ESSAY ON MY WORK
Creation, process, development, vital impulse,… concepts turning round and round in my head, obsessed by an unceasing need to understand what gives shape to beings and objects. Is there a sense to all these plays of influences that govern forms, colors and textures? Those are the questions and tentative understanding of the artist wishing his work would translate poetically and in all humility, the realities of our world.
As a student at the Fine Arts faculty at Concordia university in Montreal, Canada, I was influenced by my teachers. I painted pictures in oil and acrylics in a style close to american abstract expressionist artists such as Robert Motherwell, Franz Kline and Jackson Pollock. These paintings were exhibited at G. Delrue gallery, in Montreal, in 1965.
During the same year, the Faculty of Biology of Concordia university exhibited different machines. In one of them, test tubes mounted on an industrial steel chain, carrying them around, were driven by some kind of motorisation, stopped from time to time, to receive drops of some substance following a particular biochemical protocol. The tubes were moving around sprockets at a relatively fast speed and with great precision in a set pattern.
A magic feeling came out of the whole thing.
I was fascinated, mesmerised, hypnotised.
My mind got thrown into an exotic foreign world. Memories of various motions I had observed in Nature, came back to me. Scenes of leaves of some aspen trees, trembling delicately, almost shivering in the blowing wind. It was as if the leaves were inhabited by some kind of life of their own.
Years before, alone on a Pacific Mexican beach, I sat for hours and days, looking at the waves on the surface of the ocean, trying desperately to understand the logic between the waves, from their birth to their full amplitude until their death on the beach’s sand.
Back home, the obsessive image of the chain going around the sprockets haunted my mind. In the following days, I visualised my first piece of kinetic work in all its complete mechanical details, in spite of my total ignorance on the subject.
On a wooden support I mounted a mechanical device. A steel industrial chain bearing small chromed discs went around sprockets driven by an electric motor. The discs went up and down, crossing each other in a continuous motion. The chromed surfaces reflected the viewer as well as the environment around him/her, breaking down his/her visual reality. The viewer’s eye would naturally concentrate on one disc, follow it, then switch to another disc going in the opposite direction before looking at the whole piece to decode its logic, if any.
Other works followed such as the non exhaustive following examples.
- In a series entitled « Pulsation » from 1966, a set of at least one hundred gears, , is set up on a square background. Each gear Is covered with an identical design pattern. An electric motor set the gears in motion, with a variable speed control. Various visual phenomena occurred, from a sense of sensuality of an organic living object to optical effects occurring depending on the speed. When colors are present, at high speed, some colors disappear to the benefit of one dominant color flooding the whole surface by retinoid reaction.
- In the « Contraction » series, made from 1968, a set of springs attached to a chain move around sprockets, in a pre-established path and driven by an electric motor. Various squares and polygons are defined by the springs. In some works, each separate polygon moves at different speed from another allowing a variety of geometrical shapes growing larger and reducing back, either in repetitious or random cycles.
Springs have yet other qualities. Depending on the diameter of the wire, the shape of the turn and the space between turns, springs can vibrate almost indefinitely to wind clocks of some kind, as if driven by some inner pulsation of life.
- « Silicone cube in a pyrex glass ball » from 1970, a gelatinous silicone cube ‘breathes’ the opposite way of a lung. The cube, containing imprisoned air bubbles is placed inside the sealed sphere. A vacuum pump starts vacuuming the air inside the sphere. As the process goes on, the air inside the silicone starts to grow deforming the cube and filling up a good part of the sphere. After its programmed setup, the silicone cube comes back to its original cubic volume. Opposite to a lung which grows in size when air is breathed and reduces volume when exhaled, the cube grows when air is out and regains its size when air is in the sphere. The cycle lasts 14 minutes, continuously.
- During the same year, I built a series of 11 double S curves in neon, each one revolving on its axle at different speeds from one another. As each neon grows in curvature, its blue color deepens in intensity. When set in motion, on a straight line, it offers a choreography of its own.
In 1971, I created a new series titled « Lines ». On a two dimensional surface, two to six metal rods, painted black, parallel and perpendicular to each other, are set in motion by electric motorisation. Each line travels at slow and slightly different speed from one another, in cycles from two to ten weeks, creating an infinite number of polygons.
Later on, the lines became colored neon tubes.
The ‘Lines’ series can be seen as an interpretation of some of Piet Mondrian’s paintings.
- In 1972, I made a piece in homage to Mondrian. Two perpendicular lines, one vertical, the other horizontal on white background. The two lines move at different speeds from one another. This work is at the Krefeld Art Museum, in Germany.
More than an interpretation, the « Lignes » series is a synthesis of Mondrian’s concept. His paintings are a set up of black lines
of various thicknesses, either on white or gray background, or framing pure color geometrical shapes, red, blue, yellow, creating spatial configuration from the picture plane. These paintings draw not only on classical perception of harmony, proportion and balance but also allow the projected imagination of the viewer in a virtual space just like a contemplative mood.
Adding real motion within my « Lignes », structure modifies the nature of perception.The relationship between the polygons in constant change takes away the notion of absolute balance to the benefit of a constant continuous change of the surface defined by the lines. The magic of movement surprises the viewer. It brings about a selective anticipation of the phenomena witnessed by him/her, prompting as well the intelligence of their awareness.
It is in this realm that I developed my work, following the logic of the Suprematist and Constructivists. Naum Gabo and Casimir Malevitch introduced the exploration of new materials and technologies for the first time and dismissed the human presence on one hand and a whole array of emotions to the benefit of perception on the other.
They dealt with classical elements of space, color, line, simple geometrical shapes, not to describe or express the felt emotion
but rather to go beyond it toward the energies embedded in these notions. The color red is not there to describe or identify a fruit or any red object, but bears in it a potential energy of its own which may vary depending on its location within a particular context and environment. Joseph Albers has well studied, explored and put forward the energetic potential of color in his theory titled « Interaction of Color ».
My interest in motion turned into an obsession, without necessarily neglecting other aspects, such as color, volume and three dimensional space.
Esthetically, I gave preference to the harmony of a continuum of motion in time and space. I look forward to expressing the synergy between time and real motion created within a specific space, the expression of motion through motion and the apparent simultaneous complexities of constant vibrations and changes in sizes and proportions that surround us.
Movement implies transformation, evolution, mutation from one state to another, of shape, proportions and color. There are different types of movement; linear, circular, undulatory, erratic, vibrating. Trying to convey poetically the formation, growth and change of forms and their transformation; attempting to show what happens in the universe in different ways than through illustrations or scientific theories is what motivates my work.
I witnessed numerous natural motion phenomena either directly or through films, such as air and water movements, different species traveling, as well as industrial mechanical movement.
« Movement is the cause of life » explained Leonardo da Vinci.
« All events, objects and entities, observable and describable whatever they may be, are extracted from a unified flux, indefinable and unknowable » according to the physicist, David Bohm, stated in his theory of ‘The Holomovement’ published in 1994.
The intellectual process, the object thought of, the external conditions occurring are all in perpetual motion. They interfere with each other to transform and evolve. Nothing is static, fixed, permanent or definite.
The viewer becomes a witness of a kinetic experience in space and time. It is up to him/her to respond any way he feels like.
Knowledge and a sense of marvel can be enjoyed together. Knowledge, thanks to scientific discoveries analysed by our minds, marvelous at times, irrational and poetic at others,often expresses itself metaphorically.
SCIENCE AND MOVEMENT
More widely, today’s science is able to explain a great deal of the processes which initiate the vast majority of natural phenomena that manifest themselves in all sorts of forms, colors and textures, sometimes similar but never perfectly identical. Whether with the human or natural world, these manifestations are the result of numerous mutations that occur through the need for survival that the environment imposes.
In the mineral world, changes come from formidable constraints, pressures, cataclysms and erosions at various speeds which determine the state of their existence.
It is because they respond to imperative survival that shapes and their attributes are in perpetual evolution : « Nothing is created, nothing is lost, everything gets transformed » stated Antoine Lavoisier at the Science Academy in 1777.
What comes out of all these facts regarding nature’s law of evolution is their ultimate condition for their existence.
The survival of all natural species is dependent on their faculty to adapt at all times. This process derives more from a subjected state than a chosen one.
« A body always tends to take the shape which offers a minimal superficial energy compatible to the shape which directs it » wrote Pierre Curie. Proportions of a large majority of living species in the animal world as well as plants and trees of all kinds are imposed by necessity. The growth pattern of plants is characterized by the rhythm of spiral growth of its leaves around the stems. The process of growth of a tree, a flower or a fruit is invariable. It evolves according to the rhythm of specific types, one of them being according to a mathematical progression such as 1,1,2,3,5,13,21,34,55,89…(1+1 = 2 , 2+1 = 3 , etc) and so on which corresponds to the Fibonacci series. Every number equals the sum of two preceding numbers in which the division of two consecutive numbers is close to the golden number : 1,618. Each tree species has a ‘ number’ corresponding to the numbers of turns it takes to find a branch superposed to one exactly underneath it, called : « Divergence or Phyllotaxie ». There are three for the alden tree, being 1/3, 2/5 for a cherry , 8/13 for an anemone, 2/5 for an elm and so on. The numerator indicates the number of turns around a branch to find two leaves directly superposed to one right above it, the denominator indicates the number of leaves encountered between the two superimposed leaves.
Man has applied either intuitively or consciously these ratios of proportions in a great majority of objects and classical buildings, temples or public monuments since the beginning of humanity. « Beauty is the integrated form » said Sir W. Armstrong.
Adrian Bejean for his part states in his Constructal Theory from 1995, « The optimal distribution of imperfections is what generates forms in nature »
This statement leads to my own observations described above on visual phenomena witnessed in nature. It confirms the pertinence of my intuitive intention applied to my work.
For instance, numerous similarities of shapes are found
• in small stones and large rocks ;
• the contour shape of a flock of birds, schools of fish, herds of sheep similar to an amoeba's shape;
• roots and branches of a tree ;
• blood and lung network in mammals ;
• coral formation as well as deltas of major rivers ;
• ‘branches’ that are displayed when lightning occurs.
The evidence of ‘divine proportions’ found in a majority of animal species, shells, fishes is quite remarkable. What appeared chaotic has now found beauty and logic through fractals .
These continuous changes are the answer to physical transformations on earth and in the universe. They adapt themselves to the subatomic and cosmic worlds that some sciences study. Changes happen endlessly from nano instant to nano instant.
We know that it is the movement of tectonic plates and the inner magma activities at the center of the earth that are responsible for island formation, volcanoes and mountains eroded to become rocks and pebbles we pick up, and sand that goes through our fingers. We know as well that wind, rain and sea currents shape our landscapes, coastal borders and the spray around clouds in the sky.
Science can explain;
• the color of a puppy,
• analyse the mechanism of an emotion being the result of electrical impulses resulting from biochemical exchanges in our brain.
• Algorithm of a cloud of mosquitoes flying around, sinuous patterns of a snake motion, a group of pigeons turning around one another.
Although we demystify hazard by mathematical probabilities we are able to put order on chaos thanks to fractals; we remain sensitive to the poetry of a puppy’s color, at the intensity of an emotion or the eternal flux of sea motion. Sensitivity and intensity are the dynamics of the process of artistic creativity.
The visual world that surrounds us is the direct consequence of a Function understood as a necessity as described above. It leaves no other choice possible except efficiency.
The concept of Function just described has been an essential value in my work. It can be taken as an endless uninterrupted chain of cause and effect, which culminates in visual phenomena of our environment in our ordinary reality. In spite of the knowledge science conveys to us, it still retains magic in my eyes.
The richness of our visual world in which we evolve is overwhelming. It makes me dizzy knowing I will never be able to translate this complexity since the variations are so infinite and in perpetual change. Because of this frustrating state I have the continuous desire to understand and look. It may well be at this intellectual level that perpetual motion occurs… looking for and trying to understand what is undefinable and unknowable in the absolute.
TIME AND SPACE
Natural phenomena such as the shivering of leaves on a tree because of wind; rhythms of our organs, seasonal cycles, traces or ’drawings’ done by the wind on water, sand and snow, or the whirling of high grass on a open field, the making and developments of clouds in the sky, the outward shape of a flock of birds flying around, a school of fish or a herd of sheep are many sources of inspiration.
Contrast and intensity compensate for the limited time I have to show a change occurring as compared to the unlimited time, nature has. They contribute to a dramatisation.
All real motion implies displacement in time and space. Time becomes an essential element just as various notions are implied in the making of an art work. Time may also imply speed. My works evolve at slow speed voluntarily. At times, they may express tensions but never agression.
Mechanical technologies have their own constraints inherent to the matter of which they are often made, such as steel. I had to accept these constraints or get around them. In a way, I was facing creativity in a similar context to natural constraining forces.
At the beginning of the ‘Contraction’ series, , I looked for a rubber kind of matter with great elasticity capable of growing in height, width and depth in space and able to get back to its original size. In the absence of such material, I concentrated on springs made of steel. If properly treated for metal tensions and with the proper ratio of the wire section, a spring can expand several times its original dimensions for practically ever. The right proportion between the diameter of the section, and the length of the spring segment allows it to be considered a linear element capable of forming a geometrical shape made of straight lines. Through real motion, the geometrical shape comes to life as a living organism. Leaving the mechanism visible allows gears, sprockets and chains to be part and parcel of the composition of the art work as a visual element just as any other compositional element. Mechanical components become part of the visual esthetic experience for the viewer .
The objects I make are a function of imposed intuitive impulses. Once the choice of an idea or a concept of a work is established, a process begins to take place by reviewing;
-what went on historically regarding the particular idea,
by other artists,
• its scale,
• my technical knowledge
• the choice of materials that would fit
- economical limitations
I build the mechanical components to be used in the making of my work. I translate the movement putting forward the concept of contrast within the economy and simplicity of the means used, avoiding the use of color; black and white as much as light and dark providing the utmost possible contrast.
I avoid the use of color primarily because I feel suspicious of its potential seductive ability on one hand and my refusal to have to choose a color on the other hand. I would wish that motion and shapes used in a given context could determine a color by function or necessity to express what I have in mind, just like in nature..
The painted color has also the disadvantage of fading in time. I still remember my profound disappointment having seen magnificent slides of paintings by Paul Gauguin, I had a chance of seeing the original paintings at the Museum of Modern art in New York, quite tarnished and dull looking. The bright red electric signs signaling the exits in movie theatres or public buildings in North America have always attracted me by their intensity. Color through light has a saturation potential and a density much greater than applied paint. Seeing neon, krypton or argon gas ionized is magical. There is nothing more beautiful than the blue of argon gas ionized in a transparent glass tube.
More recently, my meeting with computer engineers before micro-processors came about, allowed me to access the world of computer imaging. Faithful to my choices of elementary geometrical figures, I was able to transpose continuous motion into sequential images like in a film strip, juxtaposing on a surface the progression and proportional changes in one or several figures. Playing with ratios of speed based on either whole numbers or irrational numbers, one can have short or long cycles in time, repetitious or random. It resulted in a series of printed works, and static sculptures made in aluminium of serial sequences named ‘Cyclic Progression’ in 1978. An animated movie came from it as well: ‘Color in Motion’ conceived in 1971 and realised in 1975, on the computers of the Science Research Center in Ottawa, Canada.
Four colors, red, blue, green and yellow grow from the center of the black square screen from one dot evolving in patterns of squares and rectangles in contact with each other . As one color expands the others automatically retracts and so forth at various speeds. During the cycle, each color becomes dominant at one time, filling up the screen. In the end the four colors divide the screen in 4 equal surfaces to retreat back together to the center dot.
The use of the computer has in itself a dynamic similar to kinetics. It allows constant and instantaneous interchanges just like a conversation in time, with the advantage of almost instant graphic results, unlike classical print-making. Artworks made with computers have of course as much aesthetic value as hand drawings, photography or paintings. As a tool, changes or adjustments can occur at all times. By simulating motion of all sorts, computers allow one to go beyond mechanical constructions. On one hand there are no limits to what one can achieve through computers except the limitations of the programmer. All shapes can be created and by this fact it shows that the reality we perceive can be translated in algorithms. At the same time, computers can operate and control objects, robots, lightings, videos, films and so on.
While working in kinetic and computer research, as far back as I can remember, I have been interested in stones, rocks, pebbles of all sorts, chosen for their shape and outward appearance rather than for their chemical or geological composition. So, I picked up small stones of various shapes, sometimes for their almost perfect shape as a sphere, sometimes for their apparent similarities with a human gesture. When possible, I photographed very large monolithic or monumental piles of rocks one finds just about everywhere on the globe, eroded by wind, rain or sea waves. There can be quite suggestive figurative and non-figurative examples close to the body of sculptural works of artists such as Henry Moore, Hans Arp, Barbara Hepworth and even Constantin Brancusi. Other stones offer, on their surface colored forms in composition, reminiscent of styles of paintings by different artists. Crystallized rocks offer basic geometric forms close to minimalists artists. As already mentioned, a certain constancy of form is found at any scale in those rocks. Some of these stones have anthropomorphic forms, more generally organic shapes. (see photos)
Nature has created its own analogies by ‘producing’ forms within criteria of functionality without any human intervention. All I had to do was to transpose those shapes to a larger and more durable material, respecting the finest details as possible. Some marble pieces came out of it and mainly a body of bronze sculptures entitled ‘Missisquoi Series’ the name of a river in Quebec where the stones were found. This interest in stones and the works that came out of it may be seen as quite contradictory in view of my praises about motion expressed above.
I have for stones the same interest I have for stars, galaxies or the universe; a sense of marvel of their eternity. I cannot hold a star in my hand, so I pick up stones. I have the illusion of feeling that I am touching the universe from which they come.
As one can sense from what I expressed, I love forms, whether geometrical or organic, natural or manmade. I marvel at an organism such as a spider capable of building an almost perfect geometrical web. The same thing occurs with bees and and a beehive. And what about the numerous examples of the growth of shells or seed heads of sunflowers. I dream of a geometrical volume that could give birth to a living creature or clouds in perfect cubic forms.
My curiosity and interest in visual natural phenomena, the vital impulse setup by it all equals my profound interest in sciences such as cosmology and quantum physics. Although my understanding is limited on the technical side of it, my imagination is highly stimulated by the poetical philosophical extrapolation that comes out of it, confirming my intuition and esthetical choices.
How can one remain insensitive to the poetry of the title of Werner Heisenberg’s « Theorem of Uncertainty » . Its content is more prosaïc. It states that for any given particle with mass we cannot know with precision its speed and its position in space.
Uncertainty is omnipresent to the profit of probabilities in many fields and instances. It seems in fact that the only certainty we can always count on is doubting. Quantum physics establishes probabilities that particles evolve either as corpuscles or wave forms. It seems somehow that the presence of the observer may determine the state of travel of the observed particle, wave or corpuscule.
In « A Fist in The Mouth » Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt talks about the permanent ‘insufficiency of creativity’ in his book, which forces one to a ceaseless state of change. One finds himself frustrated of not being able to accomplish a unique and everlasting eternal work. It is the same insufficiency which forces Nature to constantly renew its creation and for the artist to explore and express this path full of uncertainties and failures and sometimes success.
The feeling of uncertainty led me to explore the potential of various materials and technologies quite different from one another such as mechanical, electrical, electronic components, lasers, neon.
Several drawings made in 1973 at the Meteorological Center of Canada, are about to become worked into light animations throughLEDs, on plasma screens or e-paper or through any other
Kinetics allows in a modest way to put forth and express the eternal flux of what constitutes matter, energy, visible and invisible of the world and the universe. All new technologies and materials coming out of it, are potential fields of exploration and eventual application to artistic research, as well towards my own work.
I have always wished to be able to work at a research center either within a university or in an industrial context. I take this opportunity to launch an appeal to scientists or engineers wishing to collaborate with me in diverse fields on the concept of motion. I feel more attracted toward exploration of technologies applied to fine arts than the production of objects to be marketed. I consider myself to be a researcher in movement, about movement. Some of these technologies require an acute state of scientific knowledge and sophisticated equipment. Many artists are already working with scientists, exploring new territories, such as robotics.
On the level of research, art and science have in common an « intuitive » starting point. The barriers between artists and scientists are fading. Many scientific experiences in relation to the process of life, of creating life, witnessing life’s mutations, transformations and evolutions are potential territories of esthetic expression equal to paintings and sculptures relating religious allegories of past centuries. A conceptual artwork rests upon an idea just as scientific theory, which in turn could be considered as a conceptual artwork. The main difference being that the latter has to be verified and repeated to become accepted by peers. In the future, would science centers become museums of the contemporary art of tomorrow where artists and scientists would exhibit their works?
At the beginning of my essay, I expressed the desire to understand, asking myself if there was a logical sense to our visual world which surrounds us.
One can analyze at length the hows of all physical phenomenas, but the whys remain unanswered or refered at best through belief systems.In art, it seems there is not much to understand, but a lot to feel. Feel the chemistry omnipresent that comes out of an artwork. If it isn’t there, then one is indifferent to it. This chemistry is of course of emotional order. There are obviously different levels of esthetic emotions and emotions per se.
Wasn’t it Pythagorus who claimed that all is numbers and many mathematicians have implied that a mathematical equation could set up a strong erotic emotion!
At the dawn of what is called « Transhumanism », a gathering of nano technologies, computer and cognitive sciences, created in the U.S., where immortality becomes possible, where the creation of artificial molecules capable of reproducing themselves is a reality. These molecules, once introduced in a human brain, could ‘repair’ any deficiency of the brain, allowing an everlasting life. Mankind would swap his « Naturality » for an artificial state of eternity, achieving a version of Faust’s dream!
After all, many artists dreamed of creating art as life, I myself included. « I dont know where artificiality stops and where reality begins » stated Andy Warhol. Artificial life can now be created. Living becomes Art. But it is not without risks. As much as ‘Transhumanism’ can be promising, there can be in genetic selection, potential possibilities between humans and the loss of whatever freedom we think we have. Could art and artists be counted on not to be abused ?
Dream, utopia or illusion ?
Making art is about playing a game with rules set up by oneself with no need for verification, unlike science.
Play seriously, intensely without ever taking oneself seriously.