April 23 2020

Second Nature Ralph Ghoche
Fiona Sze-Lorrain

Second Nature

Sumi ink and graphite pencil on washi, 35.5 x 26 cm

This pair of sumi-e paintings—shadow tracings—is done with the idea of a “second nature” and the features of something “ornamental” in mind. The experiment began in late January. I worked to make both pieces each a “photocopy” image of the other in poetic time: unique in ways subtle enough to be detected, yet not enough to be taken as disparate or divergent. Both were done at one take, rather by default than by design.

The words I handwrote are by Ralph Ghoche, Canadian historian of architecture and urbanism. They are chosen from his essay “Second Nature”:

"Ornament was a second nature, one that captured and focused the animate forces more potently than the living world itself.

Fear played a critical part in conceptions of ornament in the 19th century . . . By most accounts of the time, ornament first emerged as a response to a primitive terror of nature. It was a recoiling from the external world, a way to bring order to the dizzying chaos."

Neither words nor image is ornamental here.

Fiona Sze-Lorrain

Paris, April 2020


Ralph Ghoche


Ralph Ghoche is a historian of architecture and urbanism and Assistant Professor in the Department of Architecture at Barnard College, Columbia University. His current research looks at the territorial interventions of the Catholic Church in Algiers in the 19th century. It examines how the Church reshaped urban space in Algiers through the construction, conversion, and erasure of buildings in order...



Fiona Sze-Lorrain


Fiona Sze-Lorrain is a poet, literary translator, editor, and zheng harpist who writes and translates in English, French, Chinese, and occasionally Spanish. She is the author of three books of poetry: Water the Moon (2010), My Funeral Gondola (2013), and most recently The Ruined Elegance (2016) from Princeton, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and one of...