"It is this continuous and entire presentness, amounting, as it were, to the perpetual creation of itself, that one experiences as a kind of instantaneousness: as though if only one were infinitely more acute, a single infinitely brief instant would be long enough to see everything, to experience the work in all its depth and fullness, to be forever convinced by it."
--- Michael Fried, Art and Objecthood, 1966.
Fried's Art and Objecthood was the first attempt at theorising Minimalist (or literalist) art, drawing on work by Robert Morris, Donald Judd, Robert Smithson, and others. He closes this complex and at first seemingly esoteric essay with an account of Tony Smith's night drive through the then-unfinished New Jersey turnpike. Smith drove past mounds of industrial materials and urban debris, and what struck him was the infinity, the 'endlessness' of what he saw, which seemed to him precisely at odds with the finite nature of the pre-Minimalist art world in which he operated. Institutional art seemed restrictive in comparison to the wealth and inexhaustibility of everyday experience.
It's not always that art theory and artists' statements hit home for me. But Fried's essay certainly did, though it took time to figure out why.
There's a point in my mind where lots of seemingly diverse things converge on a single, visceral plane of experience: Minimalist sculpture, night drives, Israel, The Durutti Column, limbo, and infinity. Since the visceral and the intellectual are practically binaries opposite to each other, it is difficult to rationally explain this point of convergence.
For a start, why Israel?
Having spent six years of my childhood in Israel, in Rehovot, I have strange, unorganised memories of the place: palm trees; scorching heat; flying cockroaches; the annual Kapparot festival, when a huge crowd of people gathered just outside our apartment block and slaughtered roosters for sacrifice in broad daylight (and that wasn't the worst of it).
But some of my better memories were related to a profound and unexplainable sense of timelessness. Israel in the '90s seemed to be in limbo, somewhere between tradition and modernization. There was an interactive science park at the Weizmann institute, and nearby were strange, towering sculptures, framed by exotic plants and trees, There's something about those sculptures that embedded itself very firmly in me, something which I only latently realised was the 'presence' of sculpture that Fried describes. It seems that it is when sculpture is abstract that it becomes dominantly present and uncanny: familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.
The Middle East had its particular and jarring aesthetic, but also its particular sound. I didn't hear that sound until much later, when I first listened to The Durutti Column. Vini Reilly is someone who -- to go back to the epigraph -- has me forever convinced of his art, convinced of its depth and fullness. It is the 'presentness', and endlessness of his work that feeds my conviction. He writes in a way that people have described as 'timeless,' and timelessness implies that it is somehow exterior to time, but perhaps it's better to think of his work as something which occupies many moments of time simultaneously; it seems to look both forward and backward.
And it is also everywhere (and nowhere) at once. Vini's music is so infused with seemingly diverse musical traditions -- Latin-American, African, maybe even Middle-Eastern ones. At the same time it is impossible to place it geographically, precisely because it is not embedded in any one framework.
But without being singular, The Durutti Column is nevertheless associated with Israel for me. Palm trees hidden behind a melancholy haze, road trips to the sea, massive sculptures acting as shields of the glaring sun, the quality of being constantly plunged into and then immediately pulled away from happiness.
The other day, on a night drive through the city, I put on the recording of The Missing Boy performed at Domo Arigato. It is a fantastical, surreal, inexhaustible, infinite performance - and it is none of those things, because words are, as always, insufficient.
During the drive I found myself in the midst of a thick blanket of fog, which seemed to descend out of nowhere, thicker than I had ever seen it. The experience was like riding on the rings of Saturn; occasionally another vehicle would appear - a fragmented meteorite exuding light - and then fall away again. During this experience of limbo, a lot of the vague associations described above suddenly converged, like cosmic bodies colliding into orbit around a planet.
What seems to happen in The Missing Boy is the coming-alive or coming-into-being of a multitude of temporal and geographical moments, which all converge into one colossal and overwhelming memory. This memory is relived, repeated like a musical phrase, and eventually gains new significance through development. At 3:55 the memory takes off into an entirely new direction, then momentarily returns, then veers off course again in a head-spinning and reeling vertigo of nostalgia and melancholy, a search for something or someone which cannot be assuaged. And finally -- the return home to the inescapable, original form of the memory, bringing everything full circle.
Life is at every turn full of 'the missing boy.' The missing boy is a feeling, as well as a person;he is future and past; memory and place; 'the dream is better, and the end is always the same...'