PRINT January 1974

The Object Perceived/the Object Apprehended

. . .the indians in New Mexico make art which can travel, the sand paintings . . . there was no need to preserve art, the same drawing was passed through the generations . . . and yet, each transient drawing was so permanent . . .

. . . when making rugs, I was more interested in . . . the obsessive, organized punching on the back of the rug and its gridded fabric.

. . . I am only interested in real, not illusionistic situations . . . even if they seem illogical the word abstract, applied to art, has no meaning for me . . .1“ long means 1” long . . . nothing is done arbitrarily, there is always a purpose . . . the first piece was done before a drawing existed for it, I intuitively knew the system . . .

. . . different pieces solve different problems . . . pieces are always generating new pieces . . . moving out of the known pattern is what marks the development of my work . . . no object is really ever completed, a sequel to the Odyssey will prove that Penelope continued her activity incessantly. . .

. . . the aspect of making objects as separate entities which can be possessed is excessively emphasized . . . the idea of preservation applied to art operates on a level of collective ideology rather than in the objects themselves. . .

. . .my pieces are both permanent and impermanent . . . while they exist on the wall their physicality affords an extraordinary sense of permanence; yet, once the piece is removed, it can be said that it has temporarily disappeared, awaiting the moment in which it will be again . . . the pieces exist, then, ideally (in the drawing or diagram stage), potentially (in their capability of regeneration) and actually (when assembled on the wall). . . but the piece is already in any of these three different stages of existence. . .

(Fragments from a conversation with Brenda Miller.)

WHILE IT IS THE GENERALITY of the artist’s words that provides the context for understanding the possible connections between these and other current works, it is the specificity of the oeuvre that establishes the continuity of an esthetic discourse. The supremacy conceded to the work is, in the present case, only a precarious methodological principle. Quite obviously, no art object is independent from other art objects, nor are they as a whole independent from a larger cultural context. But the laborious discovery of these continuities, subtle or obvious links and influences belongs more appropriately in the realm of a sociology of knowledge than that of critique. These relationships place the object in a field of exteriority and define the cultural and social conditions that enable the objects to appear rather than the autonomous entity of their internal dependencies. The proper function of critique should be an immanent study of the works themselves. It is almost inconceivable to establish which are the links connecting object to object; object to art discourse; art discourse to context of ideas without first decoding the structural laws that make each artist’s oeuvre a coherent system.

The assumption of postulating a direct connection between the elements of an art object and the elements of a cultural context (the analogical principle analyzed by Barthes) is the persistent manifestation of an ideological prejudice that quite often, by ways of critical pretext, turns art into a banality. This assumption addresses itself to the establishment of an ideological “truth” rather than the explicit recognition of a subjective reading among all the possible levels of reading posed by the image’s tangled plurality. By re-thinking, re-feeling, re-imagining the products of the creative process from the inside out, the work becomes no longer an object but, in Pou let’s words, a subject; that is to say, the material reflection of an activity of the “spirit” or, at its highest level of accomplishment, an activity of consciousness.

ENTASIS (a slight convex curve in the vertical outlines of a pilaster or of the shaft of a column).

In this case, the name is nothing but an artifice; something which, by way of a verbal introduction, surreptitiously forces the passage from an intensely perceptual space (contemplation) to a conceptual space. It does even more: it envelops both situations, it establishes their mutual adequacy by designating the conceptual “correction” of the perceptual immediacy.

A successful analysis of Entasis can be achieved only after a diagrammatic structural description has been conceptually recorded. At first sight, it can be said that the work consists basically of 16 modules, each 16“ x 36”, arranged in eight columns. Each column is made up of two modules, one on top of the other, with an 8“ separation between the two. The separation between columns is 8” and the total height 80". However, this description can be only rightfully applied to the infra-structural grid, not apparent to the unprepared eye, which acts both as a homogeneous and a generative field.

On each intersection of the 1“ grid, which has been drawn on the wall with blue pencil, a piece of sisal twine of variable length has been affixed with a small nail or pin. The length progression of the twine is the following: from 1” in the first row of each one of the upper modules to a length of 36“ in the last row. The same progression is reversed in the lower modules,starting with 36” down to 1" in the last row.

Both the existence of the grid as a homogeneous generative field and the arithmetic progression of the twine’s variable length appear synthetically expressed as image in the separate “drawing.” As will be discussed later, these drawings are an integral part of the pieces rather than an instrument for recording a perceptual event. The ordered sequence of numbers which make up the drawing indicates the progression of the twine’s length while it replaces the background lattice. These figures, therefore, behave as visual referents which give “meaning” to the indeterminate, homogeneous grid field.

Our first awareness of number concepts, as has been proven by recent experiments, occurs first in terms of ordered sequences, and only later in terms of quantities. Ordination, the process by which the drawings are executed, determines the number of objects in the set by counting rather than by matching. In Entasis’ set the last ordinal number, 36, is the cardinal number of the set. When the twine is attached to the grid, the number of objects in the set is determined by the process known as cardination (matching).

On one hand, an attempt to dematerialize the grid as a way of approaching its invisibility is expressed both in its replacement by numbers in the drawing, and the use of nonreproducing pencil when drawing on the wall. On the other hand, the grid clearly circumscribes the physical coordinates of a space which, by way of its own definition, introduces, at the perceptual level, the notion of scale.

Scale is abstractly defined by the concepts of suitable limit and spatial regulation by the use of a standard, both of which are provided by the two specified measurements, 16“ (width of each module) and 80” (total height). The concept of scale belongs in a different conceptual category than that of size. The physical extent or bulk of the work, so crucial in art objects which display “sculptural (or for that matter, pictorial) concerns,” is effectively dismissed by introducing perceptually assimilated measurements. 80“, the height of an average door, operates as size at a deep perceptual level incessantly informed by experience; 16”, the regular spacing between studs, is another literal, yet subtler, transposition of a perceptually assimilated measurement. There is an aspiration toward a level of regulation and control of the physical parameters of the work rather than an impossible rejection of the work’s physicality. The result is a systematic neutrality which promotes the active emergence of the generative pattern. In this instance, the process of apprehension is again enriched by learning from the image itself, now stripped of its “expressive,” subjective connotations.

In a generative system so carefully deprived of redundancy, why is the plane, already defined by height and width, concealed by an extraneous texture? Does it all end there, in an object that is mostly “surface”? While intensely perceiving the outward appearance of the object there is a persistent realization of the surface’s deceiving nature. The material itself is another invariant, very much like the height and width. Colorless, shapeless, neutral, quotidian, available and perceptually assimilated, the twine is almost only relevant in its ability for providing a third measurement. It is the linear property of the twine which will bring the generative system into actual existence. The surface deployment of the twine allows the “hidden” measurement expressed by the numbers to acquire a perceptual reality. The numbers, as generative decisions, affect the real space, rather than the illusionistic space of the wall plane; the material implements these decisions.

We call this third measurement profile. This profile or outline is the only variant physical dimension and determines almost exclusively the ultimate visual appearance of the object. (In works of considerable complexity, such as Ten by Ten, Subtrahend, Abscissa, and Quadrifid, the profile is not a uniform dimension. Several outlines can appear in the same work, always“read” as a succession of vertical planes perpendicular to the wall.)

The sisal’s linearity, in entering the realm of physical space and being physical itself, is therefore subjected to gravity. Once confronted with this irreducible situation of fact, the material used recovers some of its intrinsic “expressive” characteristics, while simultaneously stating its inert condition. The resulting collapsed profile conforms a visual entity which begins to dictate its own autonomous rules. Each row of the twine’s length progression presents a particular appearance in a recurrent series of changes.

Change is here understood in two senses: first, as a successive shift of zero in the length progression; and secondly, as a change of the visual pattern perceived due to contingencies, such as variations in overlapping, etc. This gradual displacement creates unpredictable visual combinations of units which interact with each other by means of overlapping, superimposition, and accumulated localized depth. In the resulting artifact, the “learned” perception is really captured by the subtle transformations of detail.

Entasis displays a complex and ambiguous relationship between the random appearance of the real-space part of the work and the rigorous logic of its arrangement (but Logic is only an instrument of the work’s wholeness). Its form can be predicted only so far.

The visual pleasure derived from contemplation is a pleasure created by this ambiguous collision, by this disjunction of sensory perception and conceptual understanding.

The multiplicity of interchangeable elements in different works for the same grid reveals that the emphasis is on establishing a continuous art discourse through the different versions of the generative or transformational pattern. Generate and generative, in this context, mean to designate from the set of rules postulated.

In Brenda Miller’s work, the formulation of the generative code can be described as a (variable) combination of (recurrent) signs. The purpose of pure designation that the drawing originally assumes explains the arbitrariness of the chosen sequence. From the code postulated by the numbers—equivalent in this context to the role of language itself—a representation emerges. From then on, an indissoluble bond exists between the “drawing” and the “piece,” a relationship that can almost be equated to that existing between words and things. In the same manner, this relationship is established between the concrete length (as concept) suggested by the “utterance” of the number and each material length of sisal twine.

It is not strange that the first piece of this series had to be first executed and only later codified. The generative “grammar” could only be derived “from within” a first instance of designation. In these objects, image becomes a dialectical field of transition connecting the conceptual and the perceptual domains. Generative procedures and dialectics of the image seem to be general principles furthering our consciousness of creative processes.

Susan Tower