Mastering the system

Jamie Shovlin, Derrida from Various Arrangements, 2011-12

For many people, the Fontana Modern Masters series provided an introduction to philosophy, critical theory and assorted other aspects of twentieth century thinking. The books, first published in the 1970s sand early 1980s were portable and cheap and the colourful geometric designs on the covers made them easy to spot. I know a trawl of my bookshelves would yield a few; certainly Bryan Magee’s Popper helped me through philosophy of science one of the few bits of my physics degree I properly enjoyed (yes, that’s right, physics; and no, I have no idea what I was thinking either).

So, why am I writing about some book covers from several decades ago now? Well, I’m not really, expect as a bit of background on the matter in hand: Jamie Shovlin’s Various Arrangements which I caught recently – somewhat by accident and on the last day – at Haunch of Venison.

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A blank canvas

Yves Klein, Immaterieller Raum (Immaterial Space), Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld, 1961 (restored 2009)

Over the last few posts I realise I have been dealing with increasingly immaterial art. Though the work is visible it’s ultimately mostly made of nothingness. So, with Invisible soon to open at the Hayward Gallery, now seems like as good a time as any to think about work that really is made of nothing. The void as art. Well we’ve been here before in a way with Yves Klein’s Leap into the Void, but that was an actual photograph and art can get much more insubstantial than that…

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Art on acid

Painting with hydrochloric acid on nylon, 1961

There are lots of ways to paint, as a quick wander through any major art museum will amply demonstrate. But there are those who change out understanding of art through their work, and Gustav Metzger is one such. Metzger’s notion of auto-destructive art, which he initially defined in 1959, was an interesting and highly-influential on which was rooted in the belief that Western society was failing (Metzger has been a Marxist all his adult life). The idea is that the work has the capacity to destroy itself or that it is destroyed by the actions of its creator.

Gustav Metzger: Auto-Destructive Art (1959)
Auto-destructive art is primarily a form of public art for industrial societies.
Self-destructive painting, sculpture and construction is a total unity of idea, site, form, colour, method, and timing of the disintegrative process.
Auto-destructive art can be created with natural forces, traditional art techniques and technological techniques.
The amplified sound of the auto-destructive process can be an element of the total conception.
The artist may collaborate with scientists, engineers.
Self-destructive art can be machine produced and factory assembled.
Auto-destructive paintings, sculptures and constructions have a life time varying from a few moments to twenty years. When the disintegrative process is complete the work is to be removed from the site and scrapped.

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Everything and nothing at all

the whole world + the work = the whole worldMartin Creed, Work No. 232: the whole world + the work = the whole world, 2000

There are two ways to see this. Clearly if A + B = A then B = 0, so in Martin Creed’s equation the work can definitely be read as nothing at all. But is art really a big fat zero? And if it is, is the outside of a major art museum the place to say it? Well, let’s try again…

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