Saturday, 23 March 2013

Asger Jorn - Defigurations


Asger Oluf Jorn (3 March 1914 – 1 May 1973) was a Danish painter, sculptor, ceramic artist, and author. He was a founding member of the avant-garde movement COBRA and the Situationist International.

He participated in the conference that led to the merger of COBRA, the Lettriste Internationale, and London Psychogeographical Association to form the Situationist International in 1957. Here he applied his scientific and mathematical knowledge drawn from Henri Poincaré and Niels Bohr to develop his situlogical technique. Jorn never believed in a conception of the Situationist ideas as exclusively artistic and separated from political involvement. He was at the root and at the core of the Situationist International project, fully sharing the revolutionary intentions with Debord. The Situationist general principles were an attack on the capitalist exploitation and degradation of the life of people, and solution of alternative life experiences, construction of situations, unitary urbanism, psychogeography, with the union of play, freedom and critical thinking. Such general principles were applied by Jorn to painting.

 The Avant-Garde Doesn't Give Up, 1962

All works of art are objects and should be treated as such, but these objects are not ends in themselves: They are tools with which to influence spectators. The artistic object, despite its seemingly objectlike character, therefore presents itself as a link between two subject, the creating and provoking subject on the one hand, and the receiving subject on the other. The latter does not perceive the work of art as a pure object, but as the sign of a human presence.

The problem for the artist is not to know if the work of at should be considered as an object or as a subject, since the two are inseparable. The problem is to capture and to formulate the desired tension in the work between appearance and sign.

The conception of art implicit in "action painting" reduces art to an act in itself, in which the object, the work of art, is a mere trace, and in which there is no more communication with the audience. This is the attitude of the pure creator who does nothing but fulfill himself through the materials for his own pleasure.

This attitude is irreconcilable with an interest in the object as such, the work of art in its anonymity, that is, the experience of pleasure in its purity when facing a sculpture whose country of origin is unknown or whose period is uncertain. here the object floats freely in space and time. My preoccupation with objectivity and subjectivity is situated above all between these two poles, or more precisely between my will and my intelligence. I must admit that as far as the third attitude is concerned, that of the spectator, it does not concern me much. Whether one intends it or not, in the end it is to him that everything happens.

Asger Jorn

La Fleur du mal, 1946

It was in the Paris cafe Notre Dame that Asger Jorn (from Copenhagen), Joseph Noiret and Christian Dotremont (from Brussels) and Constant, Corneille and Karel Appel (from Amsterdam) signed the manifesto 'La Cause était entendue' (The Case was Heard). This manifesto, drawn up by Dotremont, was a response to a statement by the French Surrealists entitled 'La Cause est entendue' (The Case is Heard). In it Dotremont makes it clear they are no longer in agreement with the French artists. The CoBrA painters wanted to break new ground, preferring to work spontaneously and with the emphasis more on fantastic imagery. In 1951 the CoBrA movement was officially disbanded, yet during its short existence CoBrA rejuvenated Dutch modern art. 

A few CoBrA artists were not only involved with making art works but also with theorising about art and the role of the artist in society. Asger Jorn, Christian Dotremont and Constant Nieuwenhuys were very much preoccupied with this. They positioned themselves according to the communist theories of Karl Marx and supplemented his ideas with views on art. Their aim was to have art made for and by everyone, irrespective of class, race, intellect and educational level. Jorn, Dotremont and Constant aspired to an art form that spontaneously evolved out of the artist's fantasy.

Jorn wrote about the relationship between art and architecture, seeing both inextricably linked. He used a photograph of a primitive hut decorated by its occupants to show how beautiful the combination could be. Jorn's ideals were realised in several collaborative projects by the CoBrA artists.

Temptation, 1960

Jorn's 'Defigurations' (normally pronounced in the French based on the origin of the word), are deeply rooted in the concept of Détournement, a mechanism central to the thesis of the Situationist International and also Lettrism. The concept of Détournement (also the Dérivé) is as follows:

"... detournement of pre-existing aesthetic elements. The integration of past or present artistic production into a superior construction of a milieu. In this sense there can be no Situationist painting or music, but only a Situationist use of these means."
                                                                                                                               -Internationale Situationiste issue 1, June 1958.

The concept of 'defiguring' or 'defacing' existing cultural constructs is clearly here a political act - and clearly one that is irreverant in nature. This is perhaps the essential (most important) fingerprint of the SI and Lettrism in general - a growing dissatisfaction with and dissent against established structures of authority - a sentiment that was continuous with the May 1968 riots in Paris. That is to say - that the SI was a seed that, short of fomenting cultural revolution - most certainly supported it and gave it structure.

Jorn's defiguration paintings, both skilled in execution and surprisingly witty, both forge new formal/political territory and are lithely subtle with respect to their cultural referents.This is especially true in the context of the 'baseness' of the gesture itself upon first gaze.

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