to unfold or, alternatively perhaps, merely to carry potential.

HC There is, then, a quality of suspension between one element and another—between the image and the text, between the corporeal and the cerebral; perhaps a space that is struck like a chord—in both artistic expression and the formulation behind those screens. As if there is a principle of suspension holding all the elements in place.

KP The work sounds a suspension! Very good; I am happy. Perhaps we are inside Paul Celan’s “Breathturn”: stepping out into the world itself, its material presence, yet turning toward the human. Difference is encountered here but quite safely; difference and a type of freedom.“After all those words uttered on the rostrum (it’s the scaffold)—what a word! It is a counter word, a word that snaps the ‘wire’, a word that no longer bows to ‘history’s loiterers and parade horses’, it is an act of freedom. It is a step. [6]” This opening has, I would venture, the atmosphere of the virtual. What is suspended here is the potentiality of thought and sentience. The work is a gift to the other. I give free access as much as I can beyond the reserve that must remain. To explore that access belongs to the attention given to each encounter. The meeting can be as light or as heavy or as empty as anyone will make it.

HC I like the way you describe your approach to abstraction; that is, as “an exploration of the world at the limits of language”.[7] I wonder if some would have an aversion to this conception of abstraction; it doesn’t strike me as necessarily problematic, but it seems to represent a turning back towards the real world, back to the threshold of experience and away from total abstraction.

KP Certainly it is this world that holds my attention; transcendent other-worldly concepts generally do not; if this is what you mean by ‘total abstraction’. The experience of the unintelligibility inherent in this life, within this life, which we live here now; that, for me, is a very interesting thing to explore. My work is abstract in this sense. It can be full or quiet in abstract gestures but these gestures are acts in the world.I compose these gestures in an improvisational manner within a field and without predetermination. I do not know what I am going to produce; I do not want to know; the decisions I make are not arbitrary but necessary to the field. To make a painting, as it is to create anything, is to be inside an age-old and decidedly human experience. I act in response to the thinking and the sentience; to the time and the space in which I find myself with my materials.Two things happen here that interest me. One, the gestures made are to themselves: signs without meaning, the material of gesture, gesture as such, there is no communication or information from me to the other, only a presentation of matter, a clearing in which the work acts as an impetus, or an initiator, or a silence. And two, this clearing sits completely at the limits of language, it is an unnameable place. It is from this place that meaning proper to each person can be created. The gesture/the act in life opens itself to an engendering of meaning. The composition is not exhausted by its material completion but remains alive. To begin here again, in the now, as the one who meets the work: to feel free to explore, to invent, to remain open rather than close down; to consider new possibilities each time. The work is empty and potent simultaneously; a paradox, as you say, that contains within it the capability of a continuing living existence.There is nothing transcendent here but (to borrow a Deleuzian neologism) “immanate” life, that is life itself, inside itself and its potentials.[7] This is an en​counter with the real. It is a call to the person who pays attention, to generate meaning for themselves, from their own sensitivities and knowledge, and in their own way, or—and this is valuable—if they so desire, to allow an absence of meaning. I myself lean toward this absence; it lets me breathe and in this silence the work breathes also. There is this suspension, as you have said, that allows the potential to remain. This potential is not clear and it never will be clear. 

HC The audio-visual work strikes a compelling, complementary tone to the painted. What comes first in those audio-visual works, the image or the music? There is a very gently emergent narrative sense in some of the films, evoking the same feeling as many of your colour field paintings.

KP With the audio-visual work I prefer to start with sound and this sound is most often sourced from practitioners of experimental music who I know. The albums or collected sound files are usually created in total isolation and intention from the visual image. I have years of moving-image archives, which I collect like photographs: as images, now digital, from which I will search for the right visual sensibility. Early on, the videos were used as supplements to live music events. Experiencing one of those shocks, when watching a narrative-less moving image against an improvised sound piece on my computer (or originally on a TV monitor, as I made the first films very primitively on VHS, pressing the pause and record button), made me realise I actually had a discrete event right there. Something was happening but I really did not know what, only that I liked it and that it was significant to me. I had stumbled on something necessary. It was a great delight to read Deleuze’s book Cinema II, many years later, where the penny dropped about why such things had a compel​ling presence for me. It was again an evocation of this place of the un-thought, from which thought itself might appear and evolve in the now of the experience.

HC Even though the paintings remain recognisably the same, you write prolifically as well, and, I notice, often update and refine those texts written to accompany, for example, exhibitions. Are things constantly changing for you, I mean in the way the theory is deployed in the paintings, or through the audio-visuals, or underlying your understanding of your chosen poetical and philosophical models?

KP I am not sure I write prolifically; more I write spasmodically! There has always been a stone I have had a tendency to throw and to follow. A paradigm that spins in the air. I work with materials in a similar way, whether paint or pencil or film or sound or the photograph or even graphics, computers and writing, no matter. It is always an emergent practice. I pay attention to the constellation of elements in that space and in that time; an investigation of a particular set of relations where chance, contingency, and necessity are vital to the process; as are images of thought, the light in the sky, my health, opaque individual and community considerations, and all the other arbitrary knowledges that coalesce in that particular assemblage. These various constituents form a stable, if flexible matrix, in which particular ideas/materials seem to return, always differently, expanding and contracting as they are wont. Other subjects fall out and don’t come back; new things may enter, take effect, and make themselves at home, but a constant remains, providing a reasonably enduring base from which I can act. This action is a total event, whereby I have to pull in all my resources to create something that must work as ‘Art’, but which remains a mystery to me.  Something gets made, a thing of sorts. When I feel it stands, I may send it out into the world. I wave it off with my handkerchief. There, its fate is no longer with me but with the world.  A gift which holds its reserve, from me to you, with—I would normally, I think, hesitate to say ‘love’—but perhaps it is! I will say it! With love.

 

 

 

[1] Kim Pieters, ‘Abstraction’, 2014, unpublished notes.
[2] Abby Cunnane, ‘There Is Time For Waking Slowly—Kim Pieters ‘The Golden Fields’, Circuit, http://www.circuit.org.nz/blog/201401, 2014.
[3] Kim Pieters, ‘Language & Image’, The Mallarmé Suite Manuscript [unpublished], 2014.
[4]’The Thing Itself’ as a ‘potential’ that remains unsayable rather than a ‘lack’ that remains unsayable as in Kant, Lacan & Zizek etc. See Giorgio Agamben’s essay ‘The Thing Itself’ in Potentialities collected essays in philosophy Stanford University Press,1999. pg 27.
[5] Kim Pieters, ‘Abstraction’, 2014, unpublished notes.
[6] Paul Celan, ‘The Meridian Speech: On the Occasion of the Award of the Georg Büchner Prize’, 1961, in Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan, trans. John Felstiner, 2001, p. 403.
[7] Deleuze states: “A cause is immanent … when its effect is ‘immanate’ in the cause, rather than emanating from it.” See Gilles Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza, trans. Martin Joughin, Zone Books, New York, 1990, p. 172.
[8] Kim Pieters, ‘Abstraction’, 2014, unpublished notes.

 

 

this work was first printed in the catalogue book ‘Kim Pieters: What is a life?
published by Adam Art Gallery, Te Pataka Toi,
Victoria University of Wellington. New Zealand.

 

 

Λ

 

 

There is Time for Waking Slowly
Kim Pieters’ The Golden Fields        by Abby Cunnane

If you could plan it, you’d wake up to a film like this. Though you wouldn’t actually wake up at all; you’d stay for a long time in the yellow saturated half-light of an evening which sends the sun slanting across fields so flat that they weigh the sky down. Half awake, the horizon tilts, just marginally, but with a finality like it’s the planet that’s tilted rather than the camera. There’s a sound like the sound of an organ, if you were inside of that organ, or inside the ear of someone who was inside that organ, or inside the sound of that organ waking up. You’d wake for 55 minutes, and then it would be dark, the film would end and waking would be over.



Watching Kim Pieters’ films induces a kind of synaesthesia―the difficulty in describing them with the precision they deserve stems from the fact that everything in them is first like something else, then itself. You find yourself talking about the film as if it were a painting, but a painting with movement, and a movement with sound, and a sound which is gold; you find yourself using increasingly abstract images to refer to what is quite a simple film, or is at least not complicated in any conventional sense. The term ‘audiovisual’ is useful here; the state of equilibrium which Pieters’ films occupy―not privileging what is seen over what is heard, or vice versa―makes them distinct. Watching them alters the way you navigate the field of a moving image, and makes you consider what it means to observe a sound.

It makes sense that thinking about Pieters’ video works would involve an engagement with painting―she is after all best known as an abstract painter (Pieters also makes drawings and photographs, and experimental music). In her paintings the surface is all, a field of mostly muted colour in which small fissures, abrasions and areas of darker pigment appear like bruises, or stains, or occasionally, like pressed plants in an album. That field may be canvas or paper; often it is plaster board, physically pocked-marked or blemished. 



While the paintings are entirely abstract, they also suggest a relationship with the world outside of themselves, and to the inevitably dislocated relationship between image and text. Often this external reference is alluded to in the title. One such title that stays with me from her exhibition at Art Space last year (well, I had to look it up, but I remembered the crows and the castle): The sky above the castle is white, Chinese. Three crows slip down the cedar (from Miyazawa) (2010). Words matter, and are material too; so often they are inadequate. It is perhaps this fraught sense of ‘more to say’ that keeps the eye roving over the surface of these abstract painted works. We are continually made aware that the surface is a field, a kind of skin which is only just holding together.

The Golden Fields is a different kind of painting, and embodies a seamlessness or sheer surface unlike that of the paintings proper. This is of course amplified by the screen on which it is shown, where two-dimensionality is a given. But the work is also painterly in the composition of the image field, which at all times fills the frame very consciously, so that the film could be halted at any point and would make an impeccably balanced single frame, a distillation of the extended piece. Often the image is striped, gridded, a pattern more than it is a picture. In this grid the verticals are just identifiable as gold trees, and ploughed furrows comb the flat land. There is a consistent tension between the reading of what is seen on the screen as an identifiable landscape (it is the Canterbury plains, but you’d have to have been before there to know it; sometimes there are glimpses which are reminiscent of the suppressed gold of a Woollaston painting) and as an abstract image in which the markers are purely formal.

Sustained for almost an hour, the image changes slowly, but it does change, moving across a spectrum from full gold to darkness. It becomes apparent that the evening is lengthening, but this realisation comes slowly too; it’s as if the camera aspires to maintain step with the glowing, departing light, so that it will perhaps never actually get dark. While no single static frame could be said to contain narrative, a number of things happen as the time changes. A jet flies over leaving a streak of trail, you pass a water tank, maybe a shed, a fence line, maybe an irrigation system, you start to feel very lonely, you pass houses in which the lowering sun is reflected in the gold windows, a white barn and black macrocarpas, there are road signs, occasionally lines and power poles, the fields ultimately become a road with trees. It gets dark and the painting has moved. You haven’t fully realised because it’s as if you have moved with it.

The movement in the work is inseparable from the sound, which is produced by UK-based drone musician Peter Wright. The Golden Fields is more than half music. There’s no ‘soundtrack’ here, rather it’s right at the centre of the piece, and it seems as if this is the motor for the movement of the camera, a single take which tracks along a uniform horizon. The first time you watch this film it seems as if the sound will drown you with its constancy; after several times through you notice how it rises and reverberates and falls, changes markedly but with an inevitability that is deeply reassuring. There will be no sudden movements here, everything is stripped back to its minimal form and the sound will see the light out.



8 minutes in things go quiet, before a bell-like sound heralds in the next phase in the music. At 28 minutes, it’s silent again, and it’s just the sound of the vehicle carrying the camera that you are left with, a sub-text of sound, which you know is still there when the music picks up again, towards a climax at about 36 minutes in. At some point you stop separating the sound and the movement and the image at all. The gold verticals are the strings of a harp; the volume of the sound relates to the weight of the furrowed earth which holds down the base of the image; the movement is pulling the darkness along with it like an ending deferred, so that there is time for waking slowly, so that there is time for everything.




 

Essay commissioned by CIRCUIT as part it’s 2013/14 Summer Reading Series.
Watch The Golden Fields on CIRCUIT.

https://www.circuit.org.nz/film/the-golden-fields

 

 

 

Λ

 

 

 

Michel Henritzi (France), asks Kim Pieters (New Zealand), some questions for the magazine Revue & Corrigee (France) January 1999

 

 

 

M- It seems that you are very concerned about your status as a woman in the musical field, which is a male-dominated -even sexist- cultural space (as is the whole political and social system, for ex. the power structures of liberalism, which are bound to those of the patriarch ate). How do you view the situation of women in today’s musical economy?

K- It is difficult to be a “woman as herself” in music as it is in all other spheres. The same blind spots, the same contradictions. The issue of status for me is one of strategy. An attempt to enter cultural space as a human being, beyond the bounds of my gender.

M- Do you think that the (male & female) musician is a neutral subject or do you claim a right for yourself to act upon a musical process as woman?.Which would lead to the question of identity (and therefore the questions of sexuality, class and culture) at the the core of musical practice.

K- No subject is neutral. We all have ground. I play music from my person…..that is i play from my sexuality, class and culture. i play from my geography, my fingers, my brain, my garden.

M- Which are the desires and needs behind your project of a female group of improvisation (Doramaar)? What kind of aesthetical and political project did you wish to build.?


K- At first with Doramaar, I was curious about the dynamic of just women playing. I was curious about what sort of music could by played in that atmosphere. With public exposure, sexual politics became more of an issue, especially for me. It became a feminist project. Any public presentation was an opportunity to attempt shifts. I hauled the others along with me which was a bit unfair really. They just wanted to play.

M- What are the difficulties you have to deal with within a mainly male group ?


K- When you play with other people you have to deal with personalities and group dynamics, gender plays a part in this. Sometimes large sometimes small, sometimes very exciting, sometimes destructive, depending on the time and the people.

M- In an interview with Opprobrium, you said that women express themselves through a cultural and artistic conservatism, they remain within those confines or are made to do so .Can you develop this idea?


K- Women do not always do this but very often. Public space is still dominated by male ideologue. Unfortunately in contradiction to much ‘post feminist’ belief it is still reasonably subversive and rare for a woman to enter there on her own terms.There are all manner of resistant strategies that are encountered from lack of emotional and economic support to out right hostility. It is not an easy place. I think it is pretty reasonable for women to react by being almost more male than male, a strategy that ensures their survival. Another is to be as orthodox as possible.

M- Thurston Moore said some years ago that female groups were the future of rock and feminist bands like the Rrrriot Girls bands seem to have made this particularly conservative mentality evolve a little . What do you think of those bands (Hole, L7, Bikini Kill…)?.


K- I agree with thurston Moore that female will be a big part of the future. Not female as or for male but female to herself….maybe we could throw in a civil relationship with the male. Public space that reflected all the stories that actually exist, without the dominance of one story, would be an interesting place indeed. At least more civil than what we endure now. For this to happen however women and all the other “others” need to present there, and present in such a way that it is their experience (not his idea of them) that is told and further that these stories be validated and have enduring presence in public consciousness. To not strangely disappear, suffocate under the weight of the one story as constantly happens now. That these stories evolve the one, enlarge it, move it , hybridise it, make something new of it. That they do not fall into the trap of a return to his story. I don’t know these bands enough to feel if they are telling their own stories or a version of his. Maybe we are still at the stage of protest here. Which at least is a beginning. Meanwhile men could do themselves a favour and vacate some of that public space, return to their private spheres and engage in some emotional maturing there.

M- Rock culture is deeply sexist, most of its mythologies are built on sexism (maybe this reflection should be extended to the sexual misery that the capitalist industry encourages through its products). Women are represented in rock as objects of the male desire, even if they are subjects (Courtney Love, Madonna.. ). Does adopting an oppressive language to subvert it, seem to you an effective strategy? You say you are very critical of the rock structure. Do you think that the mere structure of what is essentially an entertainment musical form bears its own oppression?


K- Mere structure????. The structures we live by have a major determining effect on how we relate, whether that be within the family romance or rock culture, i wouldn’t think it was ever “mere”?. Playing around with that structure, shifting its meanings may or may not be an effective strategy in an attempt
to rearrange or destabilise those cultures. When one lives within a culture that oppresses, it can be very liberating to get angry, to get oppressive back but ultimately it is playing back into the same. Sort of pay back, nothing changes except who is sitting on top. Personally i am interested in exchanges that allow an expansion in all those participating. Exchanges that do not involve loss. That get a bit beyond the nursery rhyme. Not that this is easy or even that i am very good at it, but i am interested!

M- Isn’t it excessive to say that structures are inevitably tyrannical, that they are an authoritative construction of the dominating patriarchal thought?


K- Yes it is a bit excessive i agree. Structures have their place, they are needed up to a point, they also can be liberating, they help, like the invention of the automatic washing machine. However they need to be constantly revised so that they do not lose their relevance and become oppressive and restrictive rather than enabling. Structures can also be deliberately used to dubious ends, the silencing of others in order to maintain a power elite for example.

M- It could be said that it is easier to exist as a female musician, within an egalitarian, directly democratic relationship with the other musicians in the field of improvised music, as it has no instrumental hierarchy, and also as it reflects a libertarian philosophy, a political project. How do you perceive those relationships.?

K- My emphasis in improvisation is on mutual exchange, on dialogue. A relationship between subjects, each person is responsible for their contribution. ‘How’ people speak is of course a result of how able they feel themselves to be and depends on the people again. This need not be hierarchical or fixed, but inevitably it is a human exchange and may involve power plays, explosions, ignorance, jouissance, amongst other things, just the same as any other musical form. It is a communication and all the failures and successes of communication methods are inherent in it. One hopes there is more room for negotiation because the ‘structure’ of improvisation (or my reading of improvisation) implies this.

M- There are many important female musicians in this area, women like Joelle Leandre, Irene Schwiezewr, Zena Parkins, Ikue Mori, Susie Ibarra. Some of them play instruments traditionally attributed to men, like drums. Do you see a real opportunity for women to express themselves in improvisation?.

K- Yes i do. I read improvisation as a language that gives the opportunity to go anywhere. To shift ground, to mix up meanings & because of this it allows speech that might not necessarily be heard . It allows me to speak at least. It presents gaps. To me it offers this possibility.

M- Do you have any affinities with the preceding scene (UT, Live Skull, Harry Crews,Mars..)?. Do you think they have opened new ways for rock and improvisation.?


K- I know something of these people but not very much. I know UT found it difficult to be taken seriously. I cover sometimes some words to a song of theirs. Rock has been moving out for a long while now. It keeps mutating, alot of music contributes to that. I’m sure these bands have been influential some where along the way.

M- In her book, Susan Faludi wrote “Now you can be yourself, you can be ladies, you don’t have to be power machines” about the patriarchal reaction against the offensive years of feminism. How do you react to this?. What do you think of the idea that a woman like Madonna, as a brilliant and successful business woman(which implies that she has accepted the rules of capitalism and its vision of climbing up the social ladder) has done more for the cause of women than a militant writer like Kathy Acker, or than the feminist demonstrators of the sixties and the seventies?.

K- Well, the Faludi question……I’m not sure in what context she is saying this and therefore am not sure what she might be meaning by it? I presume she is saying you don’t have to be ugly and shout any more, you can be beautiful and quiet about it. Nothing is over, not much has shifted in the relationships between men & women. She’s not saying its over, is she?… no no there are just possibly more effective strategies that can be employed. Passing on the inside. Pretend you’re just a woman when really you are a man…? & Madonna, well Madonna is popular, she reaches alot of people. But who influenced her?. All these people are important for their contribution to the civil dialogue. People who reach only a few, inevitably influence those that reach many. Madonna does not live in a vacuum.

M- Shepp once said about his militancy for the cause of the Afro-Americans that he was making politics when he was playing. Would you say the same thing ?. Therefore, can we speak about a meta-music?. Don’t you think there is a risk of a cultural relativism (based on sex in this case), as it happened for jazz, which became the means of expression of only one community?.

K- I would say the same thing, in that, any public act is political. Some say any private act too & i would agree. Walking down the road is political. For me other factors come into the act of playing music too. Philosophy, joy, communication, frustration, being a body etc. There is always everywhere a risk of restriction. No form is necessarily the province of one group only. Through time forms mutate and become meaningful
to different people for perhaps very different reasons. Some women could claim improvisation to mean something for them if they wanted, I don’t know if it would be a bad thing.

M- Which brings us back to improvisation, which only exists within its collective dimension. How do you resolve the ego problems in Doramaar and Rain (another band with Peter Stapleton and Danny Butt).?


K- Just the people thing again. I personally have had major difficulties with some combinations and very little with others. Being a painter and solitary for so long it was weird to work creatively within a group. Very quickly (or painfully slowly) i realised some golden rules for myself and have had little trouble since. It’s an interesting exercise. Most important for me is that everybody involved be able to speak, so an attempt at addressing concerns can be made openly and not played out in some weird lagoon, to the side.

M- You say that no sound is innocent, which implies that music is also an ethical question. Where does this ethic lie?.


K- Did i say that ? didn’t Eddie Prevost write a book titled that? I most certainly would have got it from that. Yes yes no sound is innocent. Every moment is a multiple of space, piles of meanings, pick any one you like. Within your intention, your choice, your act & its consequence, the ethics lie.

M- Improvisation also builds its own shapes, so can’t it be said that it also has become an academical form, generating its own standards?.


K- Yes sure, sad but true. However if those standards are flexible and open to movement, I personally don’t see much of a problem.

M- You seem to consider rhythm as an imperialist figure, as in this old Carles and Cornolli’s opposition: the power of disco versus the dynamics of free jazz, which could today translate as: the power of Bpm techno versus the dynamics of free rock. What do you think of this?


K- Well you know …….the contest doesn’t exist. These forms mean different things, they trigger different passions. I say each to their own and show some respect toward what the other desires. What opposition?. I don’t know if i think rhythm is imperialist. It can be, but it does not have to be. I play bass, i use rhythm alot i think.

M- What do you venture in the aggressivity of free noise?. Doesn’t this sonic violence backfire against you?. Don’t you generate your own oppression, similar to the oppression of the sonic nuisance of the city?.


K- Free noise doesn’t have to be aggressive. There are some sounds i find very difficult to listen to but this is rare. The sounds of a city can be very interesting. When women make an incoherent extremely violent sound, for say thirty minutes, & Doramaar did this once live, i would say it had more to do with liberation. Men do it all the time the louder the better, & yes i often find it oppressive. Its ok to do it once or 2ce, maybe six times but there is other stuff in the world.

M- What is the part instrumental technique plays in your music?. What is the part of the materiality of sound?. What does the choice of a lo-fi aesthetism mean?.


K- I like the idea of approaching an instrument unshackled by orthodox technique. To discover it with your ears & allow oneself to explore from that. Not everyone is able to do that and be happy to develop from there. Thats how i did it & do it & i would encourage anyone interested to give it a go. I really don’t like the ten years of practice business. New Zealand is a land of DO IT YOURSELF’ ers…just do it, see what happens. It requires a certain attitude i suppose, encouraged by this culture. This willingness to explore in relation to other players makes the music, the sounds. Decisions are made. The lo-fi thing is related. It is what you are able to do. Use it, don’t drown yourself in expensive unneccessary equipment. Play the house, lots of things make sounds. I work with rock instruments mainly because that is what is here. Lo-fi recording equipment because that is all that is necessary and all I can afford. What my experience is.

M- Doramaars concerts always took place in almost complete darkness. What does this withdrawing of the body from musical representation mean about your relationship with it, especially as a woman?.


K- Doramaar played once in the dark, though i would have liked to have played more that way. We wanted a concentration on the sounds, to bypass the inevitable visual impact of women playing, to bypass the fact that we were women in fact. Be quiet about it. We wanted to be heard beyond what we looked like. It is an issue always with women, the look, and how much that interferes with reception. It means i have an ambivalent attitude toward the body, my body, the womens body in public. Understandably so, don’t you think?.

M- Your first album, Copula, sounded more inventive to me. It used fractures more, it was more rhythm based, with ruptures. Terra Incognita was maybe more radical with its long, monotonous electric pieces, close to white noise. How do you look at those two recordings now?.


K- Terra Incognita is my favourite, it is more atmospheric and organic to me, a much more realised piece of music. Copula is early work.I don’t listen to it. But Terra has something, a sense of powerful sea which i like. There are a number of master tapes of late Doramaar , maybe five or six which survived the fire. They have a similar feel to Terra. One day if everyone agrees maybe we will release a selection of them. I hope so, it would be a pity if only a few people had access to them.

M- I believe that Doramaar doesn’t exist anymore. What are Adria Morgan and Sara Stephenson doing now?. What led to the termination of this project?. Do you have other projects within the field of improvisation using this feminist approach?. What are your other projects?


K- Adria Morgan lives in Auckland and i believe she paints there, maybe she is also interested in music in relation to film. I’m not sure you would have to ask her. Sara Stephenson has done some more recordingi think but i have not heard it. She also does alot of screen printing. Sexual politics led to the termination
of this project, sad but true. For the last year and one half i have played in an ensemble which includes Susan Ballard a very fine violin player. Peter Stapleton and Nathan Thomson (two men!) also play. We call ourselves ‘Sleep’ and our first CD ‘Enfolded in Luxury’ will be released by Metonymic, March/ April of this year. Every one in this band is quite aware of feminist issues but it is not a major focus. Peter and I play with Brian Crook still as ‘Flies inside the Sun’, we are working on recordings. I also play occasionally with Bruce Russell and Metonymic is releasing the second ‘Pieters/Russell/Stapleton’ CD early this year . All this music is improvisation. I think some times of forming another all woman group but at the moment i haven’t the time.

M- Eddie Prevost said that the question every musician would like to be asked is “What kind of world would be sympathetic to the music we feel must be made?”. What would be your answer be to this question?.


K- A world in which everyone has the opportunity to listen to whatever they want to.

 

 

 

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