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Proposal for a seminar in Strasbourg

Session 2 : Activations

A. Closing versus Opening in an artistic perspective

At the end of the last seminar, we had a discussion about the closing of the artwork, versus its opening. As an historien, I can assert that this question was the major concern of artistic debates during the 1960s in Europe and North America, even if it was adressed in very different ways according to artistic contexts.

Uberto Eco (an italian semiotician and litterary critic), published in 1962 his main book titled The Open Work. In this essay, he argued that literary texts have to be seen as fiels of meaning (rather than strings of meaning), that they are understood as open, internally dynamic and psychologically engaged fields. I think this essay had a decisive influence in art debates, dealing with what we call the linguisitc turn in the 1960s, but it also had adverse effects, including the fact that it reduces everything to discursive or linguistic dimensions (it is the fault common to structuralism and linguistic turn), which is a bad way of thinking about art.

Regarding to the avantgarde european centered history, we can see that the poetics of the open work begins to unfold accross the arts with Mallarmé’s influence throughout the 20th century, particulary through avant-garde, neo-avantgarde and experimental works, absorbing and assimilating into the wider field of contemporary art practice. A history of the open work methods would include the range of ideogrammatic, paratactical, aleatoric, indeterminate, improvisationnal, procedural methods, including collage, montage and assemblage that have characterised approaches to fine art, film, performance and poetic practice since the first quarter of the 20th century.

Examples in the field of objects from the 1950s to the 1980s :

  • Open works in sculpture dealing with modularity and seriality from Brancusi (La Colonne sans fin, 1926-1933) and Calder (Mobiles serie since 1932) to Minimal Art (Sol LeWitt). From modular forms to undeterminated objects.

  • Indeterminacy and chance operations in assemblages, happenings and events (Fluxus) beyond Marcel Duchamp and John Cage from 1955 to 1965 (Allan Kaprow, George Brecht…), with a particular focus on everyday life objects

  • Art focused on processes (Peter Fishli and David Weiss, Der Lauf Der Dinge, 1987)

  • Dialectic between form and accumulated objects from Pop Culture, New Realism to New British Sculpture (Arman, Tony Cragg)

Case studies in nowadays contemporary art (in an object/sculpture perspective) :

B. Activation tracks to open and/or close an object

To be continued on account of the discussion during the seminar…

Closing :

  • destruction

  • function (reduced to a single one)

  • linearity structure

  • instruction to use in a regular way

Opening :

  • narrative

  • instruction to use in a disturbing way

  • spatial structure

  • reception

What do we close and/or open ?

  • possibilities for social appropriations

  • functions

  • meanings

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