Monday, July 21, 2008

Responses to Creative Destruction

I got a great comment to a previous Creative Destruction post. To save you all from looking back into the blog site to find what I'm responding to, here is what One Way Street says on the topic of Creative Destruction:

Here are some random associations with "creative destruction": Historically I think of the "duotone solarizations" of Edmund Teske, which involved re-working his existing negatives, playing with the chemistry (exposing developers to light before they had been fixed, or after they had been partially fixed) - rendering each image unique. Depending on the papers & chemistry used as well, different tonalities were achieved, as well as solarization effects (negatives rendered as positive, & vice versa). Teske comes out of a very distinct pictorial tradition, dating back to the 1920s, in Chicago & subsequently Los Angeles. The print & its surface were assumed to be mediated - the transparency we assume with modern "straight" prints is a later idea. Teske's patron was Aline Barnsdall, who is known now primarily for her estate "Hollyhock House" designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, which is now a cultural center run by the city of L.A. Teske was also a follower of the Vedanta Temple. Unlike more traditional pictorial materials (gum bichromate overlays, platinum printing, etc.), Teske utilized the effects of "deterioration" of the silver, experimenting with chemistry & light, which I think would fit in this framework. Teske had been a teacher of James Fee, who works currently, who has experimented a lot with the same techniques. Other work that comes to mind: the photos of Sigmar Polke, which use chemicals in a much more selective & delirious manner - such that the image sometimes is barely apparent or unrecognizable. Also, some of the prints of Boris Mikhailov, which employ scavenged or "compromised" materials. I'm thinking of his book "Unfinished Dissertation" which uses an academic dissertation as the matrix of Mikhailov's book. Or his use of cyanotype paper. My understanding of Mikhailov's work is that before the fall of the USSR, it was "officially" unofficial, & was deliberately "poor" & "poorly made" to stand outside the world of sanctioned imagery. Also (to go in another aesthetic direction): the 80s work of the Starn Twins with its folds, wrinkles, spills & cellophane tape, come to mind.

I think this response hones the ongoing discussion about what constitutes destruction. Is it destruction to experiment in the darkroom with chemicals and toners? Is it destruction when any sharp object breaks the surface of the emulsion? I think the Starn twins are in the same category to me as Carlos Garaicoa. The use of pins (in the case of Garaicoa) or tape (the Starns) is sculptural and and of a certain utility. There seems to be no intent on the part of the artist to destroy or mar the object. From a viewer's point of reference, I don't see these works as damaged by the process in the same way as Walead Beshty's process damages his work. I understand that Beshty may not INTEND destruction either, but we certainly see it that way.

In the case of Teske, I wonder if this is related to my questions about any of the artists who use the darkroom as a place of experimentation. Is toning an act of destruction? Is the work of Allison Rossiter with her use of damaged and expired paper destruction? What about all the photogram and darkroom experimentation out of Bauhaus and the I.D in Chicago? For my money, these do not fall into the realm of Creative Destruction.

That being said, Mr. Polke seems to be in a different world. His practice does seem to have some intent by the artist or perception by the viewer of ruin and occlusion. I would compare this practice to the color abstractions and folded paper work of Wolfgang Tilmanns. Here darkroom work seems to be directed towards the "ruin" of the image or taking the paper to the limits of it's viability. Destruction of the object seems a distinct possibility in the process of creating it.

In any case, there is no clear answer, nor any one right one. I enjoy chewing on the idea, though, and I think it would make an intriguing show. More to come........

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