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Showing posts with label Fountain. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fountain. Show all posts

Friday, 23 June 2017

Marcel Duchamp and the signed, porcelain urinal called Fountain (1917)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2017 (19 to 26 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

23 June

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Monday, 18 August 2014

Gustav Metzger, Damien Hirst, and being a butcher

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

18 August

The cinematic reference is : White Heat – or White Star ?

At the end of it all, whatever the merits of Kettle’s Yard’s (@kettlesyard) Gustav Metzger retrospective Lift Off ! in Cambridge (which runs until 31 August 2014), is one just left with ideas of responsibility and redundancy, and with exhibits that could be reliably reproduced by anyone following the instructions / principles involved ?

One wanted it to amount to more than The Science Museum in a gallery, but the overlap is really less than when, in his quest for understanding, Peter Diggs goes to look at Klein bottles in Amaryllis Night and Day (a novel by Russell Hoban*), and ends up meeting both the man who made them, and, much more, what they signify to him and his situation. Or, in another Hoban novel* (Angelica Lost and Found), an imaginary creature in the Orlando Furioso of Ariosto learns how, by travelling to a space of contradictory appearance, to become real and occupy human form – only to be haunted by art, and visit others with it, that unnervingly revisits that space.

Hoban (who died at 86 in December 2011) was full of life, and with an irrepressible interest in science and technology (as this writer touched upon in Russell Hoban at 80, a festschrift [] from February 2005), so he could just as easily conceive of Jocasta as the organic computer Pythia, and invent interstellar voyaging by means of flickerdrive, which is based on the idea of what happens in all the spaces caused by the refresh-rate of the retinal image. This feels like a real meeting, a fusion of art and science.

In comparison, Metzger – not always easy to understand when he speaks nowadays – may have been talking about meeting The Who, how they wanted to do a benefit gig for his colleagues and him (but their management refused), and ending up doing a liquid-crystal light-show for a gig of theirs at The Roundhouse. However, it was in some obscure context, never curatorially explained, of having to be at The Central Criminal Court (The Old Bailey), and there was never any suggestion here of cross-fertilization between art and science – he did his things, they did theirs (almost a transaction**)

A note on so-called auto-creative art :

Put a primed canvas on an easel, line up a prepared palette and a selection of graphite, pencils, rags, brushes, solvents, water-jars, lock the room, and wait to see what happens…

Or set a process off (it could be a computer, generating fractal- diagrams, or liquid crystals that are being heated on a slide in front of a projector), and see what happens.

Both outcomes are predictable within certain limits, i.e. that the canvas remains as it is, or another piece that looks like a fractal-diagram is generated and the heated crystals distort into patterns that are projected, but there is no auto-creation. If there were, the canvas would be painted on, and one would not know what to expect of the program or the set-up with the crystals :

The exact patterns generated are not known beforehand, but they have not caused the process that gave rise to them (even if they did, via a feedback loop, that loop’s effect would have been envisaged and pre-ordained).

The show Lift Off ! is stochastic processes and applied physics, and, although some of the exposures of fibres moved around on photographic paper may be striking, it is essentially an aleatory method that can be repeated over and over, and one could fill the room with the things, but they largely resist having an artistic content. Dancing Tubes could just as well belong in a Health and Safety Commission training video about the dangers of releasing compressed air without controls, and any lab could set it up.

The scientific method says that an experiment should be capable of being reproduced, and these works can be by just having the notion of what is to be achieved and setting it up, which may even produce refinements or improvements. The idea seems temptingly close to the approach of Damien Hirst (except that he was the one who did first cut – or have cut – in half a formaldehyde-treated cow (and a calf)) and exhibit it (them) as art), and yet so far away, with his being across the line in art.

Not indisputably so, though, with works displaying concepts such as What Goes Up Must Come Down (1994)*** and Loving in a World of Desire (1996) (using the same essential technology), or, perhaps, the less-skilled spin paintings) but in terms of a body of work that is recognized as artistic. The Plexiglass, table-tennis ball and hair-dryer of the former differ from similar museum displays of the principle of keeping a ball in the air by explicitly being – or appearing to be – ready-made items, such that the hair-dryer coincidentally has the right amount of upthrust to keep the ball in motion (though its current may, of course, have been safely adapated to achieve this effect, by trial and error with resistors or the like, behind the scenes).

Hirst’s huge ashtray Crematorium (1996) (not his only repository for cigarette-butts), Roni Horn’s huge glass pieces (opaque, red, black, and one at least resembling an ashtray ?), take the artist into the hands of a manufacturer who will produce what the artist seeks, but the vision makes it more than any old order from a glassworks. There is even more artistry in generating a fractal diagram and giving it a colour-scheme than in most of these exhibits of Metzger’s :

Though some would sniff at fractals as art, but not hesitate to embrace Duchamp’s Fountain [] (Tate Modern (@Tate) exhibits a replica in 1964) – there, the mistake is as to the real work of the piece, which was Duchamp’s gall and iconoclasm in submitting it to an exhibition at The Society of Independent Artists, not the urinal itself. A Museum of Curiosities seems a better place for what Metzger gives us, alongside automata, counting-engines, and elaborate orreries.

He created, after all, a significant art show in and using materials found around a brand new laboratory in Swansea : if that influenced anybody, then we need to know how and why, and that should be at the heart of curation. Instead, the rather unhelpful assumption is of an unannounced starting-point, and hence of shutting off discussion, to the effect that any distinction between art and science is arbitrary : yet the fact is that anything that can be depicted as a continuum has no point where something ceases and another begins does not render it meaningless to ask the question*** and to set limits (e.g. abortion and the medico-legal test of how many weeks old a foetus is).

However, the one-day conference Art, science and social responsibility in 1960s’ Britain largely took tangents from Metzger, and shied off, much of the time, from stating clearly why we should care about him now, whatever his approach was 50+ years ago, and not just forget about it as a by-way : Metzger, sadly in a wheel-chair, was ‘in the room’ literally (the aptly Zen Lecture Theatre 0), but he was rarely the topic.

A brief summary report on the conference – to come…

As to auto-destructive art, the Conference seemed to have assumed that what Metzger did in 1960 with a large pane of glass, a larger piece of nylon stretched across it and applying hydrochloric acid that neither the set-up, not the outcome needed to be described : the Tate (@Tate) has has done it for us.

Again, it is to be noted that the description of auto-destruction is simply wrong : the nylon clearly did not destroy itself, Metzger destroyed it by painting acid on it, otherwise, if I kill someone with a gun, I could call it as meaningfully self-shooting syndrome.


* Respectively, Bloomsbury, London, 2001 and 2010.

** The allusion is to the play Shopping and Fucking by Mark Ravenhill.

*** One of Zeno’s paradoxes starts with a grain of millet, and adds one, and then another : when does it become a pile ? Blurring boundaries because of the in-between ground is as much a fallacy as the law of the excluded middle (where anything that is not X must be Y, whereas it could be Z, in that middle ground), and it ignores the obvious fact that two grains are not a pile, 20,000 grains are. A chemistry experiment is not a piece of art, and a work by Watteau is not science.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Sunday, 18 March 2012

You'll break it! / It's not a toy!

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

18 March

A micrometer - great therapy though it is to find, over and over, the thickness of a piece of paper, and hear it click click when it has reached the point of measurement - is Not a toy.

Nor is a spring-loaded tape-measure, but that doesn't stop it being great fun to have it literally reel itself back in, with that distinctive noise as the stop at the end of the tape (0", 0 cm) hits the metal of the aperture.

So what does that tell us about anything? That - as do other creatures* - we like to play, to repeat, to test things to the limit? Maybe

That, knowing what something is for, we find another use for it? - and, in art, it is Marcel Duchamp who is credited with calling doing this 'a readymade', Fountain probably being the most infamous of such works of his. So our inventiveness, turning our hand to other things, seeing something anew / from another angle?** Perhaps

Or the impulse - coupled with the enabling power - to subvert the order of things?:

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

in the words of early Joni Mitchell***. Possibly

And if not ourselves being those who act, then allowing it? - being those who 'having the power to do good', fail to do so? Conceivably

Saul, the man who became Paul and spread the Christian message over vast distances (from Malta to what is now Turkey), stood by, looking after the others' garments when Stephen****, the first follower of Jesus to be martyred, was stoned to death:

Whoever is not with me is against me (Matthew 12:30; Luke 11:23)

but also

For he who is not against us is for us (Mark, 9:40)


* Including plants?

** Yet this is not a purely human trait, as those will testify who try to devise ways either of keeping squirrels out of a bird-feeder, or even challenge the creatures to puzzle out a series of steps to secure rewards intended for them.

*** The song 'Big Yellow Taxi' from the album Ladies of the Canyon.

**** So what is usually called Boxing Day, 26 December, is St Stephen's Day.