Creative dismantling

Damir Kovacic

Formal innovations which emerged at the beginning of the Modern period in arts, at the end of twentieth century, were established in part on segmentation of motifs, or on multiplication of modular elements. These new principles of building art forms meant, at that moment, formal separation from the heritage of Realism. The first in segmenting motifs was Edgar Degas, but the same principle, in a similar way, was used by Mondrian. Similarly to this, modulation, first used by Rodin, was employed later, definitively purified, by the minimalist sculptors (Brancusi in the Twenties, and later - during the Sixties - Donald Judd, among others). 

Since these two ways of forming compositions typical for Modernism have been determined, the question of the meanings of modulation and segmentation can be posed. 

Early modernists, like Mondrian and Brancusi, emphasized that the pure forms of twentieth century art express the spirit of idealism, using for that purpose essence of the forms rather than illusions.
What can be seen in structures like Brancusi's Endless Column is "the basic scheme of the hidden order of things". Later, in the generation of Donald Judd, the Modern pieces went beyond any meanings - especially those of an idealistic or metaphysical nature. The meaning of the forms and objects was reduced to the perceptive present-tense experience of the viewers. The minimalists have said: "What you see in our art is what you see, and the only content can be found in the pure geometry and cognitive process". 

According to the witty interpretation of Kirk Varnedoe, among the artists who used the above-mentioned principles of tearing, there were two groups: the optimists (idealists) and the stoics (those who deny meanings outside of the cognitive process). Artists of the first group have put their art on in an authoritative way (in the manner of theory, science, or religion), seeking a connection to the higher or hidden concepts of the universe. The stoics have treated their own art in a philosophical way, like a linguistic analysis, searching for "the quarks of formal thinking". In both cases, there were no mundane subjects and mundane meanings. 

It is necessary to mention the third way of interpreting the radical treatment of form in twentieth century art. The interpreters of the social art history school emphasize that changed form in Modern art was also a consequence of changed material conditions and social relations in modern society, from the very start of the Modern period. In that sense, the fragmentation, first seen in the canvases of Edgar Degas, was a response to the crisis of urban society and to the problem of a lack of social cohesion etc., at the end of the nineteenth century. 

The thesis of this text is that these pioneers of new ways of considering form created in their work the crucial moments of the rising Modern epoch, but not only that. They did even more in treating form radically - they imposed new principles of treating form forever. We can now see that the "radicalism" described is not only the heritage of Modernism, but a new relation to form in general. In the time after Modernism, tearing the form (like a principle of building art compositions) works as well as in the two last decades of the nineteenth century and later, at the beginning of the twentieth century. However, the modern context (after Modernism) can offer some new interpretations: tearing the form now becomes a product of post-industrial, hyper-urban, accelerated, cyber-society that doesn't long for the generalities and continuities, but to the particular problems and details. 
It could be said that radical treatment of art forms - as a forerunner of Modernism - doesn't have a lot in common with formally similar segmentations, deconstructions, palimpsests which are present today. It could be said, but it would be wrong. 

This contemporary formal thinking, primarily segmentation and modulation, had support at the technical level through new media - new ways of visual communication.

The development of media as a specific kind of acceleration became something characteristic for the whole twentieth century, including the time after Modernism, too. Introducing new media of art induces a changed/different relation to the art form, and that is a process gaining ever more in importance. This is the technical basis for changing art forms but, compared to that, a common philosophical component would be even more important. 

So, a common philosophical foundation to the creative spirit longing to break classical art forms, no matter what time we look at - 1895 or 1995 - can be found in works produced at the time of the first art form breakers. Henri Bergson (1859-1941) was the one who, living at the mentioned time, created the theory that tore down the previous systems of thinking. Similarly to the way in which Edgar Degas, Giacomo Balla and Umberto Boccioni redesigned classical composition and form in their canvases, Bergson redesigned the whole theory of the dual world of Kant and Hegel, transforming the synthesis of substance and spirit (time and space) into "motion" and "inconsistent rhythm". 

The fact that the work of Henri Bergson is gaining in importance today is much more than chance, offering the possibility of overcoming the simulacrums and decoded reality of another philosopher whose name I should not even mention this time. To make the thesis clearer, Bergson's understanding of the reality of time and space as a contemplative synthesis of inconsistent series of points/images can be compared to the paintings of the two Italian futurists mentioned, Boccioni and Balla. Aren't they from the same story? And more: Isn't that the same story repeated every time when somebody tries to tear the full form and continuos expression? I think it is. That is always Bergson's redefinition of so-called reality into the points to be gathered into motion by memory. Easy? Well... 

Media, not to be forgotten in this context, have already become machines for producing so-called Reality. Introduction of new media during the last century was the trend which supported new ways of considering form, including form torn the parts, a modulated, split or broken one. 
New ways of thinking about form were there not only to mark an epoch, but to last for future generations and centuries. 

In order to end this story on time, I shall skip mentioning photography (especially chrono-photography), the crucial medium for the pioneers of Modernism. Further discussion takes into consideration the medium that plays the leading role, influencing not only the world of art, but life in general. Television, or, rather, film and television, if we take into account the fact that the differences between these two media are being compressed irrevocably. Why film and television? Because the principles and forms of visual communication used by these media are the embodiment of the principles of early Modernism in an extreme, accelerated version. 

The main principle in tearing the form and the whole formal entirety of the moving pictures media is editing. That is the procedure of choosing pictures and sequences, moments and details, considered as essential, taken out of the entirety in favor of creating a new series of images that becomes a new disposition, a redefined reality, much like Bergson's motion. 

Is it even necessary to mention MTV, or Oliver Stone's controversial Natural Born Killers at this point?

In saying "to break the form" we use the problematical verb "to break". Because we know that breaking is not a demolition, but an act of creation. Editing is a word that can take a broken form into a newsystem, a new disposition, motion and duration. In that sense, today's art directors of video and TV productions use their medium by employing the same old principles from the last decades of the nineteenth century. 

The pioneers of Modernism had good luck being the first to apply their principles, just as present-day artists are fortunate because this is the time of new technologies which allow truly fantastic applications and accelerations of the creative principle we talk about here.