CAGE. CUNNINGHAM. KAPROW.
CHANCE / OBJECTIVITY. MATERIALIZATION / DOCUMENTATION. ART CONTEXT / LIFE SITUATION.
John Cage, Merce Cunnigham and Allan Kaprow’s works, theories and methods are used as a motto to understand how a newfound status of the artwork was instigated by their shared interests and researches, which ran transversally trough different types of artistic practices. These artists, have not only broadened our understanding of what an “artwork” can be, but also questioned its existence as physical objects, that we can recognize as materializing the conceptual immediacy of the work.
“Chance”, was a fundamental method to them, as a way of generating compositions and pieces independent of the author’s will. Even if it might not be evident, this attitude towards art-making had a concern for objectivity and acted as a producer of order inside their creative process. No urge for expression of the self. It is indifferent in motive and originated in no psychology or dramatic intentions. The final purpose was indeed, to be freed from any kind of artistry or taste.
Nevertheless, the use of chance-operations was widely considered as a negation of the artist’s responsibility. If technical ability and artistic virtuosity were not at stake anymore, spectators started questioning what distinguished a common person from an artist. This distinction became even more tenuous when a shift from a traditionally “object-based-art” started to dilute itself into the “artistic-project”, which emphasized process rather than product.
In order to elaborate a personal interpretation of the work, the spectator is obliged to focus on the continuum of narrative that makes the artwork into something other than a fixed object. The audience is no longer confronted with an artwork but with the documentation of life in the “art-project.” But how can “Chance” be accurately documented? The context and the specificity of circumstances are also fundamental to the uniqueness of each performance. Plus, very often, the works cannot be equally recreated twice, and therefore, no documentation will ever be able to convey the precise qualities of that unrepeatable moment. One can also say that the documentation of something is not the thing itself. Ultimately, this disparity cannot be erased, and it is a divergence that separates the viewer from the reality of the work.
Undeniably, Cage, Cunningham and Kaprow’s practice and pieces (intentionally) raise several questions of value and authenticity. But the essence of any experimental work is hard to perceive because the absence of the familiar is more palpable than the odd presence of what is actually there. New forms in fact not only seem disturbingly wrenched out of contexts that have given old forms their meaning, but can appear to be abstracted from “content” itself.
But transgression and discomfort are soon absorbed and digested by the ever-enlarging cultural boundaries. Today, contemporary art has an interesting, if sometimes ambiguous, relation to its broader culture. Even though it is still hard to grasp and understand it, art has never had a less controversial social reception than the one we can witness in our times. Art was never so strongly a part of the mass culture that it has sought to observe and analyze from a distance.
So, can we assume that the blurring between Art and Life, which Cage, Cunningham, Kaprow and many others, desired, finally happening, (even if in a distorted way)?