ENTROPY AND CHANCE

Ardi Makki Pantow Gunawan

Monash University Faculty of Art and Design Exegesis documentation submitted for the degree of Master of Fine Art July 2009

i

Synopsis
Through an investigation of the concepts of entropy and chance, this exegesis explores the methodological practice of two distinct artists: sculptor and writer Robert Smithson, and composer/musician/poet John Cage. The practices of these artists are intertwined insofar as their work gives prominence to the question of process in art’s production. Throughout the exegesis I explore how entropy and chance are related to the questions of material formation and making activities, physicality, forces and event. And I demonstrate how entropy and chance are active conditions in the operations of three-dimensional artwork. This exploration situates the discussion of my practice, which I regard as coming from the tradition of sculpture. It is through this practice that I investigate various ways of rethinking the relations between sculpture and embodiment; sculpture and forces; sculpture and event; and sculpture and its material performance.

ii

CONTENTS

Original signed statement……………………………………………………………………………v Acknowledgments………………………………………………………………………………………………………vi List of Figures………………………………………………………………………………………………………vii Figures……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………xii

INTRODUCTION: ENTROPY AND CHANCE…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………1
Entropy and chance in the context of Process Art Contextualizing Robert Smithson and John Cage Utilizing entropy and chance Formulating entropy and chance

CHAPTER ONE NOTES ON SCULPTURE……………………………………………………………………………14
The physicality of sculpture The theatricality of encountering sculpture

CHAPTER TWO ENTROPY: SMITHSON………………………………………………………………………………20
Buried architecture Propping Matter-pour Displacement

CHAPTER THREE CHANCE: CAGE…………………………………………………………………………………………………41
Throw…chance Irregularity

CONCLUSION…………………………………………………………………………………………………………54
Sculpture and embodiment Sculpture and forces

iii

Sculpture and event Sculpture and its material performance

APPENDIX…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………59
Proposal for Walking Exercise: Material Constellation

BIBLIOGRAPHY…………………………………………………………………………………………………67

iv

Original signed statement
The documentation contains no material which has been accepted for the award of any other degree or diploma in any university, and that to the best of the candidate’s knowledge and belief, the documentation contains no material previously published or written by another person, except when due reference is made in the text of the documentation.

v

Acknowledgements
I would like to thank my supervisor Terri Bird for her continued support, and her assistance in the development of this exegesis. Thanks also to Bianca Hester and Michael Farrell for their feedback on the text. A number of colleagues, friends, and collaborators who have played a part in working out the ideas presented here, including Domenico Declario, Leslie Eastman, Tamsin Green, Susan Jacobs, Fiona MacDonald, Spiros Panigirakis, and Keith Wong. Thanks also to my parents Jimmy Makki Gunawan and Lingkan Pantow for their emotional support. This exegesis is dedicated to Bianca, Michael, Terri, and Tamsin.

vi

List of Figures
Figure 1: Robert Smithson, Partially Buried Woodshed, 1970 in R. Hobbs, Robert Smithson: Sculpture (Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1981) 189. Figure 2: Ardi Gunawan, Reconfiguring still: proposals for the super light, 2008. A bicycle (found), wooden pallet (found), plasterboards (found on site from existing exhibition), pinewoods (found on site), chairs (found), table draw (found), metal trestle leg (found), MDF and plywood boards (debris from previous exhibition), trolley (found), window glass (found), 10L can of paint (found on site), water bottles, etc., height 167cm. Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne. Figure 3: Robert Smithson, Partially Buried Woodshed [central beam cracked], 1970 in R. Hobbs, Robert Smithson: Sculpture (Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1981) 190. Figure 4: I Ching table of random numbers, in R. Wilhelm and C F. Baynes, The I Ching, or, Book of Changes: the Richard Wilhelm Translation, 3rd ed. (London, Melbourne, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968) 741. Figure 5: John Cage, Water Music, 1952 in P. Schimmel, Out Of Actions: Between Performance And The Object 1949-1979 (Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art New York, Thames and Hudson, 1998) 22. Figure 6: Richard Serra, Verb List, 1967-68 in Richard Serra, Writings, Interviews (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1994) 34. Figure 7: Anthony Caro, Praire, 1967 in A. Potts, The Sculptural Imagination: Figurative, Modernist, Minimalist (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2000) 183. Figure 8: John Cage greets his friend with kisses during the performance of SPEECH, written in 1955, performed in 1982.

vii

Figure 9: Ardi Gunawan, Reconfiguring still: proposals for the super light, 2008. A bicycle (found), wooden pallet (found), plasterboards (found on site from existing exhibition), pinewoods (found on site), chairs (found), table draw (found), metal trestle leg (found), MDF and plywood boards (found debris from previous exhibition), trolley (found), window glass (found), 10L can of paint (found on site), water bottles, etc., height 167cm. Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne. Figure 10: Richard Serra, Circuit, 1972 in A. Potts, The Sculptural Imagination: Figurative, Modernist, Minimalist (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2000) 216. Figure 11: Richard Serra, Circuit [detail], 1986 in A. Potts, The Sculptural Imagination: Figurative, Modernist, Minimalist (New Haven, Yale University Press, 2000) 217. Figure 12: Robert Smithson, Asphalt Rundown, 1969 in J. Flam ed., Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1996) 306. Figure 13: Ardi Gunawan, Reconfiguring still: proposals for the super light [studio view], 2007. A bicycle, 2 institutional chairs, plastic bin, MDF, wooden off-cuts, 2 table draws, and other materials found around the studio, approx. 142cm in height. Monash University, Melbourne. Figure 14: Ardi Gunawan, Reconfiguring still: proposals for the super light [early stages], 2008. A bicycle (found), lengths of timber (found on site), a pallet (found), height 144cm. Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne. Figure 15: Ardi Gunawan and Susan Jacobs, plaiting; actions, weed displacement, clearing, 2009. Weeds. Anstey and Ashton, West Brunswick, Melbourne. Figure 16: Ardi Gunawan and Susan Jacobs, weight propped up with 3 concrete discs; actions, weed displacement, clearing, 2009. Grass, wood beams, dirt, rusted corrugated steel, rocks, gravel stones, approx. height 153cm. Anstey and Ashton, West Brunswick, Melbourne.

viii

Figure 17: Ardi Gunawan and Susan Jacobs, residue of clearing; actions, weed displacement, clearing, 2009. Black soil, weeds, and a concrete roller, variable dimensions. Anstey and Ashton, West Brunswick, Melbourne. Figure 18: Richard Serra, installation of Lead Props, 1969 in R. Krauss, Richard Serra: Sculpture, ed. L. Rosenstock (New York, Museum of Modern Art, 1986) 70. Figure 19: Richard Serra, installation of Lead Props, 1969 in R. Krauss, Richard Serra: Sculpture, ed. L. Rosenstock (New York, Museum of Modern Art, 1986) 71. Figure 20: Richard Serra, Corner Prop, 1969 in R. Krauss, Richard Serra: Sculpture, ed. L. Rosenstock (New York, Museum of Modern Art, 1986) 74. Figure 21: Ardi Gunawan, untitled-construction, 2007. Found office furniture, approx. 202cm in height. BUS gallery, Melbourne. Figure 22: Ardi Gunawan, following piece in 3 parts as installed at Firstdraft gallery, Sydney, in 2007. Figure 23: Ardi Gunawan, layout of photo-pamphlet; following piece in 3 parts, 2007. Figure 24: Ardi Gunawan, photo-pamphlets as installed at Firstdraft gallery, Sydney, in 2007. Figure 25: Ardi Gunawan, repeated acts for following piece in 3 parts (studio view), 2007. Found objects, height approx. 192cm. Monash University, Melbourne. Figure 26: Ardi Gunawan, a still image from following piece in 3 parts, 2007. Figure 27: Robert Smithson, stills from Spiral Jetty, 1970 in J. Flam ed., Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1996) 140-141.

ix

Figure 28: Robert Smithson, photographic documentations of Spiral Jetty, 1970 in J. Flam ed., Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1996) 144. All photos are by Gianfranco Gorgoni. Figure 29: Ardi Gunawan, installation of pamphlet pile (front) and the earlier version of untitled-construction (back). Variable dimensions. Monash University, Melbourne, 2006. Figure 30: Ardi Gunawan, detail of pamphlet pile, 2006. Over 1300 black and white photocopy papers, approx. 70 x 210 x 450cm. Monash University, Melbourne. Figure 31: Ardi Gunawan, installation of collage collapse with fluorescent lights by Domenico Declario, 2008. Fluorescent lights; each tube is covered with a cellophane sheet. MDF, tables, and other found institutional items. Studio 9, Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne. Figure 32: Ardi Gunawan, installation of collage collapse with fluorescent lights by Domenico Declario, 2008. Fluorescent lights; each tube covered with a cellophane sheet. MDF, tables, and other found institutional items. Studio 9, Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne. Figure 33: Ardi Gunawan, installation of collage collapse with fluorescent light works by Domenico Declario, 2008. Fluorescent lights; each tube is covered with a cellophane sheet. MDF, tables, and other found institutional items. Studio 9, Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne. Figure 34: Bianca Hester and Ardi Gunawan, THROW, 2008. Various lengths and thicknesses of wooden stick. Meat Market, Melbourne. Figure 35: Bianca Hester and Ardi Gunawan, THROW [detail], 2008. Various lengths and thicknesses of wooden stick. Meat Market, Melbourne. Figure 36: John Cage, Writing Through Finnegans Wake For The Second Time, 1977 in R. Kostelanetz ed., Writings About John Cage (Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1993) 216.

x

Figure 37: Ardi Gunawan, stills from Time-racing, 2009, BUS gallery, Melbourne.

xi

Figures:

xii

0

INTRODUCTION: ENTROPY AND CHANCE

This exegesis explores the notion of entropy as a working program and chance as an experimental system. This exploration, through the work of Robert Smithson and John Cage respectively, provides the context for considering my practice, which I regard as developing out of the tradition of sculpture. My engagement with the tradition of sculpture emphasizes the relations of sculpture to process and material performance. This will be examined in the context of a focus on the temporality of entropy and chance, as discussed in Chapter Two. I argue that the understanding of entropy developed by Smithson is useful for the practice of sculpture understood as a context in which things, mass, or weight are deposited, displaced or distributed. Even though sculpture involves a wide range of practices that have changed over time, I argue the central concern of sculptural practices has been the search for a greater understanding of corporeality and materiality. As the art theorist Alex Potts has written, A consideration of sculpture gives particular prominence to the materiality of the artwork and to the viewer’s more embodied, potentially tactile engagement with things and environments.1 Potts makes clear that the bodily aspects of the materiality of sculpture are inevitable, and as I elaborate, this materiality is affected entropy in many ways by the temporal conditions condition demand concurrent the with is through chance. These question,

sculpture built against or with entropy. It is in this sense that I argue entropy can be considered as a working program for the practice of sculpture. How a sculptural work responds to entropy is a central question underpinning my work and is particularly evident in Reconfiguring still: proposals for the super light, 2008, exhibited at Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne. This work is a key
1

Potts, “Introduction: the Idea of Modern Sculpture,” in A Modern Sculpture Reader,

ed. John Wood, David Hulks & Alex Potts (Leeds: Henry Moore Institute, 2007), xiv. This idea by Potts owes a particular debt to Anne Wagner’s discussion of Henry Moore’s sculptures. See Anne Wagner, Mother Stone: The Vitality of Modern British Sculpture (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2005).

1

project in my exegesis as it brings together elements of chance and entropy. It is discussed in detail in Chapter Two in terms of the gradual increase in the physicality of this work, and again in Chapter Three, in terms of chance. Although Cage does not use the word ‘chance’ in reference to the generation of his musical forms, I explore the manner in which chance nonetheless operates in his compositions. Chance as an experimental system is one of the decision-making procedures employed by Cage, particularly through the method of throwing devised for the practice of the I Ching. Compositions such as Theater Piece No. 1 and Writings Through Finnegans Wake for the Third Time, discussed in Chapter Three, can be considered as a direct result of the use of chance given that the composition results from the throw of coins, as in the I Ching. The purposeful use of chance by Cage as a method of composing his musical forms, and the theorization and exploration of entropy by Smithson provide both physical and temporal understandings to what is integral in the materialization of my work. For example, my work, Reconfiguring still: proposal for the super light, utilized a working process to built a form involving propping, stacking, and wedging different weights of material. It can be argued that, on the one hand, the resulting order of this assemblage is configured by chance events. On the other hand, the effect of entropy is at work during the process of forming and particularly after it had concluded. In addition, the future of the work’s total collapse would become another chance event. The temporal duration of entropic processes operates according to the gradual release of energy, The whereas gradual chance increase operates of with in an a unpredictable temporality. entropy

material system proceeds forward in time, although at a different duration; such that when entropy increases, energy decreases. This irreversibility of entropy and its temporal trajectory, resulting in material deformation, is linked to the other model of temporality examined in this exegesis that of chance. For example, in Smithson’s Partially Buried Woodshed, 1970 [Fig. 1], the potential collapse of the work is always present, as will be discussed in detail in Chapter Two. Chance events play a part in the production of this work as the available energy in the object becoming diffused, that is, it falls.

2

As I will discuss in a following section “Utilizing entropy and chance,” there is a potential for a fall to takes place when there is a diffusion of energy, however the timing of this is dependent on many factors and it is here that chance plays a part. Whilst this exegesis is primarily focused on an examination of

entropy and chance, specifically in relation to the practices of Smithson and Cage, and where appropriate my work, I will initially explore the importance of sculpture in my practice in Chapter One. Drawing on arguments Figurative, presented Modernist, by Potts in the Sculptural and Michael Imagination: Minimalist, 2000,

Fried in his essay, “Art and Objecthood,” first published in Artforum in 1967, I situate the practices I examine in the context of the physicality and theatricality of sculpture. It is through the term of theatricality that Minimalism relates to this research in terms of its activation of a corporeal understanding of mass, weight, scale and volume in the art object. It is through the activation of physicality of sculpture, together with a discussion of differing temporalities of chance and entropy, that I explore various ways of rethinking the relations between sculpture and embodiment; sculpture and forces; sculpture and event; and sculpture and its material performance. These relations are the forces at play in my practice, and it is the rethinking of these relations that this exegesis will elaborate via a discussion of my practice.

Entropy and chance in the context of Process Art
Entropy and chance, understood as methodologies, have a strong connection to the history of Process Art, particularly in terms of the temporality at play in many Process Art works. The term ‘Process Art’ refers largely to sculptural and installation-based practices from the late sixties and seventies. They are typically associated with the work of Eva Hesse, Richard Serra, Robert Morris, Bruce Nauman, Barry Le Va, Robert Smithson, Gordon Matta-Clark, and many others.2 Drawing on work made by the process-oriented sculptors of the sixties, Pamela M. Lee investigates what she describes as, “a kind of rethinking of the relationship between the hand and materials

2

Pamela M. Lee, “Some Kinds of Duration: the Temporality of Drawing as Process Art,”

in Cornelia H. Butler, Afterimage: Drawing through Process (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999), 26.

3

and the status of form.”3 Lee also argues for a convergence in the manner process-oriented sculptures holds on to their form whilst acknowledging the partiality (or the incomplete-ness) of matter.4 It is this tension between form and formlessness, complete and incompleteness that I am to activate through my various projects, discussed throughout this exegesis. Of the artists associated with Process Art, Robert Morris’ reading of Jackson Pollock’s gestural painting is of particular interest in terms of locating a central ‘moment’ in process-orientated works that inform my practice. Morris focuses on Pollock’s use of a stick to drip paint, noting it, “acknowledges the nature of fluidity of paint.”5 Whilst Morris points out the relationship between the stick as a tool and its control and transformation of matter, he also remarks, “it is in far greater sympathy with matter because it acknowledges the inherent tendencies and properties of that matter.”6 Morris also remarks on the paintings of Morris Louis, noting, “Louis was even closer to matter in his use of the container itself to pour the fluid.”7 From this perspective, Morris locates a system at play in both Pollock’s ‘drip’ and Louis ‘pour.’ Morris maintains, “…order is not… [sought in advance]…, but in the ‘tendencies’ inherent in materials/process interaction.”8 Morris suggests that the encounter between material and process reveals a system for which the making of the artwork becomes an investigation of “how paint behaves under certain conditions of gravity.”9 Here, Morris accentuates Pollock’s and Louis’s painting in terms of how the effect of gravity produces a certain response in the material. What is evident in these works is the potentiality of the material to be given expression through bodily possibility; with both the body and gravity at play with material forces.

3 4 5

Lee, “Some Kinds of Duration,” 25. Lee, “Some Kinds of Duration,” 32-3. Robert Morris, “Anti Form,” in Continuous Project Altered Daily: the Writings of Morris, “Anti Form,” 43. Morris, “Anti Form,” 43. Robert Morris, “Some Notes on the Phenomenology of Making: the Search for the

Robert Morris, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993), 43.
6 7 8

Motivated,” in Continuous Project Altered Daily: the writings of Robert Morris, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993), 77.
9

Morris, “Some Notes on the Phenomenology of Making,” 77.

4

The possibilities for bodily actions, gravity and material forces to come into play with each other, as noted by Morris, are also central concerns in my practice. Similar to Morris, my concern is with the resulting order both configured by chance events, for example, the paint drip, and entropy’s self-determining effect. This is evident in the disorderly effect created by the materiality of the paint once its release outside of containment. The work of process-oriented art extrapolated by Morris happens through chance, entropy, and what Lee terms, the duration of the activity of making.10 It is during this process of encountering material that chance events are internalized. Morris’ account shows that the capacity of the hand to transform matter collaborates with the effect of entropy, or other external forces, such as gravity, in the production of form. The inseparability between chance events and the forming effects of entropy is partly derived from the gesture of doing, which is provisional in nature. I discuss this interconnected-ness through the propped and stacked up elements activated in several of Richard Serra’s work, especially, his Prop series. This series mainly demonstrates the potential increase of entropy’s effect through propping, stacking, and wedging possibilities. These are methods of forming that have also preoccupied my working practice. For example, my work Reconfiguring still: proposals for the super light is formed without permanent joins being used to secure the stacked configuration. As a result, the distribution of the load results in the work’s precariousness [Fig. 2]. The potential movement of the work is brought to a standstill. At this point of suspension, the potential of entropy’s effect is at its highest because the weight of the work puts pressure on one of the slenderest supportingstructures. The materials that prop eventually have inadequate energy to support the load. In Chapter Two, I discuss this work in detail, where I focus on the unpredictable operation of chance events and the chronological flow of entropy’s dispersal of energy, as a physical experience amplified through art making processes.

Contextualizing Smithson and Cage
Although Smithson is primarily recognized as a sculptor and Cage as a musician and a composer, their conception of art resides within a
10

Lee, “Some Kinds of Duration,” 26.

5

similar vein, namely, the processes of art’s production. As discussed previously the inception of process-orientated art practices in the 1960s came to prominence through the work and writings of Morris, such as, “Anti-Form,” “Notes on Sculpture, Pt. 4: Beyond Objects,” and “Some Notes on the Phenomenology of Making: The Search for The Motivated.”11 Also active during this period as an artist and writer was Robert Smithson. In this exegesis, I focus on Smithson rather than Morris, because of his writing on, and work with, the notion of entropy. This investigation contributes to a detailed examination of several of my works in terms of their ‘material self-ordering.’ This notion of ‘material self-ordering’ is in part derived from John Protevi’s reading of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari A Thousand Plateau in Political Physics: Deleuze, Derrida, and The Body Politic. I will discuss Protevi’s account of ‘material self-ordering’ in relationship to Smithson’s work, Asphalt Rundown in Chapter Two.12 This discussion frames a consideration of my recent collaborative work THROW, 2008, with a Melbourne-based artist Bianca Hester, which I discuss in the context of chance events in Chapter Three. Cage’s encounters with chance to the procedure community were of amongst the Black the most

important

contributions

Mountain

College, near Asheville, North Carolina, in the 1950s. This college is notable for those who studied there at this time, such as Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Alan Kaprow, among many others. Cage taught at the college in an expansively theatrical situation, and it is here that he began to elaborate his experiment with chance as a working process. Paul Schimmel goes so far as to argue that Cage exerted a tremendous influence on the development of numerous postwar art practices, such as, Fluxus, Happenings, Neo-Dada, and Arte Povera.13 Cage is credited by Schimmel with constructing a context of performance in which the primacy of the act in the production of

11

All reprinted in Morris, Continuous Project Altered Daily: the Writings of Robert It should be noted that in Difference and Repetition Deleuze presents a contrary

Morris.
12

view of entropy to the one discussed here. However I do not take up these differences, as it is not on the subject of entropy that I am proposing a relationship between Smithson’s approach to art making and the ideas of Deleuze and Guattari. See Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 228-9.
13

Paul Schimmel, Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object 1949-1979 (Los

Angeles, Calif.: The Museum of Contemporary Art New York: Thames and Hudson, 1998), 17-18.

6

objects becomes the ‘subject’ of the work.14 Together with the painter Robert arts, Rauschenberg, towards a and the concept to dancer of and choreographer production. phrases, Merce This where Cunningham, Cage moved the conception of music, dance and the visual unifying a event-based Cage’s involved making situation, borrow

‘anything may happen’ - generalized as ‘Happening.’15 Although Cage and Smithson employ different processes of ‘containing’ this open field, both employ approaches for making that bypass the control of the artist over its production. Cage uses chance operation in order to forego his ‘likes and dislikes’ in favor of an arbitrary system of composition based on throwing.16 Smithson’s practice, on the other hand, operates within with a post-war forces reconfiguration of entropy as of the sculptural tradition, teeming the

work’s physical edge. Smithson expanded his exploration of entropy through a sculptural practice that, as he states, “devotes itself to the process of disintegration in highly developed structures.”17 To this he adds,
18

“After of fact

all

wreckage

is

more

interesting

than

structure.” nature’s landslide,

Most of Smithson’s late outdoor works are exposed to de-formation: Smithson often sedimentation, chose sites erosion, In specifically

processes etc.

because these conditions are present. Although make Smithson that and Cage are the not usually referred of to in and art the

historical or art theoretical texts as related, they both nonetheless works emphasize temporality matter visibility of process. It is for this reason that I have drawn on their practices to situate a discussion of my own. For example, Smithson’s interest in the process of material-systems disintegration is similar to Cage’s conception of art as directed towards a process of “imitating nature in the manner of [its] operation,” rather than

14 15

Schimmel, Out of Actions, 18. The term ‘Happening’ was largely explored in the theatrical performance practices of John Cage (in conversation with Daniel Charles), For the Birds (Boston: M. Boyars, Robert Smithson (interview with Gregoire Müller), “…The Earth, Subject to

Alan Kaprow. Kaprow was Cage’s pupil.
16

c1981), 20.
17

Cataclysms, Is A Cruel Master,” in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, ed. Jack Flam (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 257.
18

Smithson (interview with Müller), “…the Earth, Subject to Cataclysms,” 257.

7

imitating physical

the world.

product It is

created through

by an

natural analysis

processes.19 of the

Also

the of

temporalities of chance events and entropy are both operations in the practices Smithson and Cage, I argue throughout this exegesis, that entropy and chance form an open field of making. This is also the field in which I locate my practice. Whilst the practices of Smithson and Cage could be seen as mutually exclusive, I argue they operate rather like two sides of the same coin. On one side is the chance operation, evident in Cage’s musical compositions reacting to the production of the ‘fixed object.’ And on the other side, entropy provoking ways of reconfiguring the notion of the ‘object of of sculpture.’ and its Together object these practices the shift product the of conception art from imitating

physical formation found in nature or environment towards the process that creates the object.

Utilizing entropy and chance
As the pioneers of these two categories, entropy and chance, in the
context of art making, Smithson and Cage draw on vastly different fields of knowledge that they incorporate into their art practices. Entropy, for example, is a term derived from Rudolf Clausius - a midnineteenth-century German physicist - whose theory was focused on the regime chance of disorder operating as the in I physics.20 Ching, is Whereas derived
21

Cage’s from a

use

of

systems,

such

modern

philosophy of East Asia on the subject of change.

The notion of entropy Smithson draws on is described by Clausius in relation to the second law of Thermodynamic.22 Under this law entropy is seen as the inherent potential in material systems resulting from a concentration of energy.23 The First law of Thermodynamic describes

19

This is Cage’s oft-repeated conception of art, quoted in, Jonathan Scott Lee,

“Mimesis and Beyond: Mallarme, Boulez, and Cage (1986-87),” in Writings about John Cage, ed. Richard Kostelanetz (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993), 203.
20 21

Cutler J. Cleveland, Dictionary of Energy (Burlington: Elsevier, 2005), 148. Richard Wilhelm and Cary F. Baynes, The I Ching, or, Book of Changes: the Richard Frank. L. Lambert, “Time’s Arrow…Murphy’s Law…Entropy,” The Second Law of Lambert, “Time’s Arrow…Murphy’s Law…Entropy,” http://www.secondlaw.com/two.html#time

Wilhelm Translation, 3rd ed. (London; Melbourne: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968).
22

Thermodynamics, http://www.secondlaw.com/two.html#time [accessed 08/04/09].
23

8

the process that ensures energy is always active and constant.24 The second law describes the effect of entropy through which the activity of energy always dissipates over time. The trajectory of entropy always proceeds, as Lee notes, “from order to a maximum disorder.”25 Whilst there are circumstances when a material state appears to be static there an is always the potential effect.26 of In kinetic every energy to be released, as Frank Lambert notes, inevitably nothing is capable of hindering eventual entropic material, subsystem, human, organization, etc, entropy is, as Ann Reynolds writes, “always-already present.”27 The future conditions of a material form will always be transformed over time. For example, a crack in the street or building structures, dead leaves or trees falling, rail roads buckles, creep in shoes, ice-melting, rusting steel, so forth all of these offer some images of entropy at work. Entropy in Smithson’s practice was not conceived as existing only as a theoretical, conceptual or philosophical analog to his art works. Rather it played a positive contribution to the formation of his practice. Smithson embraced the chance that entropy would occur and dissipate an art work once it had been completed. Through entropic processes mass can accumulates, producing a load that displaces an existing structure of an object. This is particularly evident in Smithson’s Partially Buried Woodshed, where twenty truckloads of dirt were placed onto an abandoned woodshed near Kent State University [Fig. 3].28 Smithson ends the process of loading the dirt when the woodshed is partly covered and the central beam cracks. The effect of this event is that for the woodshed to remain upright it must maintain a sufficient amount of stability. The energy of these two processes, the load of dirt and the stability of the shed, are concentrated in a central beam. The collapse of the shed will occur when the central beam can no longer maintain its stability in the face of entropic forces. As it eventuated the work was destroyed in 1975 before it got to that point as a result of an arson attack.29 This chance event will be discussed in Chapter Two.
24 25 26 27

Lambert, “Time’s Arrow…Murphy’s Law…Entropy,” http://www.secondlaw.com/two.html#time Lee, “Some Kinds of Duration,” 37. Lambert, “Time’s Arrow…Murphy’s Law…Entropy,” http://www.secondlaw.com/two.html#time Ann Reynolds, Robert Smithson: Learning from New Jersey and Elsewhere (Cambridge, Reynolds, Learning from New Jersey, 197. Robert Hobbs, Robert Smithson: Sculpture (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981),

Mass.: MIT Press, 2003), 197.
28 29

191.

9

The I Ching, on the other hand, is conceived as a system of number symbols that are used as an oracle to predict the future. The procedure involves throwing three coins, or yarrow stalks, six times whilst thinking of a specific question, and recording the result as a device to determine a response to that question.30 This procedure identifies, events what Richard in Wilhelm the describes as,
31

“the This

movement movement

of is

taking

place

physical

world.”

intepreted through the indication of the falling pattern of the coins or the division of the yarrow stalks. The structure of the I Ching is centered upon the acceptance of, as Wilhem notes the, “continual process for of change or of one state as into another.”32 writes, The are hexagrams, “constantly resulting from the six throws of three coins, are symbols standing images things
33

which,

Wilhem

undergoing change.” 4]. Each throw

The method of throwing which structures the I the three coins will only yield a further

Ching produces a perpetually changing combination of trigrams [Fig. of differentiation of linear sign configurations. For Cage however, chance is called upon to operate as a system, one he employs to ensure his compositions are free of personal taste and intention.34 1952 [Fig. Cage 5], achieves for this result through the chance of order to created by throwing coins several times. The score of Water Music, instance employs the operation chance determine, as Cage states, what sound pops up at what time and how loud, etc. So I simply put into the chart things that would produce not only sounds but would produce actions that were interesting to see.35

30

I have also used the I Ching system for my work Many Things Seen At Once, 2008. The

method of throwing was employed as to indicate the spatial positioning of the material in a site. This work was exhibited within a group show Gertrude Studios 2008 at Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, in Melbourne.
31 32 33 34

Wilhelm, the I Ching, xlix-li. Wilhelm, the I Ching, l. Wilhelm, the I Ching, 1. Henry Cowell, “Current Chronicle,” in JOHN CAGE, ed. Richard Kostelanetz (London: Richard Kostelanetz, Conversing with Cage, 2nd ed. (New York; London: Routledge,

Allen Lane The Penguin Press, 1971), 99.
35

2003), 113.

10

The

outcome

is

that

the

chance

operation

of

throwing

the

coin

determines what is done or what form is produced, and therefore what is heard. Both systems, the I Ching and entropy, point to constant change and transformation of matter as a condition of the physical world. What connects Smithson and Cage for the purpose of this exegesis is not only the operations of chance and entropy in the processes of their art making. It is also their interest in systems and their questioning of how each concept can be put to work in sculptural practice, in the case of Smithson; and musical practice, in the case of Cage. Both artists therefore attempt to let the conditions of art making be contingent on the continual processes of changes in material formation over time.

Formulating entropy and chance
The two terms, entropy and chance, continue to become less distinct when considered in relation to foregrounding processes in the conception and making of art advanced by Smithson and Cage. Inherent in the notion of process is a reconsideration of temporality. It is at this juncture that I argue chance and entropy converged. This convergence is evident in terms of the stages of change and the issues concerning matter’s energetic work. For Smithson, his interest in systems led him to contain entropy’s effect to the artwork’s material self-ordering. The temporal dimension of the entropic situation is revealed slowly in Smithson’s works, such as Partially Buried Woodshed, as mentioned previously. In this work the potential collapse of the shed is the potential encounter between two or more material systems. The irreversibility of a work’s formation, in terms of past, present, future events is also demonstrated in the continually crystallizing salt growing over the structure of Spiral Jetty basalt base, as will be discussed in detail in Chapter Two. In the case of Cage, his chance-centered reading of the I Ching system use of asserts chance a view of coincidence allowed him and to the locate variable sounds, relation actions, between parts, and of objects and activities in time and place. The operations objects within a constantly changing ‘now’ of time, however uncertain

11

where their appearance in space or time. This is particularly the case for Cage’s performance practice, such as, his composition for radio, which is incorporated into several of his works: Imaginary Landscape, SPEECH and Water Music. The score for these compositions calls for one or several performers, determined by chance. In the case of the Imaginary Landscape, chance determines the involvement of up to twenty-five performers36 who simply tune into the dial of their radios, selecting various stations to be heard in the course of the work. The use of the radio and the act of tuning is diversified by the geographical context of the piece. For example, if the piece is performed in Jakarta, Indonesia, what would be heard in the work is a set of local stations. The effect of this procedure for these radio pieces is that they are these performed works to differently other every time. This art methodology connects process orientated

works that involve task lists, such as the apparently random gesture comprising Serra’s Verb List of 1967-68 [Fig. 6]. Or those described earlier in Morris’ analyses of Pollock’s drip or Louis’ pour. Whilst the approach taken by Morris, Serra, and Smithson may not be centered as highly on chance as Cage, nonetheless in the act of making chance is acknowledged. If, entropy is always/already present in every kind of situation (material, sub-system, human or organization), as noted above, then an increased of incident a complex of accident of is unavoidable. in the And if of chance random consists set events scheme

occurrence, then it is chance that exposes the limits or boundaries of these apparently mutually exclusive terms. In effect entropy and chance coincide in the exact timing in which these two forces meet. Thus it is upon this juncture, which can be seen to be at play in my works, and those of other artists examined in this exegesis.

36

For a full critical discussion of the structural notation of Imaginary Landscape by

Cage and his use of a radio see Henry Cowell, “Current Chronicle,” in JOHN CAGE, ed. Kostelanetz, 96-99.

12

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful