In this paper, I focus on the appropriations of three paintings from Robert Motherwell’s series “Elegy to the Spanish Republic” (1963–75)—Five in the Afternoon, (1949), Elegy to the Spanish Republic 100 (1963–75) and Reconciliation Elegy (1978)—in order to address the question of how an artist might “borrow” from Motherwell’s images to engage in an act of reconciliation in my country, Australia, today. What is at stake in such an act? Can one, ethically, invoke not just the name or the sentiment embodied in Motherwell’s “Elegies,” but also the forces that operate in the work?
In setting out the argument, I propose that it is necessary not only to attend to what is pictured but also to address the conditions through which these works work. I propose that, figured performatively, appropriation or citation of Motherwell’s “Elegies to a Spanish Republic” is not about re-presenting or reproducing forms, but rather is concerned with invoking the imperceptible forces beneath perception. Thus, the task of working with Motherwell’s compositions is not just technical, nor is it merely undertaken to invoke the name and history of Robert Motherwell. The act of appropriation asks that the artist doing the appropriation attend to the ghosts operating in and through the work, unleash them and allow them to come to bear upon the viewer.
about the author(s)
Barbara Bolt is a practising artist and art theorist at the VCA University of Melbourne. She has written two monographs, Art Beyond Representation: The Performative Power of the Image (2004) and Heidegger Reframed: Interpreting Key Thinkers for the Arts (2011), and co-edited four books, Material Inventions: Applying Creative Arts Research (2014), Carnal Knowledge: Towards a “New Materialism” through the Arts (2013), Practice as Research: Approaches to Creative Arts Enquiry (2007), and Sensorium: Aesthetics, Art, Life (2007). Her publications build a strong dialogue between practice and theory. She is a board member of Studio Research and Studies in Material Thinking and Society of Artistic Research (2011–13) and is MC Observer to COST Action, New Materialisms Network.
info & contact
University of Melbourne, AU
bbolt [AT] unimelb.edu.au