We stand in solidarity with the uprising unfolding across the country following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Nina Pop, Jamel Floyd, and those affected by generations of structural violence against Black communities.

We're putting together a list of resources for self-education, mutual aid, and ongoing action in the struggle for racial justice.

The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 19-JAN 20

All Issues
DEC 19-JAN 20 Issue
Critics Page

Nathlie Provosty

Nathlie Provosty, <em>Dream Sequence</em>, 2018. Intaglio in 2 colors on Revere Ivory Suede paper, 17 x 13 3/4 inches. Courtesy ULAE.
Nathlie Provosty, Dream Sequence, 2018. Intaglio in 2 colors on Revere Ivory Suede paper, 17 x 13 3/4 inches. Courtesy ULAE.

Recently a friend said, “You know we never really touch each other.” Yes, I remember reading that article in the Times, about how on the atomic level there is always space between us, between fingers and flesh. The comment had a note of cynicism, and implied “we never can touch each other.” The absurdity is, we feel each other all of the time without touching, someone’s presence in the room, their pleasure, their pain, our love.

“To feel” and “to touch” handle massive vistas of meaning: the words traverse matter and emotion simultaneously and paradoxically. With such sweeping responsibility—the multitudes of expression they’re required to transmit—comes the necessity for explanation and qualification. As singularities, or when generically articulated, touch can feel numb.

This piece is ostensibly about printmaking. The print shop is a tool for creating feedback loops. An image idea, or perhaps simply a gesture of how to begin, is scratched and burned onto a surface (of copper, stone, etc.), inked, wiped, squeezed, then discussed. Some artists are dictators and press themselves onto everyone and everything; others are pliant, and allow the world to imprint them. We’re all on the spectrum. Printmaking is a Mobius strip. (ULAE’s fluidity comes from the intelligence of the collaborators, the comfort and capabilities of the working environment, the discussions over lunch.) Though frequently archaic and controlled, little gnomic accidents spill into discoveries; the methods cycle interior into exterior into interior, rolling, rolling until together we decide to stop.

Art, the eternally functionless enigma, “works” when it creates a feedback loop. A print is as valuable a loop as any other artwork—value is situated in its operation, in its “doing something” for someone. What is the something?

If the something is the evocation of a feeling, and upon naming that feeling it vanishes, then was the feeling fickle? Or the language inaccurate? Or the artwork a failure? Feelings are secured by movement, ineffability, and absence… we depend on their unreliability. If they weren’t disempowered by discussion then our suffering would know no bounds. In contrast, art that “works” continues to give.

So, our words crumble out of our mouths, ensconced by banality, chronically causing our feelings to disappear. And the room shakes. The whole experience of language evacuating emotion is not so strange actually; communication is challenging. If our words are vulnerable they have trust at stake, trusting our friends, ourselves, as well as strangers. They move us. As noted, this piece is ostensibly about printmaking, and it is, about the creation of feedback loops in one’s life’s work, in the work of learning to live.


The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 19-JAN 20

All Issues