Sunday, February 19, 2006

Plug-in Paintings

The Met has a retrospective of Robert Rauschenberg's "combines" - and walking through the gallery looking at them all, I realize that they were some of the most influential early works of assemblage art to assist me in constructing my remixological art practice. I spent considerable time looking at Bed, The Interview, Factum 1 and Factum 2, as well as some of his "plug-in" work, that is, "combines" that only work when you plug them in to the wall.

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?

Yes. This blog is but one example of that.

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