Saturday, 26 April 2014

Contemporary comment on Universal Electronic Vacuum

The December 1967 issue of Studio International featured a detail from Computer-Epoch on its cover:

Inside, in the Magazine's London Commentary section, Charles Harrison wrote about Universal Electronic Vacuum: 

One of the more dazzling exhibitors in ‘Transatlantic Graphics’, Eduardo Paolozzi speaks of the screenprints in his new series as failures. (Universal Electronic Vacuum is on exhibition at the ALECTO GALLERY).   If we can free ourselves from the spell cast by images with a visual appeal and impact as strong as these have, we may come to agree with him.  The failure is in the process, which, in reproducing the mental excitements of an age in which so much information and so many stimuli are there to be absorbed, can yet find no precise equivalent, in visual terms, for the activities of scanning and digestion.  This is of course only a failure in comparative terms.  No one has travelled further than Paolozzi in search of a solution to this particular problem nor come closer to finding one.  For us it is the evidence of restless search that makes these prints so intensely exciting.  Paolozzi has constantly pushed at the frontiers of printmaking, acting as an ideas-man in a technological context.  Collage elements from all sources – Woolworths table cloths to computer circuits, five and dime store cutouts to fine art reproductions – are manipulated into a series of total images, constructed like nests of Chinese boxes, in which the artist is involved so far as they are critical assessments of a given situation.  These collages are ‘translated’ by the screenprinter and printed in a range of colours decided by a part-arbitrary, part systematic process which guarantees tonal balance.  The printmaker acts as a servo-mechanism for the ideas of the artist.  The employment of computers as means of reproducing episodes in the process of scanning is an obvious next step upon which Paolozzi is already determined. 

Meanwhile there is much to learn from the Universal Electronic Vacuum.  The content of the prints is one man’s singular consciousness in an age of multi-media, expressed through the language of that age.  The artist feeds us with stimuli which we, so far as we respond to them, can use to establish an image of his idea.  These gorgeous colours and dazzling shapes are not solely for our delectation.  An understanding of the things he does – of his behaviour in a visual sense – gives us insight into the experience of the artist and enables us to share his idea.  The printed sheets of the Universal Electronic Vacuum are not records of visual insights but ideas expressed in visible form.  The sets are printed in such a way that no two runs of the same print produce the same arrangement of colours.  It is less important that the colours are arranged as they are than that each print is different within the same edition.  What matters is the idea of infinite difference, with its far-reaching implications for the structure of our thinking about the art object.  The actual colours printed are no more than the record – the visual evidence – of this idea.  If the artist could convey his ideas without needing to create objects which embody them, he would be no less an artist.  In human terms the artist is the man whose ideas are most energetic.  He is no less than that and no more. 

There is a real possibility that the rapidly developing involvement with the screenprint, often to the neglect of other, more fine art media, will have the effect of forcing us to look more closely at the real content of art.  It is a paradox that the artist may well be able to reveal more of himself by leaving the execution of his ideas to the technician.  If the object itself, seductive as it often is, can be so accurately specified and so easily duplicated, perhaps we shall come at last to value its physical substance less that the idea for which it is no more than a clothing.

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