Sunday, 21 April 2013

Marcel Duchamp - Rotoreliefs

Rotoreliefs, 1935

Anemic Cinema or Anémic Cinéma (1926) is a Dadaist, surrealist, or experimental film made by Marcel Duchamp. The film depicts whirling animated drawings -- which Duchamp called Rotoreliefs -- alternated with puns in French. Duchamp signed the film with his alter ego name of Rrose Sélavy.
Rotoreliefs were a phase of Duchamp's spinning works. To make the optical "play toys" he painted designs on flat cardboard circles and spun them on a phonograph turntable that when spinning the flat disks appeared 3-dimensional. He had a printer run off 500 sets of six of the designs and set up a booth at a 1935 Paris inventors' show to sell them. The venture was a financial disaster, but some optical scientists thought they might be of use in restoring 3-dimensional sight to people with one eye.

In collaboration with Man Ray and Marc Allégret, Duchamp filmed early versions of the Rotoreliefs and they named the first film version Anémic Cinéma.

Rotorelief n°11 - Total Eclipse / Rotorelief n°12 - White spiral, 1935

In 1935, Duchamps applied for a patent for his rotoreliefs, producing 500 sets of six two-sided discs to be played on a phonograph at the then uncommon 33 and a third rpms.   The illusions created by spinning concentric cirles were the easy ones.  The Japanese koi fish swimming in a bowl, an eclipse of the sun viewed through a tube, a cocktail glass, a light bulb - those were amazements to viewers.  For all that, Duchamp's hopes for financial success were disappointed.  But the rotoreliefs have continued to attract admirers.  Hans Richter used them to good effect in his 1947 film Dreams That Money Can Buy, the story of a man in a mysterious rented room who disovers that he can see his thoughts when he looks into his own eyes in the mirror.
Jane Librizzi

Rotoreliefs, 1953

Although Italian scientists (unaware of Duchamp's work) found and named this particular form of illusion as "the stereo-kinetic effect" in 1924, Duchamp apparently discovered this perceptual phenomenon independently in the early 1920s, and completed his first set of discs in 1923. Duchamp recognized that by spinning designs composed as sets of eccentric but concentric circles, a viewer would see the resulting pattern as a three dimensional form even through one eye alone, without the supposedly necessary benefit of stereoscopy! By the 1930s, Duchamp had constructed from his experiments a wonderfully whimsical set of 12 spinning images--from a goldfish in a bowl, to the eclipsed sun seen through a tube, to a cocktail glass, to a light bulb--in order to emphasize his discovery of these three-dimensional effects. (Ironically, as another example of harmful separation between truly unified aspects of art and science, art museums almost invariably exhibit these discs as framed, static objects on a wall--whereas they have no meaning, either artistic or scientific, unless they spin.)
Rhonda Roland Shearer and Stephen Jay Gould

The name 'rotoreliefs' refers to optical illusions which appear as three-dimensional forms when displayed on a rotating surface such as a phonograph turntable. Superficially, they present an apparent contradiction to this prohibition against "retinal art."' Once in motion they display a pulsating "relief" that oscillates between positive and negative space. Duchamp used these illusions in Anémic Cinéma (1926) alternating them with a series of French puns, each arranged into a spinning spiral: Something else happens when we begin to allow the puns to have their play. The figurative meaning of “la moelle de l’épée” and “la poele de l’aimée” over powers the literal (non)sense. The reference to sexual intercourse could hardly be more evident. Furthermore, once we recognize its figurative character, our reading of the other disks begins to reveal sexual allusions. ...Suddenly the abstract gyrating shapes which rise from and sink into the plane of the screen come to resemble the igloos, breasts, welts and genitalia evoked by the words. The sexuality is neither in the literal meaning of the words, nor represented in the optical illusions, seen by themselves.
Michael Betancourt


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