Tuesday, August 4, 2009

I Can't Read Our Permanent Address

The text lettered on this painting is the last paragraph in this post.

I painted this around 1990. I’ve tried to pin the date down by remembering where I got the canvas. It’s a piece of muslin, with a crude print in green and white of an elephant and foliage. You can still see a ghost of the design from behind. It was an employer’s cast-off, but I can’t remember whose, and I changed jobs about the time I painted it.

The picture of the dome-dwellin’ hippies who have just converted a VW Bug into a horse-drawn buggy does a pretty good job of illustrating the quote, taken from the writings of a biologist and inventor named John Todd. When I started painting, I wasn’t thinking of putting words in. I tried a couple of things to fill the foreground around the car. They didn’t work. I’d been researching John Todd a year or so earlier, and lifted an appropriate passage. My sloganeering reminded Barbara and me, both, of a bunch of semi-trailers we used to see in Lamoille, Illinois (just a little north of where US 34 crosses I-80). Some put-upon soul was using them as billboards in his public relations war with the county. There were a couple hundred words of argument, and we’d see them after a few hours of driving and just before we were due at Barbara’s father’s, so we never stopped, and we never learned what the megillah was about.

(No responsible horse owners would ever allow that fencepost with the loose bobwire in their pasture. I liked the way it kept my eyes from leaking off the canvas, though, so I left it.)

I entered the painting in a group show, back in April. It was the occasion of a couple of conversations with other, more painterly and less “anecdotal”, artists. The conversation that I remember most, though, was with a friend who dropped in to support me. Mark thought the quote was incomprehensible, and probably thought the reason was ostentatious vocabulary. I’ve tried since then to rewrite it, but I haven’t been able to keep its meaning, and make it more accessible, without making it longer.

Maybe somebody else could take a stab at it.

“Tomorrow is our permanent address. It is the structure or morphology of a system that determines its behavior and subsequently its fate. The coefficients or parameters within a system
determine only rates and relative dominance. This distinction is significant since current attempts to adapt technological society to changing conditions are focused on coefficients which are not fate-determining.”

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