Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I'm Leanne Joyce. I Solve Problems.

In my most recent read, a chapter entitled “Calder’s Once and Future Circus: A Conservator’s Perspective” by Eleanora Nagy in Calder: The Paris Years, I found purpose. The chapter grapples with the issues of preserving an artist's work, along with his intent, in this case, Calder's Circus. The art of it was a performance, and it is not really possible to bring him back to life... but there has to be a better way of capturing the spirit of his highly mobile figures than displaying them in glass cases. Carol Mancusi Ungaro, curator at the Whitney Museum, where The Circus is kept, writes in the introduction to this chapter:

In every sense, the engine (the artist himself) of the machines (the figures) has died. Yet, without energy, without movement, the machines settle for a subdued presence and elicit at best a static curiosity. Over the years, the Whitney Museum of American Art has chosen to exhibit Calder’s Circus in this stationary state, accompanied by filmed images of Calder “performing his circus by manipulating the figures. As spectators, we must provide the leap of faith that connects and energizes the two disparate site of the Circus—the actual (but still) figures and the moving images. Is it successful? It may be the best we can do within the boundaries set by responsible museum practice, but is it enough? As a seasoned, conservator, I think not. I wish I could provide a ready solution but I cannot—yet. Rather, I can muse about the production of a stop-motion animated film that demonstrates an celebrates the sophistication of Calder’s handmade mechanisms. I cannot endorse a refabrication of the figures from brightly colored new materials that may or may not resemble the original fabrics, because I accept that works of art age gracefully. Consider what a Rembrandt painting would be without its cracks. In short, a fake. What I can support, however, is an in-depth study of the physical phenomenon of the Circus with an eye toward Calder’s impressive engineering of his figures, his selective accumulation of multidimensional accoutrements, and his various demonstrations of how it all works.

Evidently, there is a very real issue to solve here. This brings my project in a slightly new direction, but it is one with a finish line and a purpose. I should strive to bring The Circus alive, at least as much as possible without its creator nor an imitation of him. Initially, I thought about performing a version of the circus to "digitize" it... but somehow this didn't feel right, and the more I read about Calder's art, and those who have attempted to mimic it, the more I doubted that would be going about this the right way. Turns out, I was right to feel unsettled about what would have been, in essence, creating replicas of his works for a replica performance. It wasn't really moving, and it wasn't really "me."

So what's the big idea?? Ideally, if there was a way to get access to the collection, I would take 3D photos of it (that is, take images of it from all sides) and then, using photo manipulation, combine these images (for example, Little Clown with a deflated balloon) with new images (a 3D model of little clown and the inflated baloon). The crystal-clear animation of figure's motion would play adjacent to grainy footage of Calder himself manipulating it, which would be next to the antique figure itself, safely preserved in a case.

This way, the objects would be reanimated but remain untouched and preserved. Granted, the authentic objects won't move, so visitors would still need to take a different [but smaller!] "leap of faith." But, the great thing is it shows how digital resources can be used to create, in turn, a new work of art-- one that won’t die, but bring the dead to life, until the technology is surpassed by a better one.

Truth be told, I won't have access to the collection at this point. So some figures will need to be made, but here lies yet another opportunity for hands-on education: I will, like Calder, make figures from found objects (modern ones) to illustrate how he used things readily available to anyone to make art. These found-object figures will each be tagged for the webcam. Users can pick up figures, place them on a shelf in front of the webcam, and when the tag is read, the animation/video will play.

There are a variety of issues that my solution does not solve, but to be quite frank, I do not see them as any reason not to try it out. For instance, one of the problems Nagy points out in the chapter is that there is only video footage for limited number of the figures. Fair enough, but do we really need to wait until all of them are discovered before we try to solve this?? Sometimes you just need to connect the dots, and if you get them wrong, you go back and fix them. Like in Archaeology-- they don't always get it right! And sometimes when the source of a work is gone, you just have to make due, and that should be part of the adventure of it all.

I don't mean to sound insensitive-- I am surely not taking on this project because I disrespect Calder. I just think that he'd be more amused by someone working towards something useful for his work than hemming and hawwing about it. Don't get me wrong, hemming and hawwing is very necessary. I am thankful for reading all the hems and haws I have, as it saves me from doing all of it. But like I said, I'm Leanne Joyce. I solve problems. I think I'll get working on that now.

No comments: