Friday, 3 February 2017

Back to History

Almost pre-history in fact – i.e. even before As Was When!

Making collages, Paolozzi was limbering up for his fabulous Sixties graphics series in the preceding decade.  Between these and ‘As Is When’ there were a few works of special significance since they ‘practised’ that series’ very particular format, style and content.

The History of Nothing’ was a short (12 mins) black & white film made by Paolozzi with the help of Denis Postle.  Inspired by Dada/Surrealist ideas, it consisted of an animated series of collages.  In anticipation of concepts for a new kind of interactive fine art which would fully emerge at the end of the decade, it is likely that Paolozzi hoped that by bombarding the viewer with unrelated images a new, self-contained perception of reality would be engendered.  This would be based on the notion that the human brain when presented with images without visually- or linguistically-indicated logical relationships will by default ‘invent’ connecting links intuitively.

In 1962 Paolozzi started working at Kelpra Studio with Chris Prater.  One of their first collaborations was a screenprint, ‘Four Stills from the History of Nothing’.  This was based on a collage he had made whilst teaching in Hamburg.  The main, central elements include items of mining machinery and a strange striped cat set in a constricted, striped environment.  This is the print:

© TheTrustees of the Eduardo Paolozzi Foundation

I believe that Paolozzi intended to ramp-up stimulation of our (the viewer) creative perception by confusing us with both the print’s title and the presentation of the component images.  With the word ‘history’ it is natural to think of information conveyed in a linear, progressive format, (often a ‘chronology’ or ‘timeline’).  Paolozzi’s style in overall picture composition and the juxtaposition of component elements denies such a perception.

Here, as in so many of the Sixties graphic works, images of machinery/technology feature prominently.  At that time the range and capability of technology was expanding at an unprecedented rate of progress, especially because of the invention of electronics.  Equally some more familiar technologies – from the Industrial Revolution for instance – had, by virtue of their relative simplicity and size, become ‘quaint’ and ‘olde-worlde’, (‘historic’).  But the functionality of contemporary, more ‘hi-tech’ machines and devices would revolutionise the potential for image manipulation; I guess that Paolozzi fully foresaw how computers would enable an artist to create imagery with a freedom and sophistication that was impossible at that mid-century point for him with his meagre ‘tool kit’ of hard-copy print source material, knife, scissors and adhesives.

From a 2017 viewpoint potential referencing is intriguing.  For instance, is that Schrödinger’s cat? (age 27: not bad for a Felis catus) – you know, the one that inhabits the box in the service of quantum mechanics theory? – a discipline that will not reach general ‘popular’ awareness until the end of the 20th century; and what of coal mining, the basis for a technology that is seen as a major contributor to global-warming, a phenomenon which threatens to spell the end of history?

The magazine wrapper fragments provide a wry comment on the value of information.  Here packaging is the visual device used, with no sign of what would have been physically within, what should surely have been the object of interest, i.e. the magazine itself, and, in a further non-apparent layer, the informational content of the magazine.  In this way Paolozzi seems to have been practising the way of thinking with ‘pictures’ as would be a concern of As Is When, as well as rehearsing that series’ characteristic visual devices and their rendering.

Purely visually, this print looks to me to be a close relative of: Artificial Sun and Reality (As Is When); Protocol Sentences (Universal Electronic Vacuum); King Kong King Kong (Moonstrips Empire News) and The ABC of Z (General Dynamic Fun).

But, whatever its antecedents and ‘offspring,’ it’s yet another great one!