Chance in Art – A Fresh Context Thanks to the Series “Documents of Contemporary Art” by The MIT Press
Today I must return to the library three books from the series Documents in Contemporary Art. Chance, edited by Margaret Iverson, The Sublime, edited by Simon Morley and Failure by Lisa La Feuvre. I’ve had them for over six weeks now, but it still feels way too early to say goodbye. The truth is that I spent so much time with the essays in Chance that I never got to read the others – so I will once I buy the books for my own library.
Chance is made up of short chapters of interviews with artists and artist writings. Also included are writings by art historians and I assume curators. In Chance the earliest writing is from 1944 and the most recent from 2010. Because the writings come from a span of 7 decades, it allows the reader to draw his or her own conclusions about how the history of chance emerges and inspires contemporary artists. It is without the pretentiousness and crazy language that often obscures writings on art history. The chapters focus on the artist’s intention, plainly communicating ideas
and inspirations. You often get to read about the artist’s line of inquiry in his or her own words. I enjoyed reading one essay at a time, and then taking a few days to reflect on what was said.
In Chance I found some of the most interesting writing on Cildo Meireles that I’ve come across. It also gave me a new appreciation for the work of Yoko Ono and I was introduced to William Anastasi who I wrote about in an early post. A combination of chapters together presented a fresh context to consider the work and influence of John Cage.
My work in sound arts is interested in the ephemeral and transitional, the rapidly changing and complex layers of daily life and the mashing together of natures and cultures. Chance, of the series Documents in Contemporary Art provides me with a fresh context to consider my work in sound arts and sound installation. I’m ready to go out and buy the series.
Because I’m also interested in how ideas are transmitted it’s worth noting the story of how I was able to get access to these books. They were loaned to me by The Fletcher Free Library in Burlington, Vermont who had to get them through interlibrary loan through Middlebury College but originally from Marlboro College in Southern Vermont. When I got the books they appeared as if they had never been read or even cracked open.
Also I have to give a cheer “Go MIT Press!” one of my favorite publishers – great job with this series. Thank you.
I recently was introduced to the work of William Anastasi. There are a few essays about him in the book CHANCE that is of the Documents of Contemporary Art series (2010). This book is a fascinating read for anyone interested in how chance has played a role in contemporary art. Anastasi’s work “Sink” from the 1960s is just fantastic. It is a floor piece made with the following instructions: “Set a rectangular piece of hot-rolled carbon steel level on floor. Pour on it a measure of tap water so that the resulting pond holds its position short of overflow. Each time the water evaporates, repeat.” You can find more about it here.
I believe I’ve found two images of the same piece, (it seems he created at least four of them in 1963) one of the photos appears to be taken in 1963 in an exhibition (with water) and the other taken when (dry) and up for auction in 2009.