Religion & Spirituality

'Maritime Mnemonics' published in 'The Art of the Navy'.

Ralph Kerle's excursions onto Sydney Harbour began not as a photographic expedition but as a curative, in his kayak to bypass the medical prescriptions to what was in effect – clinical depression. This is exactly the way the work of art is
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  ÕThe Fragile EdgeÕ Ð Ralph Kerle 2019. M aritime M nemonic s   Ralph KerleÕs sumptuous reflections on the maritime swell of Sydney Harbour draw me into an abstracted act of contemplation and leave me stranded in a sort of no-manÕs land between the real, the abstract and some surrealist imaginative zone but ultimately they leave me in face of an existential truth of a profoundly different present. Most curiously this, according European philosophy, is exactly the way the work of art is supposed to work. ÔArtÕ, argues the contemporary German philosopher Gunter Figal, Ôdoes not attract by the production of pleasant form, it attracts  through its ability to engender a spark of truthÕ. 1  Art is not something that demands our attention in conventional ways. It certainly does not offer the literal, but rather it seduces our interest on the basis of appearing as something that we canÕt quite grasp. The French philosopher Jacques Derrida explains, ultimately the work of art engenders a production of the imagination, by turning the mind back in on itself, encircling the meaning of what it imagines by Ôretracing its own steps into a concatenation of encircling circles.Õ  2  This is the poi•tic  thrust of the work of art, wherein the viewer is provoked, by virtue of the native cunning of the artist, to contemplate the possibilities of an uncanny truth. Turning to the pragmatics of RalphÕs photographic practice, it is interesting to note Ralph did not begin as a photographer, or for that matter any ambition to produce compelling photographic product. Rather his excursions onto Sydney Harbour in his kayak began as a curative, to bypass the medical prescriptions to what was in effect Ð clinical depression. Aimlessly paddling about Middle Harbour, Ralph was relieved from any pressure to perform and in time, enabled to see again. His practice has since evolved on the basis of a two-fold process; !   Kayaking as a therapeutic practice Ð clearing the mind and letting go of expectations. !   Photography as the process of awaiting the moment when the sea offers itself up and calls for its capture. One such Sunday morning Ralph was religiously paddling between  Castle Cove and  Seaforth ; the waters were mercurial, not a breath of wind nor a cloud in the sky, when suddenly he was stuck by an image waving at him through the gently rolling with the swell. It was the reflection of a moored yacht. The vividness of 1   Gunter Figal,,Ô For a Philosophy of Freedom and StrifeÕ , Albany New York, US, State University of New York Press, 1998. P 137. Figal agues this through the concept of the ÔSprachkrystallÕ, with reference to Paul Celan.    2   Jaques Derrida, Ô The Truth in Painting Õ. Chicago, Chicago   University Press, 1987. P26    the image left him spellbound. He reached for his phone, opening his Camera app.,  framed-up the image took the shot. The rest is history. The question that has since fascinated Ralph is a variant on the chicken and the egg conundrum: Does the mind generate these images itself or do they simply  reflect his mindset . Clearly the images exist independent of the artist but without a right mindset Ralph wonders if he would ever find them. I am beginning to think these images are generated from a liminal  space somewhere between my primordial subconscious and the ephemeral real that defines our unique existential experience? Have I, through the deeply meditational experience of kayaking, solo on Sydney Harbor, tapped into a source that is otherwise lost to our everyday consciousness? Ralph credits the nascent sensitivity, that comes of his kayak rituals, for his ability to even recognize these images Ð arguing that it is only in this quasi-meditative state do these images from the deep offer themselves to his camera. Historically, RalphÕs processes evoke a significant theoretical lineage within the history of art, specifically AndrŽ BretonÕs Surrealist Theory of Automatic Writing  (and of course painting). The idea of foregoing rational control over image had informed a broad spectrum of 20 th  century modernists, not least of all Picasso and Pollock, but there is a profound difference at play here. Although clearly Kerle takes the shot, however unlike his Surrealist compatriots, Ralph does not make the mark. At best he recognises the image waving at him, from briny depths. True to the srcins of his therapeutic practice, Kerle gently filters any insistent clambering for his attention, leaving the thrust of any such determination to reform itself in reflection. In this regard KerleÕs practice reverses the Surrealist paradigm, in effect veiling ÔThe WorldÕ and leaving it suspended in the brine as if drowning, whilst gently allowing it to transform into something profoundly ÔOtherÕ. Herein lies the magic  of RalphÕs photographs. As compelling as his images are, they seduce rather than insist, drawing us into the contemplative process and leave us spellbound, between our reflections on the world of experience and our own surrealist gyrations. Arguably these images offer relief to the world-weary seafarer in us all, as if in our own ways we have all suffered some form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In catalogue, RalphÕs mnemonic images evoke a vast history of marine encounters, all jostling for our attention, whilst at the same time his images wave them away into a veiled middle-distance and leave the viewer grounded in the real of a profoundly new present. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel explained the problem in his ÔAesthetic LecturesÕ in 1835; The life of the spirit is marred and, indeed, killed-off by comprehension. Instead of being brought nearer by analytic thinking, spirit becomes all the more remote. Using thinking as a means of grasping, man defeats his own purpose. 3   Art evokes spirit via the indeterminate hunch. In this sense Ralph KerleÕs images sits somewhere between the ÔWorld and ÔBeingÕ, to provoke an indeterminate question of ÔBecomingÕ. Dr Gary Willis Ð (Melbourne) 2019 Published in ÔThe Art of the NavyÕ Ð The National Maritime Museum of Australia. 3   HegelÕs Lectures on Aesthetics, Ô3. The Refutation of ObjectsÕ.  
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