Personal Duchamp. Digressions and Subversions of the Ready-Made
by Fernando Davis
In September 2011, artist Silvio De Gracia wandered the streets of Thessaloniki, Greece dressed in black with a balaclava on his face, carrying along the way a urinal painted in red. The action, performed at the “Third Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art”, aimed at disorganizing the agreements of standardized rules that regulate transit and everyday routines, by means of a kind of intervention that transferred the venue of Marcel Duchamp’ s ready-made away from the artistic space into the wide realm of the city. Silvio De Gracia’s performance called Walking with Duchamp introduced digression as a micro-political strategy that challenged the urban fabric in its disciplinary layout in order to disturb it by means of the disrupting gesture of an action the artist himself deemed as an “interference”. If the ready-made put forward its critical tenor in the twofold operation of displacement and re-contextualization of an industrial item, away from its current space and placed it in an exhibition room, in a counter-strategy, Silvio De Gracia’s provocative performance reversed the terms by returning the item to its everyday realm. Thus, Walking with Duchamp disputed its disruptive projections in the reversal of the ready-made operation, in a gesture that, at the same time, updated a kind of intervention that partakes the ideas of Alberto Greco’s Vivo Dito and Edgardo Antonio Vigo’s “signaling”.
The reference to Vigo, more specifically his first signaling of October, 1968 called Bunch of Traffic Lights, appears to be implicit in the first version of Walking with Duchamp, performed in La Plata a year before the one in Thessaloniki which was also projected by De Gracia in October . Accompanied by two friends, De Gracia wandered the streets of the city of La Plata carrying, in this instance, three urinals painted in red, yellow and green in reference to the three colors of traffic lights. In 1968, with a summons addressed from a newspaper and a radio of La Plata, Vigo set forth a disalienated appropriation of the dailiness of life by means of the simple action of pointing at a common city object, a traffic light located in the junction of two avenues. For Vigo, the “revulsive” potential of art did not lie in the production of “works” but in the potential of banishment triggered by poetic digression, which may transform our naturalized relationships with the environment and encourage the invention of new creative and vital spaces . Silvio De Gracia’s performance seems to revive the critical options of this project; furthermore, he entangles them with the wandering perambulation of the ready-made. As in Vigo’ s signaling, the “traffic light” digression evoked in the sequence of urinals of Walking with Duchamp, breaks up the instrumental logics of the object, its function of ordering the flow of vehicles and bodies within the city. The traffic light ready-made becomes a device of poetic drive. With the lack of predictability of its open itineraries, the action of wandering the streets disrupts the rationalized order that the regulated fabric of the city sets forth and rules by means of the bureaucratic layout of its limits and in the disciplinary arrangement of its flow, with a mechanism of power that, at the same time, controls a applies sanctions concerning the circulation of bodies. Hence, Silvio De Gracia’s action is poses a disrupting gesture that intervenes in the city fabric in its naturalized order with the purpose of warning about the power tensions that organize and regulate it, tearing the stability of its framework. In “ the rationale of its design and the regulation of its areas of traffic, work, relax, leisure” the city, De Gracia writes, “imposes an overwhelming and totalizing logics of sense and compliance on the daily flow of activities” .
Walking with Duchamp is etched in the development of an “aesthetics of disturbance”; De Gracia‘s critical approach aims at opening “a rupture or a tear, even if it be small and ephemeral, in the framework of social conditioning” . An “interference” in De Gracia’s words, that breaks with the macro-political demands of traditional activism, whose goal is to have a bearing on daily micro-politics through a poetics of tearing and breaching. The interference aims at “shaking the inertia of trivialization of human behavior” yet, not “to transform the reality but to create fissures in it, to open breaches and `parasite’ its rational and constricting fabric” from a tactical mobility that makes use of “nonsense, incongruity, delirium, surprise” (5) so as to pose a challenge.
The idea of interference as a parasitic activity refers, once again, to Duchamp. How can the ready-made be deemed but as a parasitic intrusion of an ‘already-made’ object in the institutional fabric of art? For Duchamp, the strategy of the ready-made had implied infecting the suspicious neutrality of the museum by introducing into the artistic space an object that, far from been presented as a work, tried to highlight the regime of power /knowledge of the institution. Nevertheless, the recognition of Duchamp’s artistic gesture as art, carried out by the very institution whose logics the ready-made attempted to disturb – to break up its legitimacy- its fetishized inclusion in the museum exhibition rooms, neutralized the revulsive potential of this strategy.
Perhaps it is in the series of photos in which – quoting Al Weiwei’s action – Silvio De Gracia shatters a urinal against the floor, where the artist seems to provocatively focus on its critical implications, a plea to challenge Duchamp’s institutional authority by means of the action of dropping an object, as a way of keeping up to date the voltage of the ready-made.
[Fernando Davis, in catalog «Personal Duchamp» de Silvio De Gracia, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Argentino, 2012]
(1) De Gracia started his performance in La Plata and a year later, together with the aforementioned presentation in the Biennale of Thessaloniki, he did it again in Lisbon in the event Epipiderme, encontros a volta da performance and in Athens. Thus, Walking with Duchamp was conceived as a work in progress by the artist, who stretched the descentralized action of digression of the performance due to its repetition, also decentralized in different cities.
(2) Fernando Davis. “‘Revulsive’ Practices. Edgardo Antonio Vigo in the fringe of Conceptualism” (“Prácticas ‘revulsivas’. Edgardo Antonio Vigo en los márgenes del conceptualismo”) In: Cristina Freire and Ana Longoni. Conceptualism of the South. (Conceitualismos do Sul), Sao Paulo, Annablume, USP-MAC y AECID, 2009.
(3) Silvio De Gracia. Aesthetics of Disturbance (Estética de la perturbación) Buenos Aires, El Candirú, 2007.
(5) Op.cit. De Gracia defines his aesthetics of disturbance as close to Vigo’s concept of revulsion.