The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.
CODING: beneath a different veil
— Marcel Duchamp
The idea that the viewer contributes to a work of art doesn’t seem as visionary as it did in the early 20th century when the Berlin and New York schools of Dada were hammering out new ways of seeing and expressing. Yet, we still need to hear Duchamp’s statement in the same way one needs to hear about exercise and proper nutrition. Surprise! It’s good for you and you should probably be doing more of it.
The current show at the little portal into the pataphysical known as Ubu Studio features the work of pseudonym superstars Gaylord Pasternak and Gary Manners. Mr. Manners’s identity remains a mystery, but rumor has it Gaylord might be one and the same as Anti-Friend-Hut friend Kyle Purinton. The room is filled with a joyous creativity due to the artists’ individual attitudes as they poke and prod at cultural norms as well as the collaborative effort of presenting their work.
Pasternak’s “The Duchamp Code” is a narrow collage recalling “The Last Supper” fresco by Da Vinci. The most dramatically posed characters from classic blue-sky Bible illustrations for kids are subjected to the X-acto knife and repositioned in an epic gathering of, well, Biblical proportions. The piece is certainly aesthetically pleasing, but the most effective artistic device is the title of the piece, which sets the viewer off on an individual train of thought.
“The Duchamp Code” implies there is something to be unraveled, a puzzle to solve in the manner told in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code so relished by popular culture. The order of knights in that story had a secret, and from that secret derives power, or more accurately, the potential to diffuse the power of a social institution.
At first glance, the brutish responses of the Dadaist tradition may seem juvenile compared to the golden order of Renaissance and Enlightenment masters. Take a gander at “L.H.O.O.Q.”, Duchamp’s version of “The Mona Lisa,” in which he contributes a goatee and mustache along with the aforementioned acronym that, when pronounced, speaks in French of a dirty pun describing ol’ Mona as a cocktease. What good does this do other than turning heads? The validity of the Dadaist quip, a stroke of violent interruption, takes the form of a yang to Da Vinci’s sacred yin. The need to interrupt current modes of seeing is just as imperative as it was 100 years ago.
Consider “Almost” by Gary Manners. Nodding to the German Dadaist tradition, the artist creates his piece based on a play of the printed word. A 4x6 matrix of individual words shielded by signature broken-glass frames settle into a grid of blue. The piece begs of you to create meaning, to construct sentences out of the grid or attach the title to each single word. “ALMOST there” “ALMOST myself”. The broken glass, however, suggests that these are nothing but not-quite-signs whose signification only ALMOST means something.