My current theoretical research is mainly focussed on philosophy around what art is, but it would be remiss of me to ignore totally one of the fundamental influences and sources of my work.
Researching about what art is, enables me to explore ways to subvert our understanding of art in practical terms. Using chance and incidental elements in the studio is an act of subversion in itself. Unwanted and discarded elements invoke notions of potentiality, purpose and the everyday.
Many of the materials I use are obtained through or are objects of, chance. However, their use is not due to an interest in chance as a subject, but rather through their disassociation from choice or intention and the resulting dissociation in the artwork.
I am well known in shared studios for collecting unwanted materials, rubbish and works. Using these in my work is an important part of my process. Working with objects, traces or unnoticed elements encourages me to look at things differently. Focussing on things that normally remain unnoticed feeds not only the material of my practice but often ideas within it.
Using materials that are considered incidental extends their potentiality past the purpose they have fulfilled. My practice often juxtaposes these extended materials with those that have had their potential halted, never achieving what they could be, instead being subverted into an artwork (which admittedly then becomes their purpose).
In this way, chance is deeply associated with purpose and function within my work.
I've been looking at artists who use chance and incident in their work and to illustrate the importance of this idea in my practice I plan to explore two of those here.
John cage is an artist and composer, known for his work with chance. Cage worked at a time when Abstract Expressionism was a major focus in contemporary art, he had a close friendship with other artists like Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. (Brown, 2001)
In his work 4’33” (1952) he used the ambient noise of a recital hall to create the music. (Inversen, 2010) The performer came onstage, and sat in front of a grand piano. Hands poised he played nothing for 4 minutes and 33 seconds, after which he left without saying anything. The audience did not know what to expect during the first performance and it only highlighted the purpose of the piece. (Inversen, 2010) What he composed was nothing but silence, the composition heard at each performance was made by the audience, by their shuffling, sighing or other noises. He created a situation rather than a piece of music. In the same ways, many artists try to create an experience.
This piece highlights the chance nature of artistic materials (in this case sounds) in the world around us and argues the case for the potential inclusion of any chance occurrence in art.
I could easily write a few thousand words on Cage and the implications of his practical research into chance and the unconsidered in the everyday, however, it will do to note here that he created exhibitions, artworks, compositions and ‘happenings’ that embraced the ideas of chance and what those ideas mean.
I’ll end this short note on a brilliant man with my favourite quote about music theory - "Which is more musical: a truck passing by a factory or a truck passing by a music school?" (Cage, 1961)
Kidd is an artist who we are lucky enough to have as a lecturer at Bath Spa University. Her work has been an inspiration and she is the person responsible for the biggest compliment I have ever received about my work - that it made her consider the space we are in differently.
Her work is primarily concerned with painting machines, and working with painting in new ways. The main piece I want to discuss here is ‘Overfill’ which is a series of machines that pump white paint into the space behind a canvas. (Kidd, 2017) This space fills and the paint overspills through small holes at the top of the canvas, before returning to a reservoir underneath each painting.
The painting machines are displayed working, and the results become almost iconic remnants of these industrial explorations of paint. These explorations deny any expressionist or emotional influence. They speak about paint in its purest form and allow the paint to speak for itself. The machines and the resulting canvases are paintings but at the same time they are sculptural forms, and they speak about paint far more than a traditional (or many contemporary paintings) can.
I have been lucky enough to see this work a few times over the last few years. The machines, now dried, are in a few offices around the campus. One of them is currently running in the paint workshop at the university. The small hardened drips that form over months on the canvas had been chipped off, so the machine has been set up once more to reform these chance elements.
In an exhibition in 2000 called ‘Microswitch’ the machines were hydraulic and dipped an entire canvas into white paint and then pulled it up again to allow the excess to drip back into the vat of white. Again and again, the canvas is dipped by the hydraulics, adding layers of paint, covering the old remnants with the new. The show ran for 6 weeks, with the dipping running throughout. (Healy, Undated)
As the layers dry the paint forms inconsistencies and unique forms that cannot be replicated or anticipated because they are true forms of chance. Each time this work is shown the result is different, the differences might be minute but they are there. Using white paint further highlights these small yet extremely important differences. Because these differences are only affected by the machine and the paint itself the resulting effects are aesthetically organic.
The viewers are experiencing the creation process, live. In this way, the pieces are performative, with the machine as the performer. The canvas then serves as a record of the performance.
Natasha Kidd, as the creator of the machine, has control in certain elements, the colour of paint, the timing of the dips etc but the resulting paintings have very little of her personal influence on them. The machine is the artist and the visual form is incidental.
I could easily continue this post, I have conducted a great deal of research into ‘chance’, and there are numerous books and artists who have done the same.
This does not serve as a full view of this subject but instead uses two artists to serve as a note to the importance chance and the incidental in my practice.
Brown, K. (2001) John Cage Visual Art : To Sober and Quiet the Mind. San Francisco : Cambridge University Press.
Cage, J. (1961) Silence : Lectures and Writings. Wesleyan University Press.
Healy, J. (Undated) ‘Natasha Kidd: Microswitch’ [Online] Available from: http://www.natashakidd.com/wp-content/uploads/micro-switch-whats-on-london-review.pdf [Accessed 28.11.17].
Iversen, M. (2010) Chance (Documents of Contemporary Art). MIT Press.
Kidd, N (2017) Natasha Kidd, Artists Talk. Bath Spa University. 21.11.17.