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The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2021

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APRIL 2021 Issue
The Miraculous The Miraculous: New York

50. (Central Park)

Inspired by his discovery of tantric mandalas and believing that Western traditions put too much faith in subjectivity and the creative unconscious, an artist turns to mathematics and systems. For one of his best-known series he begins with photographs he has taken of trees in Central Park. Over large black-and-white prints of these images he lays gridded Plexiglas sheets on which he plots the silhouette of the trees underneath. On each square of the grid he paints a color and a number, but the more modular units he adds, the greater the diagram departs from the underlying image. The artist’s hope is that the tension between the two systems of representation (the indexical and the mathematical) will lead viewers to become aware of how both are nothing more than arbitrary constructions. The artist dates his concern with such critical thinking to his childhood in the Jim Crow South. At the age of three or four, he became fascinated with looking at a bird in a tree. He would ask his mother, “Why is that a bird?” and “If I die, will I come back as a bird?” Years later he reflected, “My questions about birds, I surmise, was my attempt to theorize about racism, because I thought that: I am a Black person now just like a bird’s a bird, but if I'm reborn I might come back as a white person, and then I would be emancipated on the basis of this sort of arbitrary system.”

(Charles Gaines)

Contributor

Raphael Rubinstein

Raphael Rubinstein is the author of The Miraculous (Paper Monument, 2014) and A Geniza (Granary Books, 2015). He is currently writing a book about the Jewish-Egyptian writer Edmond Jabès. A Professor of Critical Studies at the University of Houston School of Art, he divides his time between Houston and New York.

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The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2021

All Issues