The stated aim of the curators is to articulate a reflexive discourse addressing “the future resonance of the increasingly experimental ways in which artists attempted in 1913 to represent the complexity of modern life” by pointing to, as primary evidence, “the complex hermeneutic lives that sculptures lead following their production.” So the particular circle the curators have attempted to square is how the meaning of an aestheticized artefact might fruitfully enjoy reconfiguration through the frames of any number of theoretical constructs, personal obsessions and fashionable intellectual conceits under whose purview it might retrospectively fall. These two discourses are induced to reciprocate through a refracting lens, inscribed ‘Time’ on one side and ‘Shape’ on the other, theoretically framed by George Kubler’s The Shape of Time (i) which, in a further parallel refraction, is induced to reciprocate with various aesthetic manifestations of Bergsonianism, one expression of which is identified as the leitmotif of the exhibition, ‘simultaneity’. But a problem arising from any attempt to map Kubler’s conception of duration onto Bersgon’s concept of durée would appear to be highlighted by Donato Totaro’s identification of the latter, (below), which would not appear to correspond substantively to the former.
Bergson distinguished between two types of time, spatialized time and real time, which he called Duration. Spatialized time is time that is conceptualized, abstracted and divided. Duration is time that flows, accumulates and is indivisible. The metaphor Bergson most often used to describe Duration was consciousness (and personal identity), a form of “I think, therefore time endures.” Duration rests within the consciousness of a person and cannot be ‘stopped’ or analysed like the mathematical conception of time as a line. Our true inner self, our emotions, thoughts and memories do not lie next to each other like shirts on a clothesline, but flow into one another, one sensation gnawing and overlapping into another. Inner duration exhibits no sharp (i.e. spatial) breaks from one moment to the next. Its components (our different memories, passions, sensations) interpenetrate and cannot be sharply distinguished. Duration therefor cannot be measured. Unlike space, which according to Bergson is homogenous, static, infinitely divisible and absolute, Duration is indivisible and cannot be measured in a numerical, mathematical fashion. Just as one cannot gauge the intensity of an emotion with a numerical value, Duration escapes being extended into spatial conceptions. (ii)
Oddly, Kubler has nothing to say about Bergsonian concepts of time, citing the philosopher only once, on page 67, as follows: “It is as if aesthetics had ceased since Croce and Bergson to be an active branch of philosophical speculation.” For Kubler, time is the regular setting for the vagaries of history, and the perception of time depends on regularly recurrent events, unlike an awareness of history which depends on unforeseeable change and variety; without change there is no history; without regularity there is no time. Duration without regular pattern means no recurrence, and so no recognition of anything; no measure, entities, properties or events. Since for Kubler history has one dimension that is measured, calendrical time (which indicates nothing about the pace of events), then the History of Things is about material presences. That being so, artefacts might possess a specific duration occupying time differently from the animal beings of biology and the natural materials of physics – because durations vary according to kind, in characteristic spans and periods. Defined by span, the duration of artefacts differs to that of the lives of men, coral reefs or chalk cliffs. Thus, according to Kubler, the number of ways for a thing to occupy time is probably no more unlimited than the number of ways in which matter occupies space. Classed events will cluster during a given portion of time in an order varying between a dense and a sparse array; a slow succession with many interruptions is sparse in positional value, and each separable part has a positional value in addition to its own value as an object. Thus the age of an object has not only the customary absolute value in years elapsed since it was made, but its age also has a systematic value in terms of the position of the thing in the permanent sequence – its temporal position. No artefact exists outside the linked sequences that connect every man-made object since the remotest antiquity; everything has a unique position in that system. Therefore all things must be related to the several changing systems of forms in which its occurrence belongs. Because duration can be measured by the two standards of absolute age and systematic age, historic time seems to be made of many envelopes, in addition to being mere flow from future to past through the present. Kubler’s main interest is in the shapes and forms of those durations which are either longer than single human lives or which require the time of more than one person as collective duration.
Indeed, Bergson himself might not feel quite at home at the Henry Moore Institute, since, on revisiting Metzinger’s Cubisme et tradition of 1911 two years later he had difficulty with the idea that Art should not be the product of genius, of intuitions, but of theorizing, since Bergson believed that theory was a substitute for creativity, and that the move from analysis to artistic creativity recommended by Metzinger was impossible. Clearly, the Cubists’ claim to have incorporated Time into their works by moving around the objects in order to give a concrete representation of it made up of successive aspects, unlike those high-octane Futurists transfixed by the miracles of technology circumambulating them, cut no metaphysical ice with the philosopher. On the other hand, that Bergson’s occultist sister, Moina, and her husband, MacDonald Mathers, the imperial wizard of The Golden Dawn, would feel quite at home here, is the other matter this review addresses.
The curators’ thesis is focused by the inclusion of particular exhibits – not the originals from 1913 – whose material personality was endowed at a number of different post-execution dates at which the casts and replicas appearing here were made, such as Duchamp’s Trois Stoppages-étalon (Three Standard Stoppages), in 1964. But the articulation of that thesis would seem to be circumscribed by that fact that no attribute of any artefact, inevitably invested in its form at the baptismal moment of enunciation which instantiated the meaning its creator intended at that point, can be reliably assumed to be capable of anticipating any potential future hermeneutic which may or may not invigorate its subsequent reinterpretation – except retrospectively, of course. This raises the epistemological problem of the gratuitous retrospective projection of a construction from within a culturally specific theoretical discourse within which the artefact itself did not gestate, which is rather like attempting to translate a text written in classical Arabic using Inuit syntax, grammar, vocabulary and rhetoric. Fortunately, the interrogation of the effect of this grain of epistemological grit on the oyster of the curators’ thesis is facilitated by the presence within the same walls of the Henry Moore Institute of one of Leeds’ hidden gems, the sculpture library and archive.
However, the prosecution of the curators’ synaesthetic aims benefit from a cross-referencing of the extremely useful time-line laid out in the catalogue with, for example, Apollinaire’s exhibition reviews of 1913 and the listing, and illustrations of exhibits, from the multitude of exhibitions held in Europe and the USA catalogued by item in Donald Gordon’s Modern Art Exhibitions 1900-1916 (iii). This rectification reveals that, firstly, the Bergsonian Cubo-Futuro-Neo-Symbolist art exhibited here represented a small percentage of the total output of contemporary artists working and exhibiting along the modernist axis which stretched, in that year, from Moscow in the East, where more Picassos and Matisses were on public display than in Paris, to New York in the west – indeed, as far west as the Pacific coast at San Francisco, where Duchamp’s Nude Descending the Staircase, bought from the Armory Show, washed up in 1913; secondly, that none of the styles of painting and sculpture represented in the current show originated or terminated in 1913: thirdly, that the works on show do not represent the full range of styles considered to be avant-garde by their executors – the absence of ‘abstraction’ having been noted, where might the Rhythmists be, Mark Antliff might wonder (iv): fourthly, that the works currently on show have never been assembled or seen together before as a discrete group, including, somewhat ironically, in 1913: and fifthly, that they were not all first exhibited in the year of their production. For example, Duchamp’s Three Standard Stoppages was not exhibited at the time of its execution, and enjoyed only two brief outings, in 1936 and 1945, between its conception in 1913 and execution in 1914, and its entry into the MOMA collection in 1954. In quite which epiphanies it was resonating in the intervals we shall presently come to. But the unruly presence of Duchamp’s Three Standard Stoppages, in the form of Ulf Linde’s copy, invests into the exhibition’s programme three related topics very much a part of the aesthetic mix of 1913 but which oscillate provocatively only at the periphery of the curators’ purview. These are (1) the abstraction/non-figuration/non-objectivity which germinated in the same Symbolist compost as ‘simultaneist’ art, (2) the seamless imbrication that Bergsonianism enjoyed with an Occultism similarly epistemologically grounded in Intuition and (3) the abdication of the cubist aesthetic cul-de-sac by Duchamp in 1912 as a result of his refinement of an entirely an-aesthetic mode of composition, the pfennig finally dropping in Munich, the first product of which is the work discussed here. This provocative inclusion of the contents of Duchamp’s an-aesthetic croquet box, which weren’t sculpture at all, underscores a compensation for the relative neglect of (a generic) abstraction offered by the inclusion of a hybrid machine-sculpture (Epstein’s Rock-Drill), and a utilitarian armature supporting a sculpture. (Bulloz’ ‘plinth’ for Rodin’s Burghers of Calais.) This gate crashing of the aesthetic party by these unashamedly unreconstructed utilitarian artefacts acts as a reflexive foil to Kubler’s thesis elaborating the retrospective hermeneutic which grounds the continuing life of artefacts, which works of art incontestably are, in contemporary aesthetic consciousness.
Positing a manifestation of Bergsonianism in sculpture, the curators admit to having averted their gaze from pictorial abstraction, the two-dimensional work on show here either representing metaphysical painting or forms of Cubo-Futurism formally resonating with bas-relief or sculpture proper – or the odd rug by Frederick Etchell’s that you could inadvertently wipe your metaphysical boots on, Duchamp’s Three Standard Stoppages being not the only utilitarian artefact on show raising no objection to being hermeneutically elevated to the status of the art object. The most ‘abstract’ of all the works on show, excluding the straightforward ‘design’ from the Omega Workshops, are Gaudier-Brzeska’s Wrestlers and Modigliani’s Caryatid, whose self-evidently figurative origins disqualify them from Non-objective-hood. This focus tends to banish to the touchline of the curators’ purview that subject of post-Symbolist avant-garde art which shares Bergsonianism’s epistemological grounding in intuition – the ubiquitous Occult, perhaps best represented by that hobby-horse of the Puteaux Cubists, the Fourth Dimension.
The best known early statement relating non-Euclidian geometry, Cubism and the Fourth Dimension is in the third chapter of Apollinaire’s Les peintres cubists (March 1913), adapted from his article ‘La peinture moderne’, April and May issues of Les soirées de Paris from 1912, deriving from a lecture in 1911. Here again the curators declare their focus, since the issue of Les Soirées de Paris exhibited here is from November 1913, illustrating the formal resonance between a Jacob poem and a Picasso painting. As Tom Gibbons had informed as long ago as 1981, (v) the complex topic of the Fourth Dimension, a.k.a. ‘hyperspace’ a.k.a. ‘n-dimensionality’, first addressed by mathematicians, attracted the attention of philosophers but was quickly turned by writers on Spiritualism into subjects of popular discussion. Far from being the exclusive property of the Parisian avant-garde of 1911, the term ‘Fourth Dimension’ was already common property during the 1890’s. Emerging for the first time from mid nineteenth-century analytical geometry, the term ‘n-dimensionality’ was used to designate a non-Euclidian space of more than three dimensions, according to the following rationale. Since Descartes, analytical geometry had represented spatial dimensions with the algebraic variables x, y and z; theoretically, there was no reason why a fourth might not be added, such four-dimensional geometries being perfectly consistent – but only algebraically so. The term ‘hyperspace’, coined to enable the discussion of these new parameters, made its debut in fiction in 1884, in Hinton’s Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by a Square in which our geometric hero endures imprisonment for the heresy of speculating on the potential delights of multi-dimensionality. But it was only in 1910 that the Fourth Dimension would be equated with the new cosmic consciousness and placed in an artistically and philosophically productive context, lately informed, after 1900, by Bergsonian philosophy and shoe-horned by the occultist’s belief that Roëntgen’s X-rays and the discovery of radio-active decomposition had revolutionised the concept of matter and revealed the astral realm. Now astral sight and four-dimensional vision was available to the clairvoyant, the products of which could now be expressed in not the material appearance of things but the grandeur of metaphysical forms, the traditional characteristics of religious art now expressing the perennial philosophy of universal religious transcendentalism, as had, it was claimed, the creators of Egyptian, Negro and Oceanic sculpture.
But why did this all have to wait until 1910; why the time-lapse? – because the concept of the Fourth Dimension only became important to self-consciously (hermeneutic) modern painters as late as thirty years after it entered general circulation because not until 1910 did a millenarian orthodoxy, drawing on Tolstoy, Nietzsche and Bergson’s dynamic and evolutionary vitalism, and doctrines of an impending new age grounded in the occultism of the previous generation, exist among Western European and Russian avant-garde artists –Kandinsky, for example, and Malevich, Mondrian and Apollinaire; and Orage, in Leeds.
So there you have it; Cubists were clairvoyant: Jacob certainly believed he was, and didn’t Duchamp later confirm it in saying that artists are ‘media-mystic’ beings, a claim those amateurs of the Tarot, the palm readers Max Jacob and Apollinaire, would have wholeheartedly supported.
Here Kubler’s analysis questions the curators’ choice of 1913 as pivotal, or symptomatic, in that it confirms Gibbons’ identification of 1910 as the year of a change to the historical sequence of artistic events (manifested in changes of content and expression) – as Kubler puts it, the year of change as “the interval when an entire language of form suddenly falls into disuse to be replaced by a new language of different components and an unfamiliar grammar”. So for Kubler and Gibbons alike it was 1910 which was the year in which, whilst “the fabric of society manifested no rupture, and the texture of useful inventions continued to be constructed step by step in clearly linked order”, nonetheless “the system of artistic invention abruptly transformed, as if large numbers of participants suddenly became aware that the inherited repertory of forms no longer corresponded to the actual meaning of existence.” That being so, what have been recommended by the curators as Kubleresque ‘prime objects’ of 1913 were, rather (according to Kubler’s rationale) replicas of primes from 1910 – except for Duchamp’s Three Standard Stoppages, whose blatant utilitarian identity dismantles one’s initial, superficial, response to the curator’s assumed programme, being one of a number of objects on display clearly not qualifying as works of art according to the intuition-grounded avant-garde aesthetics of the day. The hybrid Rock Drill, appearing here in a photograph – half working tool, half carving – represents a transitional state more fully realised in Bulloz’ purely utilitarian armature, curiously identified as a plinth, appearing in the Druet photographs of the ‘trial the plinth’ of Rodin’s Burghers of Calais – itself ironically disqualified, in a neat reversal, from articulating the curators’ discourses, not because this was not a work of art but because the version shown here was neither executed nor copied in 1913.
The significance of the Three Standard Stoppages, the only fully-fledged aesthetic refugee on show, confirmed by Duchamp’s late confidence that it was the most important work he ever executed, arises from the fact that it was the first three dimensional work he produced after his damascene conversion from aesthetics in Munich in 1912. As a consequence he trans-located from the avant-garde suburbs to the centre of Paris, abdicated the avant-garde and the aesthetic cul-de-sac he felt it had sleep-walked into, gave up the production of art, and got a job as a library assistant in the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, courtesy of his good friend Picabia whose uncle just happened to be the conservateur; handy, that, since now could he not only consult incunabula, but also note who else did.
What sets this work apart from the rest of the exhibits is the fact that it is the first that Duchamp composed according to a new method of inscribing content in form which hypostatically distilled into Duchamp’s consciousness in August 1912 courtesy of the stimulant of Roussel’s Impressions d’Afrique that he had attended the previous month-but-one in Paris, and now, in Munich, of Rudolf Steiner’s Rosicrucian dramas playing that very month in the ‘Kosmiker’ Schwabing in which he was now lodging. Drawing on the semiotics of the popular arts of his childhood, on the method of classical text analysis, traduction juxtalinéaire, which he had practiced at the Lycée Corneille during his academic bachelorship, on The Composition of Place from St Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, grounded in Classical, Scholastic and Hermetic mnemonic ars memoriae (vi), in everyday linguistic idiosyncracies of the street, press and musical hall, and on the subject matter preoccupying the Orphic and Occult milieus alike, (etc, etc) all of which, hidden in plain sight, lay ready to hand, Duchamp forged a rule-of-thumb method for translating content into form in an entirely subjectivity-free, affective-free and intuition-free manner, creating a method of composition corresponding more to the model of the telegram than the work of art. Now authorship was no longer grounded epistemologically in the self-transcendent Nietzschian artist’s divine sensibilité but was deferred to the higher authority of sacred doctrine, as in the painting of an altarpiece, or the composition and illumination of a Book of Hours; hence Duchamp’s simultaneous embrace of the anachronistic conventions of two-dimensional emblematic representation used in his two ‘red things on glass’, which established, in 1913, the figurative-allegorical pictorial foundations of the Large Glass which was commenced around 1915 – which Roussel’s example had helped him with.
The curators appear to have missed another trick here by not including examples of the Idée de la fabrication note from the Box of 1914, contemporary with the Three Standard Stoppages (1913-14), or the abbreviated version from the Green Box of 1934. The significance of this dated note resides, firstly, in the fact that it is the only one in the Box of 1914 which demonstrates not only Duchamp’s new method of transcribing one literary text into another but also the additional method of inscribing the content of a literary text into the attributes of the matière and facture of a three-dimensional artefact via the inventory generated by traduction juxtalinéaire; and secondly, it lies in the fact that – according to the avant-garde aesthetic of 1913 – the Trois Stoppages- étalon is as a consequence not a work of art at all (the significance of which will not be missed by Kubler enthusiasts.)
The subject inscribed in the Three Standard Stoppages by the Idée de la Fabrication note articulates the quintessentially ‘Nietzschean’ and Occult avant-garde theme of self-realisation here expressed in the Egoism of Max Stirner. Here, point by point, attributes of the philosophy and its author transmute anaesthetically into form, producing an object which is designed to serve as a pretext for erudite discourse in the semeiotic manner of a Masonic tracing board or a popular print of the Arma Christi; given the number of times Duchamp used the word ‘indifference’ during the next half century, we should hardy be surprised by this observation. And any suspicion that the Three Standard Stoppages was not produced in the way we have been encouraged to believe, i.e. according to the alleged ‘recipe’ delineated in the Idée de la fabrication note, initially by the dropping of threads, is confirmed in Gould and Shearer’s account (vii) of how the physical nature of the object demonstrates that this procedure could not possibly have been followed in the creation of its form.
It is then no accident that the utilitarian character of the Three Standard Stoppages might suggest to a casual amateur, innocently wandering in off the Headrow, that it might belong in the garden shed rather than an art gallery, a reaction which would be strangely apposite, since the work, enclosed in a croquet-mallet box, spent the first 23 years of its life in total obscurity, at first in Duchamp’s possession, but from the time he became intimate with Katherine Dreier, in or around 1917, in the garden shed on her property in Connecticut. And there it remained, breeding dust, until it was disinterred for its first public outing as item 223 in the Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism exhibition at MOMA in 1936, waiting a further nine years before it reappeared at Yale. After Dreier’s death, it entered the MOMA permanent collection, in 1953. Dreier’s confusion of this artefact with another by Duchamp, the semi-lethal Rotative Plaque Verre (Optique de Précision) of 1920, is documented in a series of letters from himself to his devoted patron dated May 3, 12, 20 1935, and 1 Jan 1936. Dreier was so au fait with these works that, in these four letters, Duchamp had to explain to her the differences between them in comprehensive detail three times. But quite how these two items, locked away in their various boxes in a shed, were satisfying the functions of works of art and so resonating in breathless anticipation of their future hermeneutic destiny is not at all clear from the record. All we know from the letters is that Duchamp, as a general rule (pun intended), forbade the Trois Stoppages-étalon, to be exhibited at all – which implies that for Duchamp their exhibition was not so much undesirable as completely irrelevant.
It was then the shifting of the epistemological grounding of his practice in 1912 that enabled Duchamp to continue to articulate the subject matter preoccupying his peers, but now through the application of a radical an-aesthetic, indexical semeiotics which located its products in a discourse largely invisible to the post-structural exegetes who would come to control the future resonance of his aesthetic legacy; this discourse was the Occult: as he told us, it was the occultist Roussel’s Impressions d’Afrique, an impression à fric (a publication at the author’s own expense, which the play was) which had helped him with “one side of my expression” – a form of expression incorporating the compositional device of the homophone that Roussel had used for the construction of such stage props as the Wind-clock from the Land of Cockaigne, fabricated from the words hampe (pole), aire (wind) and heure (time) derived, phonically, from the syllables constituting the word Empéreur which appeared in the text. Small wonder then that once in New York, after June1915, and (g)nostalgically recalling an old flame, Duchamp constructed a hieroglyphic rebus matching the attributes of Roussel to those of a wheel (roue) and a stool (selle), Sturtevant’s mnemotechnic replication of which haunts the anteroom of the curators’ thesis. Quite how that thesis might be informed by the above account of the Trois Stoppages – étalon will have to await elucidation in the lecture series and conference in the spring, as will its own prosecution, pivoted on the degree to which Kubler’s understanding of ‘duration’, whose time, space and artefacts are grounded in material culture, might be identified with Bergson’s ‘durée’, the gap between the two creating a hermeneutic site from which the curators’ recruitment of Sturtevant’s simulacrum derives its purchase.
Quite how any interrogator might evaluate the character, quality, accuracy, or not, (and so significance to a wider world) of Sturtevant’s memory would depend on their simultaneous access to Sturtevant’s archetype – Duchamp’s lost iconic prime object, of which Sturtevant’s simulacrum is an acknowledged replica. The earliest, and only, forensically admissible primary evidence for the existence of this archetype, apart of course from Sturtevant’s memory, is Roché’s photograph of Duchamp’s 33 West 67th Street studio, taken in 1917, not the 1913 of popular myth, when Duchamp was still in Roussel’s Paris.
The curators’ thesis proposes that Sturtevant’s hermeneutic aesthetic would then appear to sit happily with that of Gleizes’ and Metzinger’s of 1912. Its validity, now as then, appears to rest on the degree to which that aesthetic maps effortlessly onto either Bergson’s or Kubler’s own. For the bergsonian authors of Du Cubisme, Space was not an absolute category of experience, but a relative one – relative to our sensory faculties; and secondarily, to a given culture’s accepted conventions of artistic representation; that since the artist, apparently possessing perceptual abilities superior to those of the average human being does not rely on social conventions to arrive at a conception of space, being, so the Cubists believed, an arbiter of new visual conventions, pictorial space is then synonymous with personal expression: Cubist space is thus a reflection of the whole personality.
Antliff’s summary of Gleizes’ approach to the painting of a portrait of Raynal, made “without recourse to the model”, puts this rather well; Gleizes felt he was able to formulate a mental image of Nayral after long observation of his habits of walking, speaking and gesticulation. This interaction allowed him to extract “some essential traits” from the “jumble of details and picturesque elements” that obscured “the permanent essence of being.” Nayral’s expressive acts and physical appearance “suggested to me immediately recollections, relationships, penetrations and correspondences with the elements of the environment, the land, the trees, the houses.” This synthetic vision was the product of Gleizes’ sympathetic response to the expressive acts and physiognomic traits he deemed indicative of the poet’s character. As Jules Romains put it in 1909, “This art, which is not impressionism, is no longer an imitation of nature. Far from copying nature, it expresses the world. There is no use in describing [nature] with an attention, a patient minuteness, which would be better employed in botany. Why would a poet exhaust him or herself to know from the outside a reality that the soul feels and probes from the inside?”
But presumably the validity of the curators’ embrace of Kubler’s thesis will only be confirmed when the ‘future resonance’ in the ‘complex hermeneutic life’ that Sturtevant’s simulacrum leads (following its production) is itself confirmed by its transmutation from replica to prime object, to become the archetype of a new sequence. An understanding of quite how it can achieve this and not, in a reciprocal reversion, suffer the same fate as Duchamp’s ‘Roue de Bicyclette’, (which, like his Three Standard Stoppages, was not a work of art,) awaits that future resonance.
1913: The Shape of Time is on the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds until the 13th of February.
(i) Kubler, George. The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things. Yale University Press (1962)
(ii) Totaro, Donato. Time, Bergson and Cinematographical Mechanism. http//www.horschamp.qc.ca./new_offscreen/Bergson_film.html.
(iii) Gordon, Donald. Modern Art Exhibitions 1900-1916. Prestel-Verlag. (1974).
(iv) Antliff, Mark. Inventing Bergson . Princeton University Press. 1992 (passim)
(v) Gibbons, Tom. Cubism and the ‘Fourth Dimension’ in the context of the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century revival of occult idealism. J.W.C.I. Volume 44. 1981. 130-147.) (See also David Pacchioli’s Deflating Hyperspace (Research/Penn State, Vol.16, No. 4, Dec 1995.)
(vi) Yates, Frances. The Art of Memory. Pimlico. 1966. (passim)
(vii) Gould, S and Shearer, R R. Hidden in Plain Sight: Duchamp’s 3 Standard Stoppages, More truly a “Stoppage” (An Invisible Mending) than we ever Realised. tout-fait, Issue 1, Vol. I, Dec 1999