Part 2, contextual focus point

This relates to Michael Fried’s 1967 essay published in Art Forum in response to Donald Judd’s earlier essay ‘Specific Objects’ and Robert Morris’s ‘Notes on Sculpture’, both circa 1965 and possibly from an interview with Bruce Glaser(1)

I struggled to make sense of this, possibly because of the absence of context (the earlier essays) but also because of the introduction of numerous terms for movements/ideas/groups/ways of working with which I am not familiar. There was no anchor.

It also exists in a specific time – somewhere in the mid 1960s – where pop and op art were flying high and were indeed very very flat if visually deranging. From this, I think Fried may have been taking that flatness (and the idea of a canvas with the constraints of edges) and comparing it with art that has what he later refers to as presence and seems to mean a thing you can walk round, having additional dimensions. You might add the notion of scale, shadows, the effect of light on angles and lumps and bumps; all of which set objects (and presumably confer objecthood in Fried’s terms) on the item in a way less feasible with a flat canvas pinned to a wall, although that in itself is an object.

I can see where (I think) he is coming from – there is a haptic experience, or the potential for one, in an object that is presented as such and which does not exist for a painting that uses an object only as a vehicle.

More recent directions; including installations – my mind goes immediately to Yayoi Kusama and her Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away (2013) – where that often includes total immersion, or which have elements of interactivity built in (Seb Lee-Delisle’s 2020 public app-driven direction of laser lights over Brighton; touch screen interventions for displays [I may have seen this on BBC Click]) and at the fully digital end of the spectrum, the designs underpinning virtual world building and gaming; capitalise hugely on ‘presence’ (feeling as though you are there) and embodiment. Virtual world research, for instance, has shown consistently that objects built in those worlds can look like bricks but if they behave like humans (or dogs, cats, dragons) they’re rapidly accepted as such, whereas the reverse has no such currency and can even be creepy (the uncanny valley). [See Markovitz and Bailenson 2019 for a discussion of these terms]. I wonder what Fried is making or would have made of this.

I think the impact of objecthood on my own work has, in a relatively basic sense, expanded my repertoire of ‘things you can stick on a support’ which has been liberating. And also letting the work creep off the support where that feels right. I am never going to be a maker in the sense of creating 3D objects in the real world, but I am not averse to learning how to make them in the digital world or using digital technology to take my work off the canvas, as it were, and give it a different life. For me, a flat painting is a static piece that, hopefully, has some merit of its own but that also has potential to be something else when introduced to different ways of elaborating, enhancing, or re-jigging its core theme.

(1) Information taken from Fried’s essay, ‘Art and Objecthood’ itself printed in the anthology edited by Charles Harrison and Paul Wood ‘Art Theory 1900-2000, An Anthology of Changing ideas’. 2003 Blackwell Publishing. Pp 835 – 836.

Seb Lee-Delisle: city laser light displays controlled by an app that anyone could download. Brighton October 2020. [online] Available at Laser light show to light up Brighton skies | Brighton & Hove Independent ( Accessed 4 may 2021.

Markovitch, D. and Bailenson, J. 2019. Virtual Reality and Communication. [online] Available at Virtual Reality and Communication – Communication – Oxford Bibliographies ( Accessed 4 May 2021.

Image taken from Yayoi Kusama: infinity mirrors. 2017. Catalogue edited by Mika Yoshitake. Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington DC. Del Monico Books. P 106.

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