Imaging the In-between: The Serial Art of Richard Tuttle

Since 1964, the American artist Richard Tuttle (b. 1941) has made approximately three hundred disparate series in the mediums of drawing, sculpture, printmaking, and painting. Although Tuttle’s commitment to serial art is unrivaled within the postwar period, his art has yet to be interpreted by scholars in conjunction with the concept of seriality, perhaps because it so deliberately confounds our expectations of the series. Unlike most serial projects in art, Tuttle’s series neither repeat nor progress in any discernible way, making his an artistic practice that provocatively resonates with various philosophical concepts of Gilles Deleuze, whose writings are contemporaneous with Tuttle’s development of his puzzling serial art.

Central to Tuttle’s unconventional seriality are the serial objects themselves. Constructed of common materials such as twigs, cellophane, and wire, these objects seem slapdash and incomplete, a sense of provisionality that is further complicated by the fact that these objects are highly abstract—devoid of overt subject matter and resistant to representation. When viewed in serial succession, these strange objects do not read as consistent or progressive but rather as disjointed and disparate, as if each object in the series signaled something different. What is more, the last object in each series appears to be an arbitrary end, an abrupt break in the series that would have continued, if allowed. Indeed, in viewing Tuttle’s series of art, we find them to be unresolved, incoherent, and amid a process of fluctuation. But to what end this curious seriality? Why might Tuttle continually make abstract series that refuse resemblance and identity and seem to only evince ideas of perpetual difference and fluctuation?

Drawing on Deleuzean concepts such as “difference and repetition” as well as “becoming,” this paper takes seriously Tuttle’s paradoxical reliance on the systematic method of seriality and considers Tuttle’s method with implicationsfor both for art and life. By focusing on two examples of Tuttle’s seriality (an early series and a more recent one), this paper examines how, in its resistance to and coherence and conclusion and its insistence on differentiation and fluctuation, Tuttle’s seriality manifests ambiguity and uncertainty, ideas that, in turn, challenge and upend the traditional conceptions of art as a fixed solution. For Tuttle’s seriality is always in-between beginnings and ends, imaging a process that is as if between a question and its answer, linking the experience of Tuttle’s series to our own meandering processes of thought and ongoing pursuits of knowledge.

Maintenant: Seeing the Untouchable, Touching the Unseen

We can say . . . of time . . . that it is the whole of relations.
—Gilles Deleuze (1986, 10)

A cinematic screen is filled with the image of my hands conducting, caught from above and behind my left shoulder. The motion and the touch of my hands captivate as they reach out into the blackness of empty space to make visible the materiality of sound as I sculpt and shape the evolving music. The image of sculptor Joël Prévost’s hands appear deeply immersed in the sensuality of their touch as his fingers probe what lies hidden beneath the surface of his clay. It is an unexpected pairing—music and sculpture—yet, centre stage at a slightly forward angle, Prévost’s finished sculpture of my hands, suspended in motion, draws the images together. Its form as sculpture speaks to the fleetingness of the unfolding moment and its longevity as a present grasped. The play between the sculpture and the images, the fleetingness and the grasping, points to the image of the hand that holds time embodied in the roots of the French word for now, main-tenant. This exposition explores the transformational power of the moment in all its temporal complexity.

The project stems from the long-standing gap between knowledge about music and that garnered through its embodied experience in the moment. Driven by a definition of music as a temporal art, the gap has framed listening as a function of the ear alone. Deleuze (2004, 73), however, argues “even in the joining of sensations . . . there is resonance.” Hearing has a tactile dimension. Touch is also a movement, a gesture through which one situates or places oneself in relationship to an evolving whole; and, as both a touching and being touched by, it “necessarily constitute[s] couplings of sensation. . . . [that] produce resonance” (ibid., 66). Prévost’s sculpture of my hands, made while I conducted, allowed me to cultivate these relationships and marry my own touch and hearing to the tactility of the sculpting clay to make visible the thought—the grasping—that had been hitherto hidden in my gestures.

These couplings also make tangible the “invisible,” “insensible,” “dark precursor” that precipitates the paradigmatic transformations of sudden flashes of creative insight. As in a developing variation, the multi-sensory, temporal, and spatial possibilities of film are used in combination with the sculpture onstage continually to “look again,” each time from a different perspective. Enhanced through a kinaesthetic memory invoked by my (live) voice, the ensuing rub of sight, sound, motion, stillness, past and present, spawns the echoes from which Michel Serres (1995, 119) argues time itself is born. My hands are constantly “re-membered,” as echoes, many “unheard” and seemingly without a past, become an opening to the future. Time itself is set in motion and sound renews Deleuze’s concept of touch. The exposition unfolds around Pászti Miklòs’s Fekete Lány and is based on a poem by Federico García Lorca originally “found” through gestures of the hand.

Web: eleanorstubley.com; joelaprevost.com

References

Brunner, Christopher. 2013. “Affective Timing and Non-sensuous Perception in Differential Media,” Simondon and Digital Culture Conference, Leuphana University.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1986. Cinema 1: The Movement-Image. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

—. 2004. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Translated by Daniel W. Smith. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Serres, Michel. 1995. Genesis. Translated by Geneviève James and James Nielson. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Live Sculpture

Live Sculpture is an interactive and performative video-sculpture, built as an auto-poietic and communicating mirror. When the viewer’s body stands in front of Live Sculpture, it is scanned and filmed in real time by a webcam installed behind a Baroque frame and then reanimated and reshaped in a full-size video projection simulating a three-dimensional marble sculpture. The new live image of the viewer-sculpture is entirely built from an ever-changing interactive mesh, which tunes in and reacts to body movements, the environment, light, and the speed of the viewer. My artistic research has always investigated changes in “liquid space” through a variety of techniques, technologies, and devices. The liquid space is unfolded in Live Sculpture by the subject herself, on one side, reshaping the human into something alive and vibrant and, on the other, challenging the notion of sculpture.

As a self-producing structure (Maturana and Varela 1980), Live Sculpture reveals strata, details, and nothing beneath: always in transformation, never reaching another side, never affirming. The interactive mirror—“mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”—gestures to infinity and its “Baroque trait twists and turns its folds, pushing them to infinity, fold over fold, one upon the other” (Deleuze 2006, 3). However, if the viewer might find intimacy in the continuous Droste effect, Live Sculpture remains “a Baroque chiaroscuro, a trompe-l’œil that fools ‘trompe’ no one, yet no one cares to touch its depthless folds. This is the space of the fully accepted, repeated but never shared illusion of unity that is difference” (Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos 2013, 77).

 

References

Deleuze, Gilles. 2006. The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque. Translated by Tom Conley. London: Continuum.

La Cour, Anders, and Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, eds. 2013. Luhmann Observed: Radical Theoretical Encounters. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Maturana Humberto R., and Francisco J. Varela. 1980. Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living. Dordrecht: Springer