There are certain objects we come across that we attribute technique, method and evolution to and others their beginnings we’d rather not acknowledge. We’re intrigued to know how skill, expertise and technological advances can lead to the invention of new stuff, for example in the development of beer, 3D-films and furniture, and how this can impact our lives. However, with some everyday items such as ready-meals, clothes and cut-flowers, it seems we’d rather push aside thoughts on how they arrive on our plate, wardrobe or coffee table.
So when it comes to artworks, not an everyday item but a one-off material expression of a concept, to interpret an artwork do you need to know about how it was made? This year’s Tate Britain Commission artist and 2005 Turner Prize winner Simon Starling is fascinated by the origins of materials and the processes by which they transform into things.
Referring to his work as ‘the physical manifestation of a thought process’, his deconstructions and reconstructions of found objects have introduced him to various craft techniques. In Shedboatshed (Mobile Architecture No 2) 2005, Starling dismantled a shed and turned it into a boat. Loaded with the remains of the shed, the boat was paddled down the Rhine to a museum in Basel, dismantled and re-made. For Tabernas Desert Run 2004, Starling crossed the Tabernas desert in Spain on an improvised electric bicycle. The only waste product the vehicle produced was water, which he used to paint an illustration of a cactus.
Five-Man Pedersen (Prototype No.1) 2003 is based on the Dursley–Pedersen bicycle patented and built by the Danish inventor Mikael Pedersen (1855–1929). Pedersen based the design on the Whipple–Murphy truss – a double intersection truss used to build railway bridges in the mid–1800s. Starling made Five Man Pedersen from the parts of twenty vintage bicycles to return the bicycle to its original design idea – of the Whipple-Murphy truss – by extending, through repetition, its basic form so that it became a bicycle five people could ride.
Robert Morris’s minimalist piece Box with the Sound of Its Own Making 1961 consists of six pieces of wood joined to form an enclosed cube. The noises of carpentry produced during its lengthy construction with a hammer and saw were recorded and a small loudspeaker inside the box plays back these sounds, acoustically re-enacting the making of the object.
Michael Darling, Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art at Seattle Art Museum wrote:
While cherished notions of art focus on the hand of a single artist, here Morris challenges the need for a recognisable creator while also poking fun at the myth of the artist as genius. Through sound and a simple form, he rejects any illusion of romance in the process of making art and presents the viewer with a record of the entire three-and-a-half-hour process from start to finish.
So, when looking at art do you need to recognise it’s creator? Do you admire artworks for how they’re made or the finished product? Does knowing about how an artwork was made change the way you think about it? Tell us what you think.