When I was younger, the only art I really liked were portraits. I needed to see a face. Something about that face let me reckon the work, make sense of it, be moved by it. I needed the human element, that inflection of distinctly human being, that sense that it could be me, that this was some variation of me, one possibility within the infinite variegation of humanity.
I was particularly fond of this Otto Dix portrait. I tried living in Paris after college (it turns out Paris is not particularly fond of 21 year old Hebrew hippies who, to Parisians, look Arabic — oy vey; I learned to carry my passport with me to avoid beatings from the thug ass cops) and this painting — I’d known it as a poster from a college friend’s apartment — hung in the Pompidou. Having no friends and nothing to do, I’d often go and sit for hours in front of this hilarious, exquisitely grotesque image.
And then one day, it was gone. It wasn’t even replaced by anything. Where there was once a painting was now nothing but wall.
Years later and I’ve come to read that moment as propitious: the movement from face to thing, from humanity to the landscape of life (not landscapes per se). What I would later come to understand is that everything — yes, everything — is a possibility of being. That I can go like a rock, a wall, a street, a mountain, or like that swirl of paint or very, very still video of the Empire State Building. I began to understand that art is not about representing possibilities of human being but of creating affective possibilities.
Suddenly, the world — of art and the world at large — yawned. Everything became an inflection of being and everything a possibility. The face then moved from a privileged space into being part of the landscape, an inflection point amongst infinite inflection points, human and not, organic and not. Humanity — and humanism — was limiting me, to say the least.
I began to see the world as an endlessly shifting landscape of visible and invisible bodies, all moving at their own speeds, in their own styles, ricocheting, merging, blending, drifting, insisting, dissipating, cohering. And the face became one moment, one shape, one style of this landscape (pace Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy?)