The Gesture

Like everyone else, I devoutly misread A Thousand Plateaus; the bit I come back to the most is the Outcault cartoon that prefaces “1874: Three Novellas, or ‘What Happened?’” Buster Brown, Tige, a cop, a coachman, a second urchin, all eyeing each other around a dropped turkey, with dead-straight dashed lines extending from their eyes to examine each other: what happened here?

The appeal of “what-happened-here” lies within every picture. What gives the photobooth picture joy is a slight theatrical prompt: you have this minute to express your moment, your night, your relationship, make it count! Through the four pictures you make faces, pull yourselves in and out of the frame, interfere with each other. The improvisation of gestures based on common themes lends the resulting object a semi-legible character, for whoever discovers it later; to look at it is to be an English speaker sounding out a paragraph in Dutch. Since you can read a little from the gestures of the photobooth strip, you can make a storyline between the images.

Landscapes as given are almost too meaning-rich; and there are too many actors to pay attention to, too many possible causes. So they become illegible fields of action. The best cure for this is not to stand stock-still in front of them squinting and enumerating, but to start with a working explanation for the major strokes of the composition. In the same way, going deeper into a portrait need not mean accounting for the sitter’s biography, every mysterious item of toilette, knowing the year and the patron; it need only start with a single heuristic, and unfold from there.

One pleasure of Rome is accounting for materials, especially those close to home. And these materials not only define character, or lend decorative effects, but lay out out visible lengths of supply chain for those with a little priming. To see a wall of tufa next to a street in blocks of basalt is to re-enact the eruption of the Alban Hills. To look at a travertine elevation is to see in section the product of an immense lime kiln, with one layer after another of hard water pressed from the side of an earthen sponge. And in a more sober fashion, to be between the serpentine and porphyry of a cosmatesque floor and the blocky gold of a Baroque ceiling is to see a a timeline of vast colonial fits, next to which any little repatriation of stele seems inconsequential.

(June 2018)