The incredulity of Saint Thomas
An excerpt from Notes on the glass:
The project is oscillating around two elements borrowed from art history: Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass and classical iconographic representation of the incredulous Thomas, which are used to construct a symbolic narrative of the universal frameworks of the creation of myths and symbols, and so culture.
I the invisible weight of history
One of the basic ideas of modernity is rejection of the traditional culture which is replaced by the insatiated cultivation of the new. Modern artist’s like Duchamp would not have been considered from the perspective of the classical tradition. The Large Glass breaks and it is exactly its ‘myth building function’ (the content is pushed to a secondary place and becomes hidden – this is precisely how myths work). At that point, the Glass ceases being a work of art, it acquires historical quality and essentially becomes a work of art history. ‘Each time I see a broken glass in the street I think of Marcel Duchamp’ was the beginning of the concept of the readyframed – every object one chooses has already the frame of history upon it, and so every common abandoned object, like a broken glass, may become a work of art, the frame is suggested by the artist, but essentially established by the spectator, whose role becomes essential. The shared consciousness of history and common desire to belong are, generally speaking, the basic prerequisites for establishing culture and common identity.
In his Note on the machines Marx imagines that in an economy where machines do most of the work, the nature of the knowledge locked inside the machines must, he writes, be ‘social’. He then writes of an ideal machine, one which lasts forever and costs nothing. In the sense of contemporary capitalist societies, information is a commodity which does not belong to an individual or organisation body but what Marx calls a ‘general intellect’. If one considers information in the contemporary world is a commodity which in the form of computer data can be replicated without any extra input, Marx’s idea becomes extremely valid. Information has one different quality to that of the physical commodity – it can spread, circulate and be shared by the society. It can be modified and permanently redeveloped. In a sense, the common quality of information in this context is similar to that of a cultural symbol. The incredulity of St Thomas installed in public spaces functions exactly as a representation of this idea. This ‘work’ is shared and it spreads itself to the point where neither producing nor installing the work is necessary. It does not belong to anybody and thus belongs to all (art history).
Meanwhile, the historical development and considerations remain the main focus here as the broken glass installations are placed each time in a different context (both spatially, institutionally and within the artist’s oeuvre), and despite the object being essentially the same, it develops the discourse further with each subsequent installation, i.e. it becomes a metaphor of a historical narrative.
A gesture of declaring such an abandoned object a work of art is nothing else than transforming history into a ready-made.
As much as symbols and relics are rejected in the modern discourse, it is impossible to make them vanish. The broken glass as an object of ambiguous character brings to mind an old story – Saint Thomas is not willing to believe in what is outside of the frame of reason, and so eventually that which is outside of it is brought in so that he can reestablish the frame.
And thus the reference to Thomas brings in view historical representations of the theme from Old Masters. Large-scale classical paintings functioned primarily within the context of religious institutions. They were, one could say, reserved for the sacred – the church and the king. The modernity made the common object of the glass become large (and be given such soubriquet). Now, the classical paintings are copied but the case is reversed: the common object of the glass remains large (and is given corresponding title of the classical paintings) and the oil copy of a Caravaggio is made in the postcard format (and is given the title of Duchamp’s Glass). Miniaturisation imposes simplification and one can say both are qualities of the contemporary. The illusion disappears and the truth is laid bare.
The process of manufacturing these copies follows the narrative of 20th century social displacement: the reproduction is sent from Europe to China, where the painting is copied, it is then sent back and in the process gets damaged, as any postcard does, and as such becomes alike Duchamp’s glass which breaks too. This new object, which through scaling follows the opposite narrative to the glass – from an object of art history to an object of art – immediately becomes an object of art history again. The content is instantaneously replaced with the myth. A small object, however, is different to the large one. It forces intimacy, concentration and yet is a perfect representation of how we experience reality in the present – through miniature reproductions (an example is the screen of our handsets). On one side – the Large Glass and the universal history, on the other a postcard painting and the history from the existential perspective (in an existential scale).
II From the street to the museum and back to the street
Community which acquires common identity and thus becomes a culture requires certain validating frames. At this point, a myth must be established and supported by such frames, i.e. through the institutions of establishment. Such institution is, for instance, the museum.
The museum requires relics of the artist’s activity – artworks – which thus function as proofs of the cultural heritage. The historic necessity dictates (and it is in most cases of history true) for the artist’s intention to be then put on a secondary place. And thus the broken glass objects become placed in the museum, in the form most commonly accepted by the institution – hung on the walls like paintings. The glass thus no longer remains a common profane object.
Once validated by the institution The incredulity of St Thomas can truly become a symbolic object which under such status is allowed to leave the isolated space of the museum. A circle it has made points to the quality of information and the readyframed being very much like that of the symbols. And this is exactly how it can penetrate the popular culture.