the visual arts, the major event of the early 20th century has been to give up
representation. From the « grapes of Zeuxis » up to the
impressionists and cubists, so many revolutions had taken place in the
relationship that artists felt compelled to maintain between art and reality!
Suddenly, painting was free from representation itself, «free from the burden
of the object» as Malevitch put it. This subtractive process left the public in
a state of confusion, from which it has never quite recovered (except that
photography and the soon-to-follow proliferation of pictures in the media have
mounted such a disproportionate revenge that it could now inspire by itself a
rejection of images). Viewers were robbed of the mental framework in which
painting is above all an art of representation.
what will replace the object? », Kandinski asked himself in 1910, when,
suddenly seeing one of his watercolours lopsided, he could perceive « shapes
and colours that no longer conveyed any meaning, an ineffably beautiful
painting, pervaded with an inner glow. »
any reference to the outside world had vanished, and the inner man found a new
way of expressing his subjectivity, free from the tyranny of representation and
left to himself. But then, all the aesthetical rules, all the mechanisms of
composition, all the harmonic laws of traditional painting found a way of
recycling themselves. The painters of the
this context, post-modernism had an easy time delivering its message of
regression and proclaiming its rejection of any attempt at innovation. This
subterfuge, brilliantly developed by Achille Bonito Oliva and his
“transavanguardia”, put figurative painting back on stage, all the while
standing up to American art. But abstraction, as a specific mode of expression,
had nothing to do with this strategy, since its nature was never to convey any
outer signification but on the contrary, to signify that which does not exist
before. It was thus in a position to avoid the trap in which the other artistic
movements were caught, i.e. the ideological submission to “the chaos of the
contemporary world” (Hegel). Believing that art must account for what happens
in our world is probably the weakness inherent to what we call “contemporary
art”, which endeavours, with its installations, to stage the most commonplace
aspects of our society. The commonplace, inexhaustible and omnipresent, is well
suited, once “transfigured” by an official cultural policy (as Arthur Danto
puts it), to create the widest possible public consensus.
our thinking should not be based on the old “avant-garde” movement called
“abstraction”. This historical term doesn’t subsume once and for all the
potential that the very concept of abstraction contains, and that we must
understand as a mental operation, which can force its way to higher artistic
spheres, and reach the end of its inner logic in its relation to Art.
direction implies that we set aside, as much as possible, the subjectivity of
the artist who, Heidegger told us, remains something “nondescript”, the
medium that gives way to the œuvre,
and is annihilated by its creation. The artist is all too often considered as
the one who, through his very existence, must convey what it is to be a human
being ; the one who reigns over his own work, when in fact the work originates
much more in its communication with all the other works created since the
beginning of time and whose irradiating energy still reaches us.
have reduced their “specific objects” to the point of making them
undistinguishable from the usual objects of industrial civilization, a mistake
that submitted creation, yet again, to the tyranny of reality, paradoxically
enslaving it to the physical world.
was therefore necessary to move on and further liberate creation from
subjectivity by substituting algorithmic operations for the antiquated heuristic
the heuristic mode, the artist and his work are inextricably linked; whatever
the action, be it the most traditional, such as applying this colour rather than
that one onto the canvas, or the most contemporary (although quite a few years
old already…), such as choosing this readymade over that one in an
installation, it is always the gesture of the omnipotent artist who gradually
finds the solutions, step by step, and decides of the beginning and the end; By
contrast, in the algorithmic mode, the work is the result of a system, that the
subject has created but the details and the outcome of which he cannot predict.
The subject, still the creator of the system, is not eliminated but simply
shifts from one point of the process to another. In the chain of events leading
to the work of art, he stands at the beginning, so that there is no risk of
eliminating the human element, as some would have us fear. But this new distance
between the artist and his work, freely accepted and even desired, this
transcending of the artist by the system, this new relationship of the subject
to his work, are conducive to creating specific results, because they originate
in the objective coherence of a program (whether computerized or not) rather
than in the subject’s mind.
the past, many artists have submitted their productions to predetermined
experimental processes, each one using his own techniques, manipulations,
constructions or contraptions. One example among many: Hantaï folded his
canvas, painted its visible surface then unfolded it, revealing unexpected
shapes. Those programs were handmade.
at this point, how was it possible to disregard the amazing inventions of
techno-sciences that already had, everywhere else, exerted such deep influence
on society? Thus, a new path opened up for artists who could use computers
capable of performing the creative process and exploring the virtual world with
a level of efficiency previously inconceivable. Taking advantage of these new
tools, an abstraction that could be genuinely called modern or, better,
“neo-modern” could reach its full potential.
eschewed the viral kitsch of the media, this new abstraction would also leave
aside its historical determinations of a hundred years; not to attain a kind of
purification whereby it would transcend itself up to the vanishing point, but to
abandon one production process for another, whereby new artistic forms, born
from new associations, would become possible.
Christian de Cambiaire
(Translation Jean François Brunet)