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Friday, 3 August 2007

Process V Outcome

My Grandparents were true Victorians. Indeed, you could say that in some ways they were more Victorian than the good queen herself. Not unnaturally, therefore, their taste in art ("pictures", they would have said) was Victorian. "Every picture tells a story" was a phrase I grew up with. They meant, of course, "Every picture should tell a story". Certainly, their pictures had narratives, usually a moral, which could be deduced from the work itself, often with the aid of the title.

Some days ago, surfing on the net, I came upon a blog extolling the primacy of process in all things art. I thought little of it at the time, and surfed on, but later thought more about it. Back a decade or two (or three) there was a vogue for process, not only in art, but in other fields also. (There may still be, for all I know.) In Education, for example, this translated as "How a person learns is what matters, not what s/he learns". "Process, not outcome," became the dictum. In other words, it is what happens to a person during the learning process that matters in the long run, that will decide what sort of a person s/he will become.

Following this dictum in art, the story is no longer told by the work, but of it. So what at first sight appeared to me to be a ventilation grill well overdue for cleaning, having layers of fluff adhering to its bars, became, when I was given its credentials, an object of vastly different kind: it was Idris Khan's photograph of the Qur'an'. He had scanned every page - nearly 2000 in all -into his computer and then digitally layered them to form a composite image. some say the result is beautiful. I do not go that far, but would say that knowing the story behind it, changes the emotional charge.

Cornelia Parker, you may recall, blew up a shed - or had it blown up, hopefully by someone who knew what s/he was doing. She presented the result as an installation, and intriguing it was, too. But knowing the means by which it was achieved added enormously to its impact. Simon Starling's boat seemed nothing extraordinary - until you were told that it was an ex-shed, and would be one again. It was said that his Shedboatshed was instrumental in gaining for him The Turner Prize.

There is in fact a whole genre called Process Art, has been since the 1960's. It was originally a reaction against minimalism. Its exponents chose transient materials, such as ice, wax, sand, fat, yeast. The artist would devise and set in motion a process by which the chosen materials would be changed, often repeating the process over and over. I think I see similarities here with the way in which fractals are produced, but here we have something physical, an artifact, if only fleetingly, not an image of something virtually conceived.

Like to find out more? Try these links.


The Guggenheim Collection

The Tate Collection

Artists you might like to look at are: Hans Haacke, Jannis Kounellis and Richard Serra.




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