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Cover

Few phenomena raise such irritating questions concerning aesthetic experience and cultural perception as color. Whether understood historically or symbolically, ideologically or physiologically, color is one of the rare categories to be properly trans-disciplinary in character. There is color in both a painting and a symphony, a piece of text and a film. But how may color in the visual arts be related to, indeed translated into, color in the fields of — let’s say — literature or music? By which means do contemporary artistic practices investigate, but also destabilize, habits and frameworks that govern the perception and presentation of color in a given time or place? Which are the cultural ramifications of the specific medium in which color appear? And what, pray, is chromophobia?

Addressing these and other issues, Re: the Rainbow presents six different takes on color, culture, and other curiosities. Multifarious yet distinct, far-reaching in scope but palpable in effect, the volume gathers contributions by artists Tacita Dean and Spencer Finch, as well as scholars David Batchelor, Aris Fioretos, Michail Iampolski and Fay Zika.

Extract

Preface

 

Few phenomena raise such irritating questions concerning aesthetic experience and cultural perception as color. Whether understood historically or symbolically, ideologically or physiologically, color is one of the rare categories to be properly trans-disciplinary in character. We speak about color in both a painting and a symphony, a piece of text and a film. But how may color in the visual arts be related to, indeed translated into, color in the fields of — let’s say — literature or music? By which means do contemporary artistic practices investigate, but also destabilize, habits and frameworks that govern the perception and presentation of color in a given time or place? Which are the cultural ramifications of the specific medium in which color appear? And what, pray, is chromophobia?

In recent years, several studies have been devoted to the uneasy relationship between color and culture in Western civilization. Generally, the development discerned indicates a gradual liberation of color from the geometrically ordered value systems of earlier times. Having been systematically subordinated to disegno, colore is increasingly accorded practical as well as theoretical significance of its own. If Goethe still based his Farbenlehre on an implicit theory of mimesis where hues were determined by the painted object, gradually, colors were situated in the theoretically less stable domain between image and appearance, in which the character and intensity of light were crucial. Impressionism no longer attributed the important aspects of a painting’s chromatic effects to the colors proper of the objects depicted. Rather, the concern was with how these emerged to the eye. Thus color was placed in a zone between subjective perception and the objective world, a liminal space it seems to have retained.

Yet the distinction between or “drawing” and “coloring-in” is riddled with, if not rattled by, ideology. Ever since Aristotle elevated line to the guiding principle of thought in art, color has been discriminated against. Regularly associated with racial, social and/or sexual stereotypes, it has been considered ornament and attributive vivification at best, corruption, deviation and subversion at worst. Curiously, color tends, that is, to be deemed both secondary and threatening — variously coded as feminine, oriental (or non-Western), and bright in a manner that betrays not lowly social status but even lowlier forms of taste. Although supposedly dependent on drawing, color is assumed to possess the ability to undo the dominance or authority of the primary principle. In other words, like the rainbow greeting Noah after the flood (Genesis 9:12-17), colors are neither innocent nor graceful. Rather, pregnant with experience, they herald a sensuous world of finite beings and displaced desires. In short: culture.

When, at the eve of the First World War, Walter Benjamin wrote his first art-critical essay, in which he tried to redefine the status of imagination for a culture that had been put in question, he entitled his piece “The Rainbow.” Tellingly, he constructed the essay as a “conversation” — that is, as a kind of text in which the status of notions such as “imagination,” “truth,” “beauty,” and “appearance” had become if not relative, then at least relational. Re: the Rainbow is the outcome of one such conversation, held at the Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm in April 2004. Less of a colloquium, and even less of a conference on color, this seminar-cum-workshop presented five different takes on color, culture, and other curiosities. Preliminary and provocative alike, they all furthered the obstruction of pat answers so as to refine the questions with which to hone an understanding of a field of inquiry that remains in flux. Re: the Rainbow gathers these efforts in order to reconsider som of the tricks and wonders of a phenomenon in which culture is rarely absent.

 

The editor wishes to acknowledge the generous support of Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (The Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation), which facilitated conversational matters considerably, and for many years also funded a project devoted to color of which the present volume is but one variegated facet. Thanks to the International Artists’ Studio Program in Sweden — especially its Director, Sara Arrhenius, and her assistent Niklas Östholm. Finally, thanks to the contributors, who were willing to let themselves in on a collaborative effort the character of which had something of a rainbow to it: multifarious yet distinct, far-reaching in scope but palpable in effect, never boring, rarely predictable, and always incandescent.

 

 

© Aris Fioretos and Iaspis|Propexus, 2004

Contents

Foreword
Aris Fioretos  1

 

The Green Ray
Tacita Dean  9

Color as a Language
Michail Iampolski  15

Puzzles of Colour Scaling, Matching and Mixing
Fay Zika  35

Seven Attempts to Remember the Colors of the Swedish Flag From 6,320 Kilometers Away
Spencer Finch  53

A Study in Blue (Novalis)
Aris Fioretos  69

Colour Is . . . 
David Batchelor  87

 

Contributors, Credits  91

Re: the Rainbow

Essays · Editor · Lund and Stockholm: Propexus and Iaspis, 2004 · 92 pages · Cover: Mattias Givell

ISBN: 91-87952-31-7

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