Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Combine Laboratory (aka Combinatory)

"Screwing things up is a virtue," Robert Rauschenberg said when he was 74. “Being correct is never the point. I have an almost fanatically correct assistant, and by the time she re-spells my words and corrects my punctuation, I can’t read what I wrote. Being right can stop all the momentum of a very interesting idea."

Rauschenberg taught me that one sure way to supersede a predictable outcome is to unconsciously improvise your work's trajectory without looking back. Not that he did this with all of his work, but you could feel it in many of his performances whether they were focused on painting or techno art.

Rauschenberg recently died in his home on Captiva Island.

Back in 2005, after seeing his "combine" retrospective at the Met, I wrote:
Of course, it was after this major "combine" phase that Rauschenberg literally "plugged into" the Art+Technology scene where he started up E.A.T. with Billy Kluver. In many ways, his work suggests the coming together of recombinatory remixology with visual electracy (electricity/literacy).

Coming on the heels of Abstract Expressionism and somewhat connected to the early conceptual art readymades of Duchamp, Rauschenberg's early combines seem to take on an anti-drip actionary attitude, and one can only guess why he chose to assemble the various found objects that he used in his work. Personally, I dig the socks, comix, and taxidermy.

The date 1954 stood out quite a bit in the first rooms of the exhibition (perhaps this was resonating with that Cold Cut album "Let It Replay" that I played in my seminar last week, the track by the Japanese sound artist Cornelius where he plays with the history of the Moog synthesizer and his first Moog construction in 1954).

But will these works stand the test of time? I don't ask that question in terms of their relevance. That part is already clear. Is he in the canon? Yes - he is IN. But I mean literally stand the test of time. The newspapers are fading as are the colored fabrics.

His approach to improv was interesting. For example, his First Time Painting (and the ones after like Second Time Painting, etc.) were painting performances that the audience could see him making but they were not allowed to see the actual painting itself since the canvas was facing away from them. He had embedded an alarm clock in the canvas and once the alarm went off, he picked up the canvas and walked off stage without showing the work. You can see them in the Met, though.

Factum 1 and Factum 2 were responses to the spontaneity of the Abstract Expressionists. Nearly identical pieces created during two different time durations, when placed together, he seems to suggest that even improv has its game-plan layed out well before the performance takes place.

Is it possible to be improvisational within a preconceived conceptual framework?
To answer my own question: absolutely. It happens time and time again, most recently in 29 Inches and Immobilité.

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