Unreal Nature

July 4, 2016

The Definite Undecidable

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… Human beings have lost their sense of the mystical, the definite undecidable, the greatest definition.

This is from Arp: Painter Poet Sculptor by Eric Robertson (2006):

… the extenuating circumstances of war brought not only financial necessity but also severe difficulties in obtaining artists’ materials, and as a result, Arp began to employ increasingly spare means of production. He made ink drawings with his fingers, and produced sculptures using leftover scraps of marble obtained from a local gravestone carver. The crumpled papers, however, are his most original output of this period … Susan Magnelli recalls, the genesis of this technique was largely the result of chance:

This idea of using paper he had just thrown out was not, I believe, devised knowingly, but rather he discovered the use he could make of it when he saw the crumpled sheet of paper on the floor. Then he worked for four or five hours like that without stopping. There were crumpled papers everywhere, on the floor, on the bed …

Jean Arp, Drawing on crumpled paper, 1942

[ … ]

… The notion of a life’s work as a homogeneous totality, constructed over a period of time from layer upon layer of small but meaningful parts, all directed towards a common goal, is a conception which, one suspects, Arp would have found entirely alien. Some of the most fundamental characteristics of his work … appear to have been designed specifically to conspire against the monument building (or monument knitting, as Arp would have it in ‘Fruit free-for-all’) to which biographers are invariably prone.

… Indeed, the notion of the monumental is an appropriate issue to address at this point, since it is signally absent from his work throughout most of his life. The various practices examined in this book, from the poems amended, retitled, translated and rewritten, or the papers torn and reconfigured, to the sculptures he produced in diminutive dimension, often with modest materials and without pedestals, all have one thing in common: their resistance to vanity, showmanship and monumentalism.

The architectural metaphor in the preceding lines is one that Arp himself employed to express his outright contempt for the wrongdoings of the Renaissance, since which time an over-insistence on reason, and on excess of zeal to explain the undecidable had allowed the values of integrity and modesty to give way to bombast and shallow ostentation:

In early times human beings knew where top and bottom are, knew what is eternal and what is transient. Human beings did not yet stand on their heads. Their houses had a floor, walls and a roof. The Renaissance transformed the roof into a heaven of fools, the walls into gardens of insanity and the floor into a bottomless pit. Human beings have lost their sense of the mystical, the definite undecidable, the greatest definition.

Jean Arp, Pient en chantant, 1960

… One consequence of Arp’s resistance to fixity and permanence is that no work, not even a published poem or a publicly exhibited work of art, was immune to further interventions at its creator’s hands. Hans Richter recalls that, in the days of Dada in Zurich, he owned one of Arp’s reliefs ‘until Arp “changed it into something else,” which “disappeared” in its turn.’ He also recounts the anecdote of how Arp once broke into Tzara’s apartment in order to steal back from him a work with which he was not satisfied.

[ … ]

(when a butterfly is stuffed
it becomes a buttered stufferby
the buttered stufferby
becomes a salt-buttered stufferby)

[ … ]

(the end of the air
and the end of the world
are as round as balloons
but while the end of the world
remains on its folding chair
the end of the air jumps
from a tournament tree
into an empty cage
that flits through the white)

[both poems by Arp]


My previous post from Robertson’s book is here.




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