Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Pataphysics and Fictive Art

Or: How to Escape Into A Dream


I looked at Chris Palmer's cool blog, KineticWorld, today (thanks Ranjit) and was intrigued with the entry on the Museé Patamécanique: a place, a website, an ideology of, as curator Neil Salley, puts it, "the science of imaginary solutions. It is the underpinnings of our entire society. All words being equal, you can come up with any definition of it you like." The term was coined by the brilliant 19th-century French writer Alfred Jarry (author of the play Ubu Roi), in his fictional Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician, describes "the exploits and teachings of a sort of antiphilosopher who, born at age 63, travels through a hallucinatory Paris in a sieve and subscribes to the tenets of 'pataphysics. 'Pataphysics deals with "the laws which govern exceptions and will explain the universe supplementary to this one". In 'pataphysics, every event in the universe is accepted as an extraordinary event." [wiki]

As Ranjit points out, the Boston Globe did an article on the Musée Patamécanique which they visited, describing the place thusly:

The "Patamechanics Hall, a dark gallery of mechanical oddities designed to spark pataphysical thinking that seem teleported straight from the 19th century. The "Pharus Foetidus Viscera," or "Olfactory Lighthouse," is a cylindrical pedestal topped by a bell jar and surrounded by metal octopus arms. Inside the jar, something Salley describes as a unicorn horn slowly rotates, causing it to secrete green goop that resembles shampoo gel...

"The more you listen to Salley and experience his wondrous contraptions, the more you lose your bearings between reality and fantasy. The Musée Patamécanique turns out to be an intellectual hall of mirrors. It is a museum for questioning museums, and art, and science, and officialdom, and facts, and the world."


Hooray for that! It is always refreshing to hear about people playing around with more magical (or even downright fun and silly) interpretations of reality:

"The Musée Patamécanique is part of a growing body of art that adopts the language and trappings of officialdom. Examples include Los Angeles's Center for Land Use Interpretation, the Center for Tactical Magic from Oakland, Calif., and, locally, the Institute for Infinitely Small Things, the National Bitter Melon Council, and the Institute for Applied Autonomy. In the world of pop culture, such adoption of fake authority can be found in parodies such as "The Daily Show" and "The Onion."

"For artists, adopting official-sounding names -- along with convincing-looking websites and other packaging and marketing -- can be a way to question authority, frequently humorously, while often doing what the organization's names say they do."



This kind of art isn't that new. Marcel Broodthaers created, the Museum of Modern Art's "Department of Eagles": an elusive exhibition from 1968 to 1971 of found objects with eagles on them and eagle-related art that he made, though the exhibition was really about appropriating the language and structures of museums and authorities, using the eagle, a symbol of power, as a metaphor. The cool thing about this was that he created an institution with many wings, for example, the Finance Section, which tried to sell the museum "on account of bankruptcy."


Packard Jennings, someone I met while on a residency at Djerassi Residence Artist's Program, is also one of these people. He made the most hilarious video I've ever seen about a Mussolini action figure he created and put on the shelf (shopdropped) in WalMart, where someone is trying to actually buy the figure, and the store clerks are completely flummoxed, except they know who Mussolini is! (Watch to the end, that's the best part.)

Antoinette LaFarge, at UC Irvine, has created a whole site, unfinished as of yet, on the idea of Fictive Arts, "...a term I started using in 2001 to describe a particular form of aesthetic production that doesn't belong to any one field. Fictive artworks have clearly fictional elements but extend outside the realm of the purely fictive in various ways, principally through the creation of realia. A working definition of the term might be: credible fictions created through production of real-world objects, events, and entities."

The thing I find fascinating about the whole Fictive Art movement, and its bevy of predecessors and spin-offs, is the combination of dreamlike logic and official phraseology, as if some half-remembered story has come true and is being promulgated by Those In Charge. The sales clerk in WalMart is surprised and pleased to see they are selling Mussolini action figures. Wandering through the Museum of Jerassic Technology - one of my favorite places, and an inspiration for the Museé Patamécanique - one finds oneself surrendering, dreamily, to the dim and scholarly exhibits which carry that slight air of delapidation and poor construction one finds in so many small, old museums. One begins to believe what one is told, only to emerge, blinking, onto the bright and unforgiving streets of Los Angeles, wondering which reality is preferable.


Links:

- The Centennial Society, which seems to be associated with Packard Jennings in some way (but clearly not with WalMart).

- The Museum of Jurassic Technology, which I hope someday to write about in further depth. Its owner, David Wilson, is the subject of Lawrence Weschler's Mr Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder.

- Fodor's reviews the Museum of Jurassic Technology!

5 comments:

ranjit said...

Clarification: KineticWorld is Chris Palmer's project - I'm just a contributor who hasn't actually contributed anything yet!

(I'll use this as an excuse to link my own blog)

Heather McDougal said...

Thanks, Ranjit! Duly noted and amended. I like your blog, too - especially Lex and the Thumpbot playing Magic...

pol rosenthal said...

now that was fascinating. thanks for giving me yet another list of interesting places to visit.

i first became aware of fictive historicities when, as a child, i stumbled upon the dictionary of the kazars. i assumed that in it outlandishness the kazars must be an invented people. later, when i discovered they actually existed, i was struck by how fluidly the author of that text had migrated such fantastic elements into our existant world...

thanks for a great post. i look forward to reading more,

pol rosenthal

Christie said...

I LOVE this blog and will be back again and again!

gl. said...

i about died of adoration when i discovered Mariana Tres' "Homespun Universe: The Wondrous Works of Anabella Gaposchk" a few years ago. i wish there was a website about it, but here's a review of the show:

http://www.portlandmercury.com/portland/Content?oid=30269&category=22127

the subtle details and histories are like the best kind of poetry, creating an imaginary world that could have been real, should have been real, but isn't.

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