Thursday, December 18, 2014

The random and the nature-collaborative

One of the attractive by-products of printmaking I have found is randomness - the odd unpredictability of what emerges on the paper no matter how hard one tries to control all the elements beforehand.  That chance contribution can of course be negative just as often as positive - although that can depend on whether one is of a positive or of a negative disposition.
Sue Cor: catch the wind (from here)
I have been thinking a lot recently about artists who deliberately court the random by collaborating with aspects of the natural world.  Richard Long uses mud from nearby sources for installations and drawings, Andy Goldsworthy uses what is around for his largely ephemeral sculptures, many people use the sea such as Debbie Lyddon, and Chris Day (as described in Margaret Cooter's post on Ragged Cloth Café), and Sue Cor uses seaweed in the wind to make drawings.  There are also many artists who use the staining qualities of aspects of the natural world, and especially fashionable at present is the random effect of rust.
John Cage: Strings 1-20 (from here)
John Cage made a system of using randomness which he used not only for composing music but also for visual art.  There is a fascinating explanatory film here.
David Nash sculpts wood, and one of his projects was to make a wooden boulder which he left to the mercies of a river in Wales.  The boulder was carried down to the sea eventually, and now it is not known where it is.  Here is a short film of the boulder.
Image from here
Another example of intentional randomness is to be found in photography these days: ICM is intentional camera movement, which is explained here.  Is it because we are more aware that there are indeed more things in the universe than are dreamt of in our consciousness that so many are reaching out to the unknown effect to further their practice?  Is there a feeling that no matter what we decide to do, the outcome will not be in our control so we might as well throw our bread (or some crumbs, at least) upon the waters, and see what the tide washes in?
Are the artists intrigued by the enhancing of their own ideas if they harness or at least co-operate with the creative energy of Nature?  Or do they think that they are adding the creative element to the random forces?  In most cases the artist does have the final say to accept or to reject chance's effect. 
I do enjoy the odd surprises thrown up by the printing process, and the random consequences encountered in the making of work, but I must admit to a preference for thinking that I am largely in charge - even if that is ultimately an illusory notion!


  1. Coincidentally, I have been thinking about chance in art, too, Olga. It started with my reading on the course on modern art I am doing, and then I got to thinking about the exhibition I saw at the Barbican last year, The Bride and the Bachelors, which was about the influence that Marcel Duchamp had on four artists, John Cage being one. There was a whole section on chance, which included Duchamp's Three Standard Stoppages, a machine in which he tried to imprison and preserve forms obtained through chance. John Cage's music featured too, as did the painting The Strings, that you mention. A fascinating topic.

    Your blog post also made me think about the practice of ceramics where the levels of unpredictability are very high: you never know exactly what the end result is going to be, and even if you try to replicate a design you have made, chances are that it will come out differently.

    ICM and photography made me think of Francesca Woodman's photographs. She uses the blur very effectively. And then I thought of Gerhard Richter's early paintings which are sometimes intentionally blurred (no chance here, it's all executed with clear intention and precision). He said he used 'the blur to make everything equal, everything equally important and equally unimportant' - an interesting notion, I thought.

    This is a very interesting and thoughtful post, thank you.

  2. Thank you for your comment, Eirene. It is such a big and interesting question, the one of using chance. I don't feel in any way in charge of the topic - maybe because I am too much tied up in my own control. But I do understand the degree of chance involved in printmaking and ceramics, as you mention.