Material From Another Medium

By Andrea Tu

And the apple fell from the tree and in that flash Newton's Gravity was born, or so they say. Universal gravitational attraction, that is what governs the motions of falling bodies. From the celestial spheres, to the quotidian, to the smallest particle, the same force causes each. Gravity explains that all bodies are drawn towards a centre of Attractive Force, and that all masses Attract all other masses.

The apple falls, attraction displays its power, two things collide and something breaks, all whilst the moon remains up in the sky. The Law states that the Force of Gravity between two Bodies is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the Distance between them. So the apple will always be drawn to the earth's centre, and the planets will keep wheeling about on their circumference around the sun. Or so we hope.

In DvS's world bodies rise and fall in their own peculiar way, obeying their own particular laws of motion. Paint rises, balls loll and rolls of tape nearly swing. It is the everyday sublime. Blu-Tack, paper, balloons, plastic bags; all manufactured, processed and with a day glow. The stuff found in office drawers and underneath kitchen sinks, the stuff found in gallery storerooms and used to Hang Art.

Ahh, art. That's what we're here for isn't it? Art, rather than Science? After all no matter how objective and methodical they appear to be, DvS's investigations are not sensibly going to illustrate, or contribute to, the laws and principles of science. We all know that a balloon's elasticity will only stretch to a certain point and that bodies will always fall to the ground regardless of what the camera's eye wishes us to believe. It could seem that DvS is merely adopting the dry hand in the white coat as a tool for his dry sense of humor. However all of this experimental rigor is directed towards something, just not towards uncovering the causes of motion or for demonstrating theorems of elasticity. Instead his wry investigations obliquely show us what the essence of these particular materials might be and what the essence of art might be.

Heat and cold, wetness and dryness, light and darkness, colour and blackness, opacity and transparency, these are some of the demonstrable properties of bodies. Paint has varying degrees of viscosity, comes in any colour and its wetness quickly turns to dryness. Blu-Tack is blue gray when fresh, sort of dense, sort of sticky, tricky to categorize but instantly identifiable. What DvS is interested in is their simple, unadorned materiality. And what further interests him is using that material in such a way that it will reveal something of its essence, something of its intrinsic nature.

A property is a variable, an attribute, quality or characteristic. An essence is all that makes a thing what it is, independent of substance, properties and materials. I don't think I could coherently tell you what the essence of any thing might be. But watching DvS's compressed plastic bag slowly unfurl and dilate, and catching a brief glimpse of sculpted water unfettered by its balloon, does provide an insight into what the essences in this particular world might be. The signs of art, like that of essences, are immaterial. The signs of art are able to transform the substances of art (words, paint, sounds) until they become so ductile, so kneaded and refined that they become spiritual.(1) Behind all of these flat picture planes it is the miscellanea of art substance which beckon.

Transformation and transmutation are attractive powers difficult to resist. Newton, the greatest scientist and mathematician after Archimedes spent years devoted to alchemy and the pursuit of arcanum. He was also fascinated by light, colour and optics, subjects similarly close to DvS's heart. Writing in Opticks Newton observed: "Hitherto I have produced Whiteness by mixing the Colours of the Prisms. If now the Colours of natural Bodies are to be mingled, let Water a little ticken'd with Soap be agitated to raise a Froth, and after that Froth has stood a little, there will appear to one that shall view it intently various Colours every where in the Surfaces of the several Bubbles; but to one that shall go so far off, that he cannot distinguish the Colours from one another, the whole Froth will grow white with a perfect Whiteness." And so too with DvS's work. Brightly, lightly, in the flash of motion one can echo the intent, focused gaze bestowed upon these materials. But stand back a little, let it all grow a little hazy, and a perfect essence of whiteness might be revealed.

(1) R. Bogue, Deleuze and Guattari (Routledge, London, 1989. pg 41).