Research, Analysis and Study Skills in Art and Design Module 14SAA500 Tutor: Dr Basia Sliwinska
(Word count: 1962. Not including title page, bibliography, photo captions and this)
Homage to New York (1960)
[Screen shot from film]: 2:52
Homage to New York (1960)
[Black and white photo]
Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away! (2012)
[Screen shot from video]: 0:13
Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away! (2012)
[Screen shot from video]: 1:05
I will be comparing the two pieces 'Homage to New York' (1960) by Jean Tinguely and 'Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!' (2012) by Pussy Riot. Through this comparison I will attempt to understand the meaning of both pieces fully within their context and designated medium. I will be discussing limitations in contextual and theoretical research to ensure that there are no false conclusions and that I understand the restrictions placed on me. I will draw from my conclusions and simply state what I have discovered.
The ‘Homage to New York’ (1960) was one of the key works of Jean Tinguelys’ career. ‘Homage to New York’ was a huge sculptural piece that consisted of ‘Eighty bicycle, tricycle and wagon wheels, a piano of sorts, some metal drums, an addressing machine, a child’s cart, an enamel[l]ed bathtub, a meteorological trial balloon, a bunch of bottles, and a certain amount of material picked up in city dumps in New Jersey’(Canaday, 1960, p.27) strapped and welded together so that each object could fiercely move and interacting with each other in an un-harmonious way in order to ultimately obliterate itself, defining what was meant by auto-destruction. Reaching 27 feet high and 23 feet long this machine is an amalgamation of twisting and turning kinetic components that all together create an overpowering visual. The sound created from this performance is penetrating, a screaming of sorts. Lasting 27 minutes the machine of automated-destruction was witnessed within the sculptural garden of the Museum of Modern Art in New York by an enthralled live audience of 250, eventually stopped by firemen becoming cautious of the height of flames created by the sculptures 15 motors setting fire.
The 1960’s saw artists question the structure of the industrialised society. Tinguely was pleased to exhibit ‘Homage to New York’ where he did because ‘the place gave him an acute sense of New York and its buildings as a gigantic attempt to consolidate a civilization, to delimit a culture and its formation’ (Hulten, 1987, p.68)
'Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!' (2012) is a song and video of the Russian punk rock band 'Pussy Riot'. The band formed in August 2011 and since has been mainly formed by female members. The amount of members of the original band is approximately eleven but with the essence of anonymity with individuals (such like The Guerrilla Girls) no accurate number can be produced.
The video that the song 'Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!' accompanied derived from an unauthorised, 'politically incorrect' performance that occurred within Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The performance consisted of five members of the band, all wearing their iconic balaclavas masking their faces and brightly coloured tights, rushing to the front of the cathedral and dancing in a frantic and severe way whilst singing lyrics from the song. This performance that happened within the church is what I will be analysing. The song includes lyrics that are intimidating and exceptionally blasphemous screamed in an incredibly aggressive fashion, very characteristic of historic punk rock.
Pussy Riot originated due to the still ever present sexism within Russia, despite it being more egalitarian in the twenty first century there is still a huge sense of paternalistic attitude towards women throughout the country. 'Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!' is a piece of artwork directed specifically toward the Orthodox Church because of their support in the undemocratic stance and social control that the Russian government possess through Putin.
Definition Both 'Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!' and 'Homage to New York' are pieces of live art, more precisely performance art. Adrian George (George, (2003), p.10) sees live art as an umbrella term for performance, actions, happenings, dance, theatre and many others. George sees live art as an art form that contains a living element, a human presence, at a specific moment in time. He also states the difficulty in defining live art because of the varying adaptations that have been created through its history. 'Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!' and 'Homage to New York' are both events that occurred in definite times, and both have a human aspect: For 'Homage to New York', Jean Tinguely started all engines, and helped the sculpture to destroy itself, this being necessary for the performance to exist.
Documentation Both 'Homage to New York' and 'Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!' are pieces of live art and therefore simply no longer exist. There is nothing that we can go see for ourselves that truly represents the same experience of watching the events in real time, therefore we are forced to try and understand both pieces through the filter of documentation: photography, film, literary pieces and more. As Tracey Warr indicates, (George, (2003), p.32) authenticity and authority is persistently assumed with photography in documentation, and yet it fails to be neither objective, factual nor a full record. Every piece of documentation has been subjected to alterations by photographers, film makers, editors, writers and many others who impose there own views. The documentation is representing a live act in a completely different medium and dimension therefore cannot be trusted to reproduce a similar experience. A very important point raised again by Tracey Warr (George, (2003), p.35) is that when seeing photographic documentation of a performance or piece of live art there is no connection between viewer and performer, however when viewing it first hand there is a sense of responsibility for other's actions, a sense of anticipated intervention that possibly could occur.
The experience we have, of both pieces, through documentation is dependant on the context in which we see it. John Berger expresses that 'The way we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe' also saying that 'History always constitutes the relation between a present and its past'. (1972, p.1.4). Context is in constant flux, and therefore the way in which we see both pieces is susceptible to change. The meaning of 'Homage to New York' and 'Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!' can never be the same as the point in which it was performed, therefore can only make sense at that time.
Context Live art is well known to be a difficult area to categorise, the fact that it is even difficult to name a piece under the title of 'live art' has meant that this type of art has become increasingly interesting to the radical.
'Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!' and 'Homage to New York' are pieces of radical art. Both Pussy Riot and Tinguely find themselves subjecting their work not towards a preconceived image of aesthetic or beauty that can only be appreciated on white walls of a gallery space, but express activist ideas that attempt to form social change: also known as socio-political art. The two pieces express anarchistic theories through rebellion towards the establishment. Nina Felshin (1995, p.10) describes the political activism within art as a culmination of a democratic urge to give the disenfranchised a voice and to be able to connect with an unrestricted audience, all whilst blurring any boundaries of culture formed by those in power. Both pieces however are situated in completely different contextual frameworks; therefore react to social and political factors unique to the time and geographical positioning of one another. With both reacting to the real world, and not the disconnected bubble that is the art world, the context of each piece is paramount to understand the meaning.
Homage to New York (1960) was created in, and therefore reacted to a time of accelerated social unrest. Political and civil rights movements spread throughout America in the form of peaceful and non-peaceful demonstrations. Nina Felshin (1995, p.12) expresses that from social conformity, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the growing student movements and the emerging counter-cultures a questioning of the authority and credibility of the establishment occurred. Anti-war, free speech and environmental movements gained momentum. Roselee Goldberg (1998, p.37) says that performances within 1960 were very metaphoric and highly symbolic, reacting to post-war trauma in a way that resembled Dada and Futurist gestures, breaking tradition and forcing art into the domain of public confrontation.
In a radio interview we begin to understand the position that Jean Tinguely had:
'With Dada I … have in common a certain mistrust toward power. We don't like authority, we don't like power, To me art is a form of manifest revolt, total and complete. It's a political attitude, which doesn't need to found a political party. (in Andreson, (2001) p.54)
‘Homage to New York’ is one in a series of metamechanical sculptures, Sillars (2009, p.17) describes these metamechanical sculptures, or ‘Meta-matics’ as Tinguely offering an alternative to the power-struggle we have with the mechanised world, that Tinguely presented an interaction between person and machine based on mutual respect: that potentially ‘a game’ could be created. Therefore subverting the logic of what a machine is.
Homage to New York ‘was the ultimate comment on American society and consumerism.’ (Sillars, 2009, p.24) By creating a machine, which has the function to destroy and not reproduce Jean Tinguely, is making an ironic rejection of the preconceived image that a machine has. Tinguely points at the hugely commercialized, materialistic society that has been created from this industrialized society and makes fun of it: therefore rejecting this industrialized society and therefore rejecting the established power that strives to create it. The title ‘Homage to New York’ is itself ironic, to ‘pay respect’ to this big power that is New York and then to destroy it shows us the playful and also anarchistic intentions that he had.
'Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!' on the other hand reacted to a time of social compliance. Russia in the 21st century is very much still routed within its traditional mind set of a man and a women. In a relationship of a woman and a man, the man, the 'stronger sex', is seen as the hardest working, and the woman stays ignorant to this work. Tatyana Mamonova (1989, p.138) describes how historically despite the constant workload of the domestic household, the Soviet State considered the participation of women in the workplace mandatory. To allow woman to physically do the same work as men shows the heavy handed attitude of equality that was present within Russia 20 years ago. The clumsy decisions of the Russian government when tackling the problem of gender equality have been constant up to this point, and have meant a certain acceptance of this discrimination is clear within present society.
Pussy Riot is a reactionary rejection of this acceptance. The anarchistic mentality evoked from their politically radicalised art form is the point in which the exploration of feminism exploded within Russia once again.
Conclusion Through the comparison of 'Homage to New York' and 'Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!' I have discovered how the meaning of a piece of live art is so completely dependant on its context, and that as soon as it is taken out of this context it does not mean the same thing. This has allowed me to realize that without experiencing these pieces for myself in the time it was performed I can in no way expect to fully understand it, despite the availability of documentation.
I have also found that two pieces of art that have been placed within the same category is only a stepping-stone towards attempting to understand the mind-set of that artist. Only an outline can be conceptually envisaged when describing 'Homage to New York' and 'Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!' as live, and even that must be questioned due to the confusion derived of defining live art.
Canaday, J. (1960) Machine tries to die for its art. The New York Times, 18th Mar, p.27
Sillars, L. (2009) Joyous Machines: Michael Landy and Jean Tinguely. Liverpool: Tate Liverpool
Hulton, P. (1987) A Magic Stronger than Death. Milan: Bompiani
Bracewell, M. (2009) PERFORMANCE NUDE. London: Other Criteria
George, A. (2003) art, lies and videotape: exposing performance. Liverpool: Tate Liverpool
Felshin, N. (1995) But is it Art? The Spirit of Art as Activisim. Seattle: Bay Press
Berger, J. (1972) Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin Books
Goldberg, R. (1998) performance live art since 1960. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd
Andersson, P, L. (2001) EURO-POP: THE MECHANICAL BRIDE STRIPPED BARE IN STOCKHOLM, EVEN. Published Thesis (PhD), The University of Birtish Columbia
Mamonova, T. (1989) Russian Women's Studies Essays on Sexism in Soviet Culture. Oxford: Pergamon Press plc.
Figure 1: Homage to New York (1960). [black and white film]. Directed by Robert Breer. URL: http://vimeo.com/8537769
Figure 2:Homage to New York (1960). [black and white photo] Hulton, P. (1987) A Magic Stronger than Death. Milan: Bompiani
Figure 3 & 4: timurnechaev77 (2012) Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away! [online]. (Accessed 15 November 2014) URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grEBLskpDWQ