Civil War


Civil War

Digital Print on Paper

This work is a development from Rauschenberg's early monochrome white paintings that he first created in summer 1951. After creating a series of completely blank white paintings, Rauschenberg set out to discover whether an artwork could be produced entirely through erasure. He started with erasing his own drawings, but felt that the result was not sufficiently creative, so he decided to seek a drawing from another more established artist - clearly already a work of art - that he could erase. He approached de Kooning, an artist he admired, to ask for a drawing that he could erase to create a new work of art. After some persuasion, de Kooning gave Rauschenberg a densely worked drawing in crayon, ink, pencil and charcoal, deliberately steering away from works that he did not like, or simple pencil drawings that would be too easy for Rauschenberg to erase. It took Rauschenberg approximately two months to obliterate as much of de Kooning drawing as he could, using a variety of different erasers. The plain gilded frame and inscription by Jasper Johns are important parts of the work: without them, a viewer would struggle to interpret the work.



The Duo-Logical Collaboration

Of Sense, Sensibility, and the erasure of them both.


By Paul D. Miller aka Dj Spooky


“Conversation, like certain portions of the anatomy, always runs more smoothly when lubircated…”

The Marquis de Sade

A conversation in which neither party is listening to the other was termed a “duologue” by the philosopher Abraham Kaplan. He once wrote “experience is of particulars only.” So true! Imagine a situation like Robert Rauschenberg and Willem De Kooning’s infamous “erasure” painting of 1953. Rauschenberg was casting around for a way to embody some of the things he viewed as important in the context of how artists observe various phenomenon and, so the story goes, he destroyed material from Jasper Johns as part of an art initiative. Amusingly enough, one of the only citations for the artwork that came from the deletion of Jasper John’s work is a photo (no original work exists of the deletion!) at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which simply describes the piece as a “drawing [with] traces of drawing media on paper with label and gilded frame.” I wonder what would happen if every collaboration turned out this way!


I look to Robert Rauschenberg as a template for the ideas I’m presenting in the exhibition Selena Griffith has curated because of the sheer volume of collaborations he participated in. His works with composers like John Cage or choreographers like Merce Cunningham are well known, and in a sense, they embody the kind of discourse of artist as centripetal force: a person who essentially moves people into new and deeply improvisational moments by way of cajoling, conversation, persuasion, or whatever tools are at hand. Rauschenberg, in light of this short missive, is a kind of 20th century muse. I want to look at what happens for art in the 21st century in a similar contest. Abraham Kaplan liked to think that a duologue is more than a monolog but less than a dialog. It’s somewhere in between. That’s the point.


When I look at the theme of an exhibition, I think of the story of how Rauschenberg went on to create more erasure works - they were conversations about editing and deleting friends, and updating how each participant thought the dynamic movement would take the project into different cultural spaces. It’s something we would know all too well in the era of Facebook and Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat! I guess you could say that the paintings and documents that were erased weren’t “unfriending” the artists who were erased. But by erasing them, Rauschenberg made their absence more powerful. So too with the best conversations and collaborations. One of the most infamous after-effects of the Rauschenberg erasure approach to collaborations came from his early monochrome white paintings from 1951. The story has some resonance with how we think about moving past the limitations we’ve put on how people think about “sharing” in the era of too much information about everything, including yourself.


When Charles Darwin explored the Galapagos Islands in 1835 he found a “world within itself.” Isolated from their mainland ancestors many species had evolved in unexpected ways. The evolutionary oddities of the world of art - a milieu that generates ideas as much as it fosters objects, could be said to be cut from the same adaptive cycle. Let’s think of how objects and ideas synchronize, and how they arrive from a place in the human mind where a conversation between people can generate new worlds, new forms, new ideas. Now that’s a collaboration!

I guess you could argue the point that even purposeful communication often comes in under the radar. It’s an intuitive situation when several people create in a collaborative context. There’s that uneasy tension between context and content. A mainstream way of thinking about what some psychologists call “the cult of sharing” is that an intuitive (and reasonably mainstream view) of why people communicate, share, and update each other is that they’re trying to transmit some interior motive, some dynamic sense of engaging the people around them to create a nuanced view of a shared space in the culture they inhabit.


A collaboration transmits some of that information because each person edits their participation, and the cycle repeats until any project is then finished. Even the basic sense that the “information” each person brings to the mix may or may not be true - this underlies the whole situation. Sometimes the only reason you ask someone about their weekend is so you can tell them about your weekend. Add, multiply, and remix, and you get a sense of how any collaboration works. Each person brings a sense of openess, each person reveals an interior that somehow provides a space where the exterior connects to how you view the scenario. From intent to content, from context to content - there’s always a transmission of information that informs a collaboration. The intent or “information” may be “true” to form, or it may not, of course. But even lies, one could say, or false (erased!?) work are told or made with the hope that they’ll be understood. So the “faithful” transmission of a work and how it interacts with someone else, well… that’s what takes up the bandwidth here. It’s what makes any collaboration a fun situation. It’s how you explore the terrain of the conversation each creative is having. It’s how you see things. Here’s an appropriation. You can copy and paste it to find out where I copied and pasted it from. Remember - it’s sampled wholesale. But hey… who is counting?


In the sense that almost every human endeavor is a kind of interaction with the people who give meaning to how we create “meaning” - it’s all reflexive. Let’s look at the basic premise of how this works as a kind of looking at a mirror made of people. The reflections, depending on how you look at it, can be infinite, or a prison defined by the mirror’s frame as it extends in every direction. It’s all about perspective.


University of New South Wales, Art + Design 2014