Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Theories of transformation 2: Systems and Singularities/ Chaos and Entropy

1 Systems and singularities: One of things I like about minimalism, conceptualism and the movements that follow them is the tendency to make work according to a strict system, either a theoretical/linguistic system or a mathematical system. Here is a collection of material that use systems in one way or another. as usual this is not a comprehensive survey, just a few of my favorites.

Mel Bochner:
(knocked off from
Mel Bochner Measurement: Room, 1969
tape and vinyl on wall / size determined by installation


Mel Bochner, Measurement: Plant, 1969
tape and vinyl on wall, live plant / size determined by installation


Mel Bochner Theory of Painting, 1970
blue spray paint on newspaper on floor, vinyl letters on wall / size determined by installation
Mel Bochner, Meditation on the Theorem of Pythagoras, 1972
hazelnuts on floor / size determined by installation

Mel Bochner, Obsolete, 2007
ink on paper / 11 x 8.5 inches
Eva Hesse, Schema, 1967


Several - Eva Hesse, 1965
Tony Smith, Smoke 1967
Tony Smith 1972 'Gracehoper', Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan


Sol Lewitt
Sol Lewitt


Sentences on Conceptual Art

by Sol Lewitt

  1. Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach.
  2. Rational judgements repeat rational judgements.
  3. Irrational judgements lead to new experience.
  4. Formal art is essentially rational.
  5. Irrational thoughts should be followed absolutely and logically.
  6. If the artist changes his mind midway through the execution of the piece he compromises the result and repeats past results.
  7. The artist's will is secondary to the process he initiates from idea to completion. His wilfulness may only be ego.
  8. When words such as painting and sculpture are used, they connote a whole tradition and imply a consequent acceptance of this tradition, thus placing limitations on the artist who would be reluctant to make art that goes beyond the limitations.
  9. The concept and idea are different. The former implies a general direction while the latter is the component. Ideas implement the concept.
  10. Ideas can be works of art; they are in a chain of development that may eventually find some form. All ideas need not be made physical.
  11. Ideas do not necessarily proceed in logical order. They may set one off in unexpected directions, but an idea must necessarily be completed in the mind before the next one is formed.
  12. For each work of art that becomes physical there are many variations that do not.
  13. A work of art may be understood as a conductor from the artist's mind to the viewer's. But it may never reach the viewer, or it may never leave the artist's mind.
  14. The words of one artist to another may induce an idea chain, if they share the same concept.
  15. Since no form is intrinsically superior to another, the artist may use any form, from an expression of words (written or spoken) to physical reality, equally.
  16. If words are used, and they proceed from ideas about art, then they are art and not literature; numbers are not mathematics.
  17. All ideas are art if they are concerned with art and fall within the conventions of art.
  18. One usually understands the art of the past by applying the convention of the present, thus misunderstanding the art of the past.
  19. The conventions of art are altered by works of art.
  20. Successful art changes our understanding of the conventions by altering our perceptions.
  21. Perception of ideas leads to new ideas.
  22. The artist cannot imagine his art, and cannot perceive it until it is complete.
  23. The artist may misperceive (understand it differently from the artist) a work of art but still be set off in his own chain of thought by that misconstrual.
  24. Perception is subjective.
  25. The artist may not necessarily understand his own art. His perception is neither better nor worse than that of others.
  26. An artist may perceive the art of others better than his own.
  27. The concept of a work of art may involve the matter of the piece or the process in which it is made.
  28. Once the idea of the piece is established in the artist's mind and the final form is decided, the process is carried out blindly. There are many side effects that the artist cannot imagine. These may be used as ideas for new works.
  29. The process is mechanical and should not be tampered with. It should run its course.
  30. There are many elements involved in a work of art. The most important are the most obvious.
  31. If an artist uses the same form in a group of works, and changes the material, one would assume the artist's concept involved the material.
  32. Banal ideas cannot be rescued by beautiful execution.
  33. It is difficult to bungle a good idea.
  34. When an artist learns his craft too well he makes slick art.
  35. These sentences comment on art, but are not art.

First published in 0-9 (New York), 1969, and Art-Language (England), May 1969

shamelessly copied from here:

Related to this idea of a generative system is Deleuze's concept of the singularity. In physics a singularity might be described as a point of infinite density like the universe shortly after the big bang. Manuel Delanda, somewhere in the video lecture below describes Deleuze the singularity is a generative essence, point which expands according to geometric system, like a blowing a bubble, or the rectilinear grwoth of salt crystals.

A reasonably clear description of the Deleuzian singularity is here:

2 Chaos and entropy

Entropy is the flip side of the coin for systems based art,  just as the systems describes how things are built up, entropy is the of describing the way that things break down.

Quoting wikipedia is bad, but that's what you get, what with today with today's broken down education system, (see? entropy), but here is a more technical description of entropy:

"Entropy is the thermodynamic property toward equilibrium/average/homogenization/dissipation: hotter, more dynamic areas of a system lose heat/energy while cooler areas (e.g., space) get warmer / gain energy; molecules of a solvent or gas tend to evenly distribute; material objects wear out; organisms die; the universe is cooling down. Entropy, like time, runs in one direction only (it is not a reversible process). One can measure the entropy of a system to determine the energy not available for work in a thermodynamic process, such as energy conversion, engines, or machines. Such processes and devices can only be driven by convertible energy, and have a theoretical maximum efficiency when converting energy to work. During this work, entropy accumulates in the system, which then dissipates in the form of waste heat."

The most classic example of an artist using entropy as a subject and as a machine to produce work is Robert Smithson.  Smithson's work can be read as a critique of the purism of someone like Sol Lewit's work, complaining that  "Abstraction rules in a void, pretending to be free of time." 
Let's imagine what Sol Lewit's work would look like after it has been left to nature, maybe is is rusted or has fallen apart, maybe it is covered in vines. Smithson would like that.

 Here is a paragraph:

On Site #4, 1973. This interview took place about two months before Smithson's death. Although published posthumously, Smithson and Sky completed the editing of the text together and Smithson provided all the illustrations.

ROBERT SMITHSON: O.K. we'll begin with entropy. That's a subject that's preoccupied me for some time. On the whole I would say entropy contradicts the usual notion of a mechanistic world view. In other words it's a condition that's irreversible, it's condition that's moving towards a gradual equilibrium and it's suggested in many ways. Perhaps a nice succinct definition of entropy would be Humpty Dumpty. Like Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty Dumpty back together again. There is a tendency to treat closed systems in such a way. One might even say that the current Watergate situation is an example of entropy. You have a closed system which eventually deteriorates and starts to break apart and there's no way that you can really piece it back together again. Another example might be the shattering of Marcel Duchamp Glass, and his attempt to put all the pieces back together again attempting to overcome entropy. Buckminister Fuller also has a notion of entropy as a kind of devil that he must fight against and recycle. Norbert Weiner in The Human Use of Human Beings also postulates that entropy is a devil, but unlike the Christian devil which is simply a rational devil with a very simple morality of good and bad, the entropic devil is more Manichean in that you really can't tell the good from the bad, there's no clear cut distinction. And I think at one point Norbert Weiner also refers to modern art as one Niagara of entropy. In information theory you have another kind of entropy. The more information you have the higher degree of entropy, so that one piece of information tends to cancel out the other. The economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen has gone so far as to say that the second law of thermodynamics is not only a physical law but linked to economics. He says Sadi Carnot could be called an econometrican. Pure science, like pure art tends to view abstraction as independent of nature, there's no accounting for change or the temporality of the mundane world. Abstraction rules in a void, pretending to be free of time.
Sanibel Island Florida
sand and shells
three mirrors, ea 36" x 36"

Some other artists who make work about entropy or using entropic processes
Lynda Benglis
Lynda Benglis, latex floor painting, Rhode Island, 1969

Lynda Benglis at the New Museum, New York, 2011

Robert Morris: Untitled, 1968-1969, Installation, 200 Teile, Filz, Kupfer, Gummi, Zink, Nickel, Aluminium, Korten- und Edelstahl presents: Depreciation and Devastation featuring Robert Rauschenberg, Richard Prince, Piotr Uklanski, Charles Henri Ford, Elizabeth Peyton, Wolfgang Tillmans, Tony Smith, Andy Warhol, Sarah Lucas

see discriptions of works here:

Karla Black: What Others Ask, 2008.
Karla Black 
Installation view: Inverleith House, 2009 
‘Acceptance Changes Nothing' (detail), 2009
Sam Durant, Abandoned House # 1, 1994
Foam core, cardboard, Plexiglass, tape, spray enamel, wood, and metal; 30" x 30.25" x 5"

Sam Durant, Abandoned House # 4, 1994
Foam core, cardboard, Plexiglass, tape, spray enamel, wood, and metal; 25.5" x 41" x 4.5"

Sam Durant Quaternary Field / Associative Diagram, 1998
Graphite on paper; 22" x 29.5"
Sam Durant, Partially Buried 1960s/70s Dystopia Revealed (Mick Jagger at Altamont) & Utopia Reflected (Wavy Gravy at Woodstock), 1998; Into the Black, 1999
Mirror, dirt, audio system; Dimensions vary and Mirror, felt; 34” x 240” x 8”
knocked off from


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