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  • Enigma of Enigma

    The grid's mythic power is that it makes us able to think we are dealing with materialism (or sometimes science, or logic) while at the same time it provides us with a release into belief (or illusion, or fiction).  Rosalind Krauss [1]  

    Where does the stone end and the petroglyph begin? is my fundamental response.  
    Therefore I am intrigued by the phrase The Geometric Enigma, the subtitle of the new book Early Rock Art of the American West. [2]

    Geometric and Enigma, words deriving from the Latin, seem contradictory.  Enigma’s deep origins include obscure mirroring: to see through the glass, darkly.  Enigma itself is a descent through riddle and puzzle down the ladder (a useful metaphor per James Elkins [3]) toward obscurity and darkness. Enigma as journey.  

    Geometric takes measure of the earth in the logic of mathematics and segmentation.  Applied as a partitioning of the earthly ground, inside/outside, this shaping transforms into a metaconcept for visual framing and scheming. Chaos made sensible. Geometric as territory.

    Take grids. As petroglyphs in the northern Great Basin grids are uncommon but distinctive when appearing. Grids appear as shapes within the stone matrix formed by rough lines intersecting to form interstices, generally squarish. Whether the grid is intended as interval, object or representation is unknown. The latent spaces of the grid hold forth potential for emptiness or representation, or, as territory, as virtual spaces or actual places.

    In this collection of archaic grid-images, markings merge into the life of the stone, flickering across temporal realms. [4] The stone as earth, as fundament of place, as mineral, as biomatrix, accretes density, partakes of depth and darkness.

    Grids as Enigma

    [1] Rosalind Krauss. Grids. in October, Vol. 9 (Summer, 1979), pp. 50-64. MIT Press.
    Rosalind Krauss reminds that a grid is always potential.  As an art historian she speaks to 20th century modern art. I conjecture that this idea of grid-as-potential deepens visuality.
    [2] Ekkehart Malotki and Ellen Dissanayake. 2018. Early Rock Art of the American West: The Geometric Enigma.  University of Washington Press.
    [3] James Elkins. 2008. Six Stories from the End of Representation. Stanford University Press.
    [4] I use “archaic” in the sense of the Western Archaic Tradition as defined by Malotki in the book’s glossary, 255-260; see note 2. “Paleomarks” I find useful to refer to late Pleistocene/Early Holocene petroglyphs, remembering that petroglyphs made in the American West during this 6000 year span (roughly 14000 to 8000 years bp) are radically diverse, attempts to assign “styles” notwithstanding.