At the beginning of my freshman year at Stanford I decided to join ITALIC, an arts residence-based academic program for first year students. Since then, I have been exposed to art criticism and art work of all forms (film, improv, poetry, public art, music, photography etc). Although I initially feared reading pretentious, inaccessible writing, I have come to realise that art responses are diverse and certain tones are adopted for a reason (e.g. garnering reputability for an art form). Through ITALIC I have become more confident in unpacking my responses to art. I now have the vocabulary and mental tool-kit to explore what draws or distances me and why. At the end of autumn quarter, our final assignment was to think of a rule in an art form and present a work that breaks it. Below is my final project.
Visual art is preserved to make permanent an artist’s intent. Preservation protects the work from physical changes, such as the wear and tear of ageing. Yet, in aiming to preserve, others intervene with the physical life of the artwork. Institutions and individual collectors hire conservators to touch up, saturate colours, and add varnishes to maintain the value of their collected artworks. For example, conservators used alternative materials to replace the pound cake eaten by rats in Matthew Barney’s installation, OTTOshaft, to create a non-edible pound cake. However, in such a case, hindering the original work from evolving is almost like rejecting the nature of the material, and ignoring the reason the artist chose a perishable material as a vehicle for his communication.
If original meaning is created by the material, its evolution should be recognised in perpetuating meaning. However its evolution does not always align with the artist’s intent. My work proposes that, in this case, the act of destruction can conceptually be freeing and preserve meaning even if it doesn’t equate to physical conservation. The act of destruction returns the control of defining the concept back to the hands of the artist.
I pull off and cut pieces of my original artwork to photographically record the act of destruction. You can see the qualities of the material that made it suitable, such as its shine, but you can also see its hardness and brittleness that made it problematic for maintaining its original shape. The variation of layouts conveys the mix of intimacy, playfulness and wistfulness I felt in taking it apart. It also depicts chronology: from a pile of remains (LEFT), to a desire to view the material carefully and individually (MIDDLE), and then finally to throwing them in the bin (RIGHT).
It is a self-reflexive work because it recognises and validates the inevitable destruction of the original. It is a quiet ceremony in celebration of how the material that once held form now has a space in which to be freed from associations that no longer authentically communicate the original intention of the artist. The end of an artwork shouldn’t be ignored just because it isn’t as conventionally glamorous as the initial creation. Both the physical beginning and end are a part of the artwork’s narrative.