Classification as Art

Marcel Duchamp took a urinal and re-classified it as a piece of art.

Librarian Suzanne Briet proposed in 1951 [1] any physical or symbolic sign could become a document; an animal in the wild is not a document, but once captured and placed in a zoo it becomes one, a stone becomes a document when it is removed from its resting place in a river and placed in a display cabinet in a museum.

Buckland infers several criteria from her writing to when an object becomes a document:

Intention (intended to be treated as evidence), Process (made into a document), Perception (Perceived as a document), Indexing (Organized within a collection of evidence)

So if Duchamp takes a urinal and intends it be treated as a artistic document then

The object itself was unchanged other than the addition of a signature (not his own, but R Mutt). The board judging the applications for the exhibition didn’t agree and threw it out, literally as Duchamp had to purchase another one when his friend Stielglitz offered to display it in his gallery.

For good or ill, depending on your own view of contemporary art, it has gone on to become one of the most influential pieces of art of the modern era.

August Sander photographing German population – recording types.

Bern and Hiller Becher with their images of industrial buildings. Photographer become like a Victorian scientist / collector.

Taryn Simon’s ‘An Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar.

The influence of the museum. Karl Grimes ‘Dignified Kings Play Chess on Fine Green Silk’ – taking its title from a mnemonic for the classifications of living things (Department, Kingdon, Phylum, Class, Family, Genus, Species).

Damien Hist talks about the regional museums of his childhood where natural history exhibits would rub shoulders with paintings and sculpture. His shelves covered with pills grouped by colour groups take elements of the chaortic real world, and arrange them, order them, present them, ask us to reflect on them as a type, compare them to each other.

Art as a battle against entropy

Peter Greenaway’s exhibit at the South Bank exhibiton ‘Spellbound’ – where the elements of a film are broken down, separated and ordered by type – as if a film had been thrown in a centrifuge. ACtors, costumes, props – a film really is more than the sum of its parts – the magic lies in the interaction between the elements.

Deutsche Borse Photography Prize 2012

Notes on the Deutsche Borse Photography Prize 2012 at the Photographers’ Gallery, London.

John Stezaker – I really enjoyed his exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery last year. His deceptively simple collages take vintage postcards and publicity portraits and combine them in often unsettling ways. The works feel like throwbacks to Surrealism, something that the source material – which looks to date from the 30s and 40s – only adds to.

Christopher Williams – I can’t say his photographs made any impression on me at all (which probably means he’ll probably go on to be seen as the greatest photographer of his generation and years later I’ll be slapping myself on the forehead wondering how I could have been so short-sighted to have overlooked him).

Pieter Hugo – beautiful, large-format portraits of the scavengers who eke out an existance on the technology dumping-grounds outside Ghana’s capital city.

Rinko Kawauchi –  a real favourite of mine. I was really looking forward to seeing her photographs in a gallery, only ever having seen them in books before, but sommehow the way they were presented (small prints under perspex frames, haphazardly arranged across two walls) didn’t capture the intensity of her books. There’s more light in a single Kawauchi photograph than we seen in a whole summer in England. I enjoyed browsing her collection of books in the basement store (these books are really hard to get hold of in the UK too – I had to resist spending a fortune).

Strangely Pieter Hugo’s images were the opposite, the book just didn’t capture the impact of the prints (that almost looked like paintings – they made me think of Richard Hamilton’s portraits based around the troubles in Northern ireland).

Stupidly I completely missed that that there was also an exhibition of Japanese Photography books on the second floor (I’m still not entirely convinced by the gallery’s redesign btw – particularly the cafe’s move to the ground floor)

Postcode Tectonics

[circa 2006] I follow the cracks in the pavement. Are these signs of London’s shifting boundaries? Postcode tectonics. Estate agents are the new geographers. Kilburn becomes West Hampstead.

White goods dumped beside the Archway Road. A fridge lies on its side, door gaping open, cable sprawled across the pavement. Inspired by Suicide Bridge (what is its real name?). Victims of London’s property boom.