Materialisation and Dematerialisation

Material and Dematerialisation – A lecture by Andrew Chesher

Richard Long’s ‘A line made by walking’, was created by Long walking up and down in a straight line until the grass was trodden flat. The photograph is how this work is now presented. Long calls this work sculpture. There is a minimalistic sculptural reference but there is a huge different between this work and that of Carl Andre. Long’s work exists solely as a photograph whereas the other artists found photography was an inadequate form of presenting their work. For Minimalists, the work has to be a in a special reality, whereas photography is merely representational. The object has become mediated by reducing its material reality by making it an easily transmittable information.

‘A line made by walking’
by Richard Long
‘Early One Morning’ 1962 Sir Anthony Caro

Richard Long ‘Untitled (Ben Nevis Hitch – Hike) 1967. At specific spaces, he took a photo of bot the ground and the ski. For Lon, his practise was walking as sculpture. Whilst walking doesn’t have a form (and his photographs don’t feature people walking) there is an idea of getting away from objects by dematerialising work. He instead points to something which can’t be presented in its entirety. It becomes a fundamentally important concept that part of his work is held in Ben Nevis and the work cannot be viewed collectively.

by Richard Long

This work departs from the idea of ‘form’ as the ‘idea transcends the form’ (any form presented is only partial of the idea). Robert Morris said that previously the relationships within the work of art were what was important(e.g. between paint and the canvas), but for him the relationship was between the object and the viewer. Long extends this more to something which you can’t see but can only imagine.

Robert Morris’s work ‘Untitled’,1965 the work seems to continually push us out into the contingent events which surround the work. They’re always changing and therefore have no end – its context dependent and open to the influence of its environment. Robert Smithson moves beyond Morris’ work (with the idea that the object he was making had a form which could be recognised immediately e.g. it was a cube with 6sides). He plays with idea of ‘site and non- site’. Smithson would place mirrors in a site and then take photographs or take the material form the site and place in the gallery – ‘Non sites’. His work dealt with a displacement, he wanted to continually relate back to the space/location he took the work from rather than presenting an object.

‘Untitled’ 1965, by Robert Morris
‘Nonsite’ (Essen Soil and Mirrors) 1969 by Robert Smithson

This idea of dematerialisation is continued in Francis Alÿs piece ‘The Loop’ 1997 was made when asked to contribute to an exhibition in Santiago. Alys took the money for the commission and flew perpendicularly around the globe to arrive back to Santiago. He got from Mexico to USA by not crossing the Mexican/USA border. BUT the purpose of making this work is the ‘process’, although many would argue he has squander the money from the commission. The form of the work is a post card of the ocean with a text which describes what he did and why. This work is actually JUST A POSTCARD, but the it’s the’ experience’ which your involved in. Although this only exists as photograph, he said the point was to become a rumour. He wants his work to be told to a friend. RUMOUR = ART.

‘The Loop’ 1997 by Francis Alÿs

There is always a question of why does the work take the FORM that it does?

Dematerialisation– “When not on exhibition, the pieces are dismantled and cease to exist except as ideas. The dematerialisation of his sculpture makes it impossible for Andre to indulge himself in wasteful activities like polishing and shining…. “–David Bourdon 1966.

Carl Andre works with materiality always sourcing his work form the surrounding of where he is exhibiting his work. He also decided he would never make work if he couldn’t set it up by himself, the piece needed to be proportional to his body. However, he also followed the idea of ‘post studio’ art, focusing on creation without needing a studio himself. He makes the work in situ and because of having an idea and then making the work – he said he is interested in ‘seeing what it looks like’. Sol LeWitt said that conceptual art is when the ‘idea was a machine which makes the work’. Both these artists have very different approaches as LeWitt sees the concept as generating the outcome but Andre was also concerned with how his work is read in space.

Conceptual Art– 5-31 January 1969 (Exhibition curated by Seth Siegelaub). In one room there was a series of work which were physical e.g photography’s, paintings. In another room there was a description of the works written up in a book, these were descriptions which could be carried out. This first room was described as ‘secondary information’ where as the book was seen as ‘primary’ as it was where the work was created. The IDEA is now seen as the primary thing. Lawrence Weiner makes works which are ‘written up ideas of works’, and then carries it out. He’s very interested in the relationship between the idea and the creation and his work became about removal, removing parts of the location where he was invited to exhibit work. “Removal of the Lathing or Support Wall of plaster of Wallboard from a wall, 1968’ is where he started to remove a square of plaster. It could be argued he’s showing the materiality of the wall but he wants to emphasise that this is a removal and not a ‘form’ to be read therefore dematerialising the work.

‘Removal of the Lathing or Support Wall of plaster of Wallboard from a wall’
by Lawrence Weiner

Martin Creed’s piece ‘The lights going on and off’ 2000, The lights of the room go on and off in 5 second intervals. Is this piece about light? The room? Is it the moment that the lights are turning off and on that the work exists? Have we arrived at the work of art? But the work is the questions, because we don’t know its boundaries. This is discussing the notion of materiality, if the idea is something which can have in our head, to some extent the materiality goes beyond form. 

‘The Lights going on and off’ 2000 by Martin Creed

Gabriel Orozco became a reference point for an art form which responded to the modern world but referenced the traditions of the Avant Gard. ‘Extensions of reflection’ and ‘Breath on Piano’, both only exist as photographs. We can’t say that the creation is the sculpture, or the photograph is a representation of the sculpture, nor is the photography the primarily reality. We are asked to think about how this act is done spontaneously in the world. This response to the world is also completely ephemeral- taking the barest minimal form. Therefore, we experience an idea which is made from encounter with the world. This is similar to the content of Martin Creed – Is it happening?

‘Extentions of reflections’ by Gabriel Orozco
‘Breath on Piano’ by Gabriel Orozco







Frank Stella’s work ‘Empress of India’, 1965 is a painting where he painted chevrons on shaped canvases, the canvas is shaped to conform to the shapes it contains of visa versa. Michael Fried wrote a critical book called ‘Shape as Form’ in which he discussed that Stella made a painting which sailed as closely to objecthood as possible and then came back. He does this by acknowledging the edge of the canvas. For Fried this piece acknowledged the objecthood by echoing an optical visual experience within the canvas but also comments on its object within the room. There is no longer a need for the ‘edges of a work’.

‘Empress of India’ 1965 by Frank Stella


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