241 Things

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Studium Generale 1000things lectures, The Hague

241 Things

Felix Gonzalez-Torres: When people ask me, “Who is your public?” I say honestly, without skipping a beat, “Ross.” The public was Ross. The rest of the people just come to the work.

Ross Lalock was Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ partner. When the doctor diagnosed Ross with HIV, he assessed his ideal weight to be at175 pounds. Portrait of Ross is precisely that: 175 pounds of candy collected into a mound. By the invitation to take one of the candies, the viewer becomes part of the work and becomes more than simply a viewer. Every morning, the mound is replenished until it’s back at its ideal weight.

These candies are not only a representation of Ross’s weight, but also one of his struggle against the illness. HIV emaciates its patient, but the weight of the soul remains the same and allows for the patient to carry on, day after day.

Each day, the work risks being reduced to absence as the mound dwindles to nothing and no candies are left, in which case the viewer would be responsible for the lack of an artwork. And every day, Gonzalez-Torres plays this game with his audience, allowing them to decide the form of his work. With his work, art becomes fluid and in movement, but also in constant risk of disappearing.

A black and white photo of an empty bed with two pillows. A slept in bed. This is the artist’s own bed. The image was exhibited at the Projects Gallery at the MOMA, as well as on twenty-four billboards around the city of New York: Second Avenue and East 97th Street in Manhattan and Third Avenue and East 137th Street in the Bronx. None of these places were related to the art world of museums, galleries, and collectors. The number, twenty-four, relates to the date on which Ross died.

With Gonzalez-Torres’ sparse and tranquil photograph, the barrage of images that overwhelm New York pedestrians was temporarily paused. No text was supplied to explain the text. And there was no intention, as other billboards typically have, to lure the passerby into buying something. It was nothing more than a photograph of an empty bed with two pillows and a crumpled sheet. An image of private space manifesting itself within public space.

Gonzalez-Torres’ decision to refrain from showing Ross’ image can be seen as a political act. Typically for that time, depictions of AIDS denoted a discerning breach between the homosexuals and the heterosexuals. The sick homosexuals and the healthy heterosexuals. Gonzalez-Torres refuses to depict Ross. With his billboard, Untitled, he depicts the invisibility of the gay community. But he refuses to place himself in opposition to the dominant population, as Robert Mapplethorpe was doing. Gonzalez-Torres invites the viewer, regardless of their sexual preference.

Gonzalez-Torres: Go to a meeting and infiltrate and then once you are inside, try to have an effect. I want to be a spy, too. I do want to be the one who resem­bles something else [….] We have to restructure our strategies [….] I don’t want to be the enemy anymore. The enemy is too easy to dismiss and to attack.

But Gonzalez-Torres also uses other strategies to include absence in his work. By allowing the viewer to take a part of his work, he plays with the role of the artist and the role of art. The role of the artist as designer, the role of the artwork as form. His work displays and art that is not static, but susceptible to constant change.

Gonzalez-Torres: Go to a meeting and infiltrate and then once you are inside, try to have an effect. I want to be a spy, too. I do want to be the one who resem­bles something else [….] We have to restructure our strategies [….] I don’t want to be the enemy anymore. The enemy is too easy to dismiss and to attack.

To what extent is it his work?

Gonzalez-Torres:Perhaps between public and private, between personal and social, between fear of loss and the joy loving, of growing, changing, of always becoming more, of losing oneself slowly and the being replenished all over again from scratch. I need the viewer, I need the public interaction. Without the public these works are nothing. I need the public to complete the work. I ask the public to help me, to take responsibility, to become part of my work.

Molnar Structures de Quadrilateres

Cubic Limit, plotter drawing, ink on paper, 1977

P148, "inschrift", plotter drawing ink on paper, 50cm x 50cm, 1973

P-133, "cluster phobia", plotter drawing ink on paper, 50cm x 50cm, 1972

144 Trapèzes (16 variations), plotter drawing, ink on paper, 20x25 cm, 1974

P91, 1971, plotter drawing, ink on paper, 50 x 50 cm

P-122, "scratch code", plotter drawing ink on paper, 50cm x 50cm, 1972

P-71, "serielle zeichenreihung", plotter drawing ink on paper, 40cm x 50cm, 1970

T.V.C. 20 68179 71, 1971.

Quadrate, 1969/1970.

Plotter drawing, ink on paper, 1965

51/80 Scratch Code, 1970-1975.

P-050/R, "a formal language", Ink/paper/wood, 1970, 100cm x 100cm

Molnar Structures de Quadrilateres

During the fifties and sixties of the last century, the first pioneers in digital art used computers to realize their visual experiments to create algorithmic art. They would write computer programs, otherwise known as algorithms, to generate images, usually by using advanced programming language such as COBOL or Fortran, but also by using machine language. They would often work in the dead of night, whenever a university or research institute would grant them a few hours to make calculations on their expensive IBM-mainframes. These computers were built for computing punch cards, which meant that using them to make visual art became an abstract and mathematical procedure that called for the formulation of rules to determine the construction of an image. The computer carries out the algorithm after which the output is made visible on a plotter (a drawing machine) connected to the computer.

Cubic Limit, plotter drawing, ink on paper, 1977

Artists in this field of visual computer art, such as Ben Lapofsky, Lilian Schwartz, Frieder Nake, Manfred Mohr, Edward Zajec and Vera Molna, were strongly influenced by cybernetics and closely linked to the informational aesthetics developing during that time. It became evident that composing algorithms that performed repeatedly to produce the same image was not particularly artistically interesting, however valuable this development would appear for the later advancement of computer graphics. Much more interesting are the algorithms that, when repeated, produce different results. Although the first generation of computer artists created an output of unique plotter drawings, their main artistic interest lies in fundamental research into composition. They also touch upon complex questions concerning the essence of the artistic practice, by often bluntly addressing the question of authorship with computer generated plotter drawings. The question, what is art, is approached conceptually through an algorithm that automatically spits out one unique drawing after another, as though produced on a factory assembly line. Generally, the question was answered by assigning authorship and artistry to the actual formulation of the algorithms. The construction of algorithms for artistic purposes was seen as a scientific form of visual research that opened up a new stage for the development of art.

P148, "inschrift", plotter drawing ink on paper, 50cm x 50cm, 1973


The works made by these pioneering computer artists is closely linked to the avant-garde movements of the sixties (like GRAV, de Groupe de Recherche d'Art Visuel), and conceptual art. After all, Joseph Kosuth and Sol Lewitt likewise made works that consisted of formulations. Indeed, the end of the sixties saw a short-lived convergence between computer art and conceptual art. The computer artist's attitude towards technology was incomprehensible to those involved in conceptual art and classical art criticism, and was to some even suspect. Nevertheless, many computer artists (like Frieder Nake) were even more radical in their rejection of the bourgeois art system than the conceptual artists, who were operating within the galleries and museums.

P-133, "cluster phobia", plotter drawing ink on paper, 50cm x 50cm, 1972

The innovations made by the first generation of computer artists are simple when compared to what’s possible now, fifty years later. But their experiments laid the foundation that makes the prefab box of tricks possible. What's more important - for art, that is - is that the computer artists also pioneered in the exploration of conceptual questions that still remain fundamental for computer art.

144 Trapèzes (16 variations), plotter drawing, ink on paper, 20x25 cm, 1974

P91, 1971, plotter drawing, ink on paper, 50 x 50 cm

P-122, "scratch code", plotter drawing ink on paper, 50cm x 50cm, 1972

P-71, "serielle zeichenreihung", plotter drawing ink on paper, 40cm x 50cm, 1970

T.V.C. 20 68179 71, 1971.

Quadrate, 1969/1970.

Plotter drawing, ink on paper, 1965

51/80 Scratch Code, 1970-1975.

P-050/R, "a formal language", Ink/paper/wood, 1970, 100cm x 100cm