STATEMENT: ACCRETIONS, and ACCRETIONS 14: TOLEDO
The traveler is not a tourist, who encounters locales as a passive observer separated from the self, but rather, a person who, tied to no single position in space, explores everything encountered from as many perspectives as possible, in a series of, to paraphrase Stan Brakhage, "adventures in perception." The central idea behind my "Accretions" is expressed both in that title and through the way they are structured, a gradual adding-on of objects and spaces intended to draw a parallel between the traveler's new external discoveries and an inner journey through deepening levels of awareness. The re-presentation of previously seen subjects in different ways is meant to encourage that deepening, achieved in part through multiple ways of seeing and understanding. In constructing these "Accretions," I have chosen a pattern in which specific sheets display specific aspects of a subject - the exterior of a building in one, the interior in the next - all leading to a final sheet which combines various aspects previously displayed, and sometimes introduces new ones.
The images that I photographed over three days in Toledo, Spain, in November 2004, called for a different approach in the sheets prior to the final one. I bicycled from Madrid to Cordóba in part so I could stop in and explore Toledo. As I also knew from Xian and Cracow and Salvador, former capitals can offer a dense mix of historical monuments and later additions. Toledo, Spain's capital until the sixteenth century, is especially rich for the way evidence of the three religions of medieval Spain, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, all of which coexisted before the Christian "reconquest," produce a layering perfect for an "Accretions." This densely packed medieval town seemed best explored not as a succession of different aspects or object types, but as a succession of different approaches to seeing and thinking. The notes that follow present some of my thoughts, most of which came to mind after the making of these sheets by a process more intuitive than intellectual. These thoughts are not meant as exclusive or restrictive interpretations, but as suggestions.
The first or title sheet, Sheet 0, is my personal "view of Toledo," seen from the road as I first approached by bicycle. The road is about to drop off steeply.
Sheet 1 begins with a darkly shadowed view of a part of a church. Rich contrasts between sun and shade are common in this vertical medieval town in a sunny clime.
Sheet 2 offers another severe architectural view, this time modified by the inevitable and intrusive presence of a tour group; tourists are everywhere in this city. I hope there is a touch of humor in the way they are seen intruding at the bottom edge of the image.
Sheet 3 offers two contrasting views of remnants of medieval Christianity, the sharp lines of a beautifully preserved church interior and a partly ruined fresco. The contrast between near-perfect preservation and partially ruined forms, intended to be dramatic in this juxtaposition, can be seen throughout the city.
Sheet 4 juxtaposes sites of the two religions, a church with two synagogues, but the interior of the synagogue on the right also suggests mosque architecture, thus invoking the three religions of medieval Spain. (There is also an actual and very old mosque in other sheets, seen in the sixth at upper left and in the tenth sheet in the top portion of the center column.)
Sheet 5 offers brightly colored and intentionally contrasting scenes: the city walls punctuated by red flowers; a rather mysterious interior space; a richly detailed door; an even more richly detailed interior space; the rectilinear plot of grass at the center of a courtyard. Here I tried to find images as different from each other as possible.
Sheet 6 is based on an idea of obscurity. Buildings are hidden behind leaves; a wall that used to display images is now mostly bare; a tiny portion of a synagogue wall bears some letters and an ornate design; small green plants seem to be growing in soil.
Sheet 7 returns to "clarity" with sunlit views, all outdoors except for the larger round church interior at the center. Placing this large image at the center gives it a globe-like prominence; the other images seem to revolve around it. My struggle here, so often, was to get both lively variety and balance, avoiding too-systematic repetitions and striving instead for an organic complexity in the interaction of images. There is also a little "joke" in the bottom row, in the comparison by juxtaposition of the workmen with the statues. The workmen image is also the first instance where an image "explains" an earlier one; sheet 6 contains a higher up view of the same locale that is revealed to be this construction site in sheet 7.
Of all the sheets in this work, this one underwent the most revisions, and in fact I wound up making final revisions in early 2007, even though Accretions 14: Toledo is dated 2006. This has happened with one or two other pieces; my intention is to date works by their completion year, but I find myself making exceptions if only a tiny portion was revised later.
Sheet 8 swings back in the direction of "obscurity," this time via languages and symbols, seen in most every image, that many will not understand. The scheme of having each row contain images smaller than the one above gives a feeling of reading ever smaller and more obscure texts. The chains on the church exterior were supposedly removed from Christians imprisoned in Granada when that city was finally conquered, so that there is a triumphal, not to say aggressive, intent behind their display in Toledo. These chains are also seen in a small close-up in sheet 10, at the upper left, and the image of a clutter of boxes at the lower right is "explained" by another image, a longer view, in sheet 10, at lower right.
Sheet 9 was inspired by Toledo's spectacular shadows. Falling in all directions and changing throughout the day, they rewrite the cityscape with each passing minute, flowing into other shadows, colliding with each other.
Sheet 10 is organized around four diptychs, their eight images larger than all the others. The first, two nearly identical views of a synagogue interior at different exposures, is meant in part as a reminder of how arbitrary light and color values are, of how much they can vary. The second returns to that "rather mysterious interior space" of sheet 5, revealing that at least some of the time it functions as a garage. Though I am opposed to humanity's overuse of cars on principle, I was glad to see here that I had left my personal judgments out of the picture, and that the car in the image has its own beauty. The third diptych also "explains," or, more accurately, "completes," an earlier image, in this case the "small green plants" in sheet 6, here revealed to be growing on a ledge above a courtyard. And the fourth "completes" the close-up of a vessel surface in sheet 8, showing two vessels in full views.
The remaining rows and columns of smaller images offer diverse views. Three of the seven images in the central column are also parts of rows, and can be read in the column or as parts of the rows. The top five of those seven images show a mosque.
When I finished sheet 10, I thought it was my finest single sheet up to that moment. With 55 images, it was in some ways the most ambitious sheet I had yet attempted. When I was later able to print it out at full size in early 2007, on a friend's printer until May 2007, I lacked my own archival printer and could print nothing larger than 13 inches by 19 inches I was moved to feel that I had achieved a bit of what I had been striving for: a world-encompassing feeling coming from a diversity of parts, and an image architecture that has some of the qualities and clarity of a map, yet some aspects of a labyrinth as well. This sheet also inspired me to think of the art I had been making for only a few years, "This is the work I have been meant to do for my whole life."
July 28, 2008.