Monday, November 10, 2008
Tuttle torture: a long overdue review
Three weeks ago (been very busy) I saw Richard Tuttle speak at Smith College. The lecture was intended to reflect on the intersections between math and art and the essentially creative nature of both. Tuttle succeeded in touching on a number of interesting points while trying in vain (the lecture was terribly unorganized, Tuttle's tongue terribly tied) to explain the reinventing of number, the deconstruction, and reconstruction of 1.
Those points lingered around language equated as a structure for morality, or the exploration of self through contradictions and emotions, or the idea of paint being mans greatest invention i.e. mineral, pigment, medium projected into another world.
I've had a long-time interest in Tuttle's work: mostly three-dimensional forms, he refers to as drawing rather than sculpture. He creates small, eccentrically playful objects using materials such as paper, rope, string, cloth, wire, twigs, cardboard, bubble wrap, Styrofoam and plywood, subverting the conventions of modernist sculpture. He also manipulates the space in which his objects exist, placing them unnaturally high or oddly low on a wall, forcing a shift in observers’ perspectives.
Tuttle pared minimalism down to scraps. As he said in the lecture about a painted Styrofoam piece projected on the wall behind him, he uses "the simple things that everyone has missed".
My favorite works are his wire pieces that begin with a pencil trace on the wall before adding the irregular length of metal—and its shadow, cast on that same wall. I respect his determined attention to time, scale, and language, as he described in the Art 21 interview, "A kind of strange part of my work is that one instant is the same as all time, all eternity: microcosm, macrocosm. One of my favorite artists is Jan van Eyck who gives you a picture that satisfies all attentiveness to the smallest of the small and all attentiveness to the largest of the large. That’s one of the things that a picture is supposed to do for us. Ultimately, you have to come to that flash instant which is almost un-measurably short and then un-measurably large. I’ve always been confused why we have this system where we try to balance out originary time with non-originary time. You know, sequential time by the watch and then the concept of time. Even our sentences, the ways we express ourselves, play service to each one of those notions of time."
Although he fumbled around on stage with bits of styrofoam and sticks, speaking in an unprepared, relatively inarticulate way about the transformation of number and its relation to art. He somehow managed to get across the simple but essential idea of taking an object, doing something with it, and then doing something else with it.
I think the most poignant moment was during the question and answer segment when Tuttle was asked how he felt his work fit in with the contemporary art world, "It's an issue for us to locate ourselves." he said in a grim monotone, "The art world is lost in contextual issues so much so that it's lost what it's a context of."
“x=” was a site-specific joint project involving collaboration among mathematicians at Smith’s MathStudio and artists at the A.P.E. Gallery in downtown Northampton. The project, took place in Northampton October 16 through 19, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation with support from the Smith College Museum of Art.