I was not familiar with Robert Irwin’s work before reading these excerpts of Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees (which is a great title, by the way), but I felt very much that I want to after doing so. It’s always challenging to properly translate something in a visual medium to text and properly convey what the piece is actually like, and photographs (especially photocopies of photographs) do an even worse job.
But I think the reason why Irwin’s work came across as so compelling in the description is due to the mysterious nature of what he’s trying to create, which is more than just beautiful objects to look at. I was really intrigued by the “energy” he describes in the experience of his work. The way the pinprick sized dots of opposite colors he applied in “The Dots” would cancel each other out visually and create a strange feeling in the viewer is really fascinating.
The way we often think about the purpose of art is that it makes us feel something, but it’s usually in terms of a specific emotion. In painting, the normal interaction is that we look at the paint on the canvas, which move us to think about something and then possibly have an emotional reaction. What is interesting about Irwin’s work is that he uses different techniques to make us feel. Instead of allowing our minds respond to the work, he seems to approach it almost body-first. Due to the optical and sensory illusions he creates, our bodies have involuntary responses that lead to an emotional response.
I also enjoyed reading about the way his work transitioned over time, and how it wasn’t about trying to explore some specific theme, but just about taking things one step at a time until what he had already made didn’t serve him anymore.
I hope I’ll be able to catch a show sometime soon.