OP: If you’re a young 15-year-old flacksoldier, you spend a lot of time staring at the sky… As the sky became the field of dread and threat, it also revealed its incredible beauty… The sky is so beautiful that it’s overpowering even in the dread and the threat of war…
SRP: Liz, your feeling that Otto Piene and his contemporaries had to reinvent a ground from which to work pinpoints the importance of the sky for them. The sublime experience that Piene recounts, of looking at the sky, would provide a way out of the political particularity of where–or on whose ground–one is standing. By surrendering oneself to light and to the sky stretching over land and water,oblivious of the boundaries of nation-states, the artist finds a zero point from which to begin. However, it seems to have been important to Piene, and it certainly is for me, that this sublime invocation of zero not elide or conceal politics.
I am echoing your desire to practice looking while also being mindful of how one looks. Piene’s absorption in the sky is always disturbed by the threat of bombers. What I wonder is how to use the sky to mobilize my political sentiments. Is it possible to feel the threat of drones while sitting in New York City?
LP: I am skeptical of the mobilization of the sky in global politics. Recalling past conversations I have had with you and many others about the commodification of air space in New York City, and Amazon.com’s attempts to make drone delivery a reality in the near future, it seems, by no stretch of imagination, that the sky is the new frontier in late capitalism, and that economic interests will motivate intense political battles over air space. The sublime and transcendent beauty of the sky can be so easily instrumentalized by people on any side of the political spectrum, so the question of how to use the sky to mobilize your political sentiments, which I assume are much aligned with mine, feels urgent.
SRP: We have already grown accustomed to aerial advertisements interrupting our enchantment with the sky. Proposals for moon publicity may some day become a reality, at which time even our “heavenly bodies” would be reduced to surfaces that promote our profit-driven world.
What if we think of the sky not as the space above our heads but,instead, as that which lies beyond? The sky is the literal emptiness that fills the universe, stretching between stars and within atoms. Our recognition of the sky in this sense would give rise to the fundamental question of metaphysics,stated by Heidegger as: “Why are there beings instead of nothing?” Could an engagement with the world that transcends worldly problems establish a new politics of consciousness and attention? Or, are metaphysical considerations incompatible with political life?
LP: I would like to hold fast to the idea that metaphysical reflections ought to make us question the fundamental nature of being, not so we can equate transcendence with escapism, but so that we can become better grounded in our own reality. If we think of the sky as that which lies beyond,then the ground is that which is within. One cannot exist without the other,and both are equally expansive spaces of exploration and questioning.