Agnes Varda: The Ardent Background
Always in the background of her films, landscape
at times through a window.
framed by a curtain
held back by a hand. Landscape
as that hand
held up to the sunlight
Or landscape of a hand
to take a box of matches
off a shelf
that sees itself strike a match
to light a candle at noon.
Candle that sees
because a flame is a living thing.
Landscape as all
that is living in the eye in range.
Landscape as living
in the range of an eye.
The past doesn’t mean
so much to me because it’s always here.
Scene of silence
filling first the screen.
Scene of a hat
Scene white with sun
until she is sitting on a wall
in a field
where the sun breaks down
because another sun
has come quietly in.
Bill Viola: The Reflecting Pool, 1977-79
The pool and the faces of dark. The pool and what moves across
and a man climbs out and walks off.
And a man walks through a forest uncommonly green, a man walks
up to the stone wall that forms one end
of the reflecting pool, walks through the yellow-green foliage, made so
by the dense green’s being fused with light
which lies across the top of the wall as he climbs up onto the wall and waits.
The yellow-green water with all the light on it
constantly changes or the reflection that is it
subtly evolves beneath the man who arcs out to leap in but remains
suspended against the background
of trees until he is inseparable from the leaves and we see
the reflections of unseen things.
Click here to read Cole Swensen on the origins of the poems.
Image: “Agnes Varda” by OFENA1, licensed under CC 2.0.
These pieces are from an upcoming book, Art in Time, that reconsiders the genre of landscape art from a participatory and/or phenomenological point of view. In its traditional modes, the landscape genre has a well-earned reputation for appropriating, anthropomorphizing, and in other ways, creating rigid and delimited views of the “natural” world in order to support a fiction of our separateness from the that world that allows us to rationalize our domination, exploitation, and destruction of it. I put “natural” in scare quotes because the term is illusory and misleading; there is nothing that is not natural nor part of the natural world. The term natural as currently used simply perpetuates an us vs it fiction whose extreme result is ecological devastation and the concomitant climate change the planet is currently experiencing.
But not all landscape art supports those values; there are many artists in many genres whose works, explicitly or implicitly, recognize artist, viewer, and view as all part of a single, cooperative system. It’s a recognition that realigns responsibilities and calls for a renewed, vigorous attention to the world as one connected organism whose health is in grave danger at all levels. The works in this selection, and in the book as a whole, do not address these issues directly, but rather allow viewers to participate in, rather than just look at, the world, allowing them to experience that single, cooperative system for themselves, which amounts to a visceral argument that is much stronger than any verbal one could be.
- Agnes Varda, Bill Viola: Two Poems - November 17, 2020