Pedestrian Colour

[Pedestrian Colour was an exhibition I curated at the Slide Room Gallery in the spring of 2010. A review of the exhibition (as well as video of the opening talk) can be found on Exhibit-V.]


I wanted something other than what I could make myself and I wanted to use the surprise and the collectiveness and the generosity of finding surprises. And if it wasn’t a surprise at first, by the time I got through with it, it was. So the object itself was changed by its context and therefore it became a new thing. – Robert Rauschenberg[1]

Robert Rauschenberg coined the phrase, Pedestrian Colour in the interest of capturing ‘a general no-colour,’ comprised of found and collected things, but also base materials like dirt and gold, and incidental colours, like commercial paint mistints and the cast shadows of viewers on white canvas[2]. This exhibition seeks to acknowledge an activity shared by Rauschenberg, John Cage and others as a starting point (only an elected one, one of any number) for a series of activities related to waiting, watching, choosing and collecting. If conventional studio practices often build themselves around a sense of material and conceptual territory, a ‘local colour’ as it were, Pedestrian Colour seeks to be both rooted in everyday experience and yet ‘anti-local,’ occupying a grey gap between tasks, schedules, property and relationships; and the mostly overlooked otherworld in which their consequences spend their off hours.


My “poetical tendency” is challenged and brought back to life’s crude reality just by going down to the corner shop. No ivory tower allowed for the street will always beat your imagination… So, might as well stay on the street… Mexico City has got all the ingredients for “Modernity”, but somehow has managed to resist it. And it acquired a unique identity trough the resistance process.  – Francis Alÿs [3]

The watchman falls “into” the “trap” of looking. The spy is a different person.

“Looking” is and is not “eating” and “being eaten.” […] That is, there is a continuity of some sort among the watchman, the space, the objects. The spy must be ready to ‘move’ must be aware of his entrances and exits. The watchman leaves his job and takes away no information […] “Not spying, just looking” – Watchman.  – Jasper Johns [4]

Patina was at one time the way to recognize value in objects. Before the fashion for imported goods (Calico, chintz and china), Patina was a signifier of tradition and belonging among families rooted in rustic ancestral seats. The conspicuous use of courtly display that coincided with the fashion for exotica was part of an effort to centralize power by controlling monarchs like Elizabeth I and Louis XIV. Patina became a lost signifier; a centuries-old relationship of reciprocity between object and onus rendered redundant.

Taking Alexander Grewal’s Homeless Signs out of their shipping package was unexpectedly intimate. The cardboard and the writing still carry the feeling of another person’s handling, so much so that the sense of a touch is overrun by the sensation of an embrace, a bodily presence, a personal history.

Alex Grewal:

The homeless signs are signs that i have been collecting since i have started working for the city of Vancouver doing night shift street cleaning. I started coming across signs left behind on sidewalks or stuffed in garbage cans. I thought some of them were creative, humorous and honest. I guess i wanted to collect them and see what i could do with them next. The first thing i started to do was photograph them or scan them. I thought it would be interesting to either start buying the signs off of the homeless people […] Then i thought what if i created sandwich boards with the same text of the cardboard signs and then give them back to pan handlers. I thought maybe it would be too big to carry but also legal complications because sandwich boards are technically against city by laws. I thought maybe T-shirts would be a good idea for them to wear and send their message. After a few years i am still deciding what to do with them […] i was afraid to show them because of the politics behind homelessness especially during the Olympics. I think it’s unavoidable.

Grewal’s ambivalence about using the signs as artistic currency could be seen as ethical but also aesthetic; it also reflects on their success or failure as signs. The marked-up cardboard’s patina lends the signs familiarity, but it’s a troubling directness that can’t be exploited or deployed confidently. It demands insecurity. For many no doubt the signs will become signs for a political situation rather than representing the people who made them or their pleas for money or visibility; the meanings intended for the signs will slip under the fence separating patina from camouflage. To enjoy the signs as art you have to ignore them as signs. It’s an intransigent poetics, or a poetics of intransigency.

For Marlene Bouchard, patina is a charm, as in charisma but also like a talisman or note carried around in a pocket and mistaken for cash. Her work jumps from diagram to social mural in a single bound, transforming graph paper, date stamps and advertisements into antic propaganda. The animism of Bouchard’s work parodies a corporate lore of centralized distribution. As the peripatetic inspirer behind the blog ‘bucolic battery’ (, Bouchard offers an activism composed mainly of names, games, routes and lists. The winsomeness of these propositions alludes to more serious games however, power-plays of desire and force not unlike those of Louis or Elizabeth.

Marlene Bouchard:

C.C.C. is a drawing that illustrates North America’s dependence on cows, corn, cars and condos for industry.  The drawing is meant to function as an interconnected, capitalist machine to comment on actual consumer disconnect with their purchases and issues surrounding the unhealthy production of and unsustainable distribution of beef, genetically modified concerns related to corn, single occupancy vehicles and over dependence on motor vehicles (oil oil oil) and the branding of condos as an alter reality.

SPOOF […] is a look at suggestions made for food choices in Canada’s Food Guide from 2007 (the most current version sent, upon request this year).  The painting and its surface is embedded and fastened with adhesive tape and peeled supermarket flyer images of poor quality, (subsidized) cheap food items that best fit into the four food groups.  Transport trucks and their exhaust are then added, all is headed into an oil crater.  The piece is meant to highlight the hilarity, instability, unsustainable, short sighted nature of North America’s food distribution system and the conglomerate companies such as Kraft that keep it afloat.

bottled water has adverse effects on health, economics, the environment and human rights, this will be discussed further as potential clients come to taste victoria’s delicious tap resource […] two major corporations are running the bottled water industry at present in north america dasani coke and aquafina pepsico, […] i was thinking of offering two types of water at the bar from two public tap water sources on a route i generally take. 25% of canada’s bottled water is simply, reprocessed tap, in most cases, bottled water is less regulated than tap, and we actually purchase it for 2000x more than if we were to turn on the tap! we are then conditioned to purchase it at an astronomical amount, specially if one begins to count all of the waste associated with making, packaging and transporting the bottles.

Grewal and Bouchard work opposite ends of patina, invoking its history and employing its sheen. For Grewal, it is the staying-power of a social contract’s stain on the local landscape. For Bouchard, alter-reality’s shell game of clean or consequences (kilowatt hours for carbon credits) will be called out and countered in the working up of character into a culture of personality.


I don’t think any one person, whether artist or not, has been given permission by anyone to put the responsibility of the way things are on anyone else. – Robert Rauschenberg

It’s tickling to consider that Rauschenberg’s use of white, that placeholder for innocence, characterizes some of his greatest brushes with notoriety. Rauschenberg’s early white canvasses might have been fun-making with Clement Greenberg’s proscription against content other than ‘flatness and the delimitation of flatness’ in painting (Greenberg himself having once grudgingly admitted that a blank canvas might have to be a picture, just not a very succesful one.[5]) They were left empty for the viewer’s presence to fill, in what John Cage suggestively described as ‘airports of the lights, shadows and particles.’ They opened the signal cliché of creative fear -the blank canvas- to haphazard general intervention.

His Erased deKooning Drawing was seen as an oedipal gesture by some, and a faux-naïve Neo-Dada goof by others. Leo Steinberg has argued persuasively that Rauschenberg’s erasure of deKooning’s drawing wasn’t a crime against deKooning, but a creative proof in admission of the passing of a whole conception of painting  as based in draughtsmanship (of which deKooning represented the most worthy example).

Steinberg comments, “…it’s easy-come now, but the thought had its freshness once […] the fruit of an artist’s work need not be an object. It could be an action, something once done, but so unforgettably done, that it’s never done with, [6]” This echoes Rauschenberg’s description of the white painting’s to Betty Parsons as “almost an emergency;” adding that “they bear the contradictions that deserve them a place with other outstanding paintings and yet they are not Art because they take you to a place in painting art has not been. [7]

Rauschenberg’s comments help illustrate the sense of risk or gamble in his enterprise, and also that it was indeed an enterprising gesture, a stretching out into undiscovered “place”. Steinberg remarks that Rauschenberg’s Erased drawing is itself “ever less interesting to look at,” but that, “the decision behind it never ceases to fascinate and expand […] [making deKooning’s drawing] famous as the Library of Alexandria is famous, and for the same reason.”

Think of white as an investment in crisis, vacuously compelling or passively destructive, eating or being eaten. If white is The Emperor’s New Clothes, chance with its pants down or the egalitarian ethics proposed by Rauschenberg and Cage, it is up to us. The glare coming off of white is the ghost of a golden promise, paid in advance.

Rob McTavish:

[The cubes] can be for anyone. I want them to just kick them down the street you know?

I saw [the Close Eyes Series] as mimicking an art gallery experience, for just an instant.

McTavish’s Close Eyes series, notes directing readers to “Imagine”, “Remember”, “Feel” or “Become” are meant for random encounters; only his signature at the bottom of each sheet undermines their anonymity, providing the ‘instant’ when the writer behind this message-in-a-bottle situationism becomes personified and so proprietary. A problem arises: should we believe in the persuasion of anonymous things (rooted in our relationship to how we see and what we find in it), or abdicate it in favour of the more certain office of authorship? McTavish depends on environmental circumstances to resolve this problem, allowing that the work is completed as “people write all over them, they even correct my spelling. Sometimes the pieces get stolen, or replaced…”

Laird Hamilton:

The instructions for this piece are fairly straightforward. There is a

649 draw this coming Wednesday and Saturday. The draw always has to be in the days following the opening, so sometime between Thursday and the opening purchase a Quickpick 649 ticket without the Extra, then fill out a card manually with the same numbers in the same sequence, also without the extra. The two tickets can be put up beside one another […] it has something to do with chance repeating something or vice versa – not being sure. i want to activate genuine social reactions – something that’s common but hidden and visceral. like what if it’s a winning ticket – who owns it? i’m thinking of the possibility of different things coming up for different people – fantasy, greed, imagining sharing it. wondering if you might be cut in or not – that good feeling of expectation or hope. wanting to steal it to keep it for oneself, or out of desperation for legitimate needs. but it’s also nothing special – just this thing anyone can buy any day.

i was thinking it brings up a really basic orientation for each of us depending on our views: trust of others versus a more legalistic attitude – trust in people versus trust in rules or protocol. i don’t want to address any of those questions explicitly but just give the tickets space and time to emanate what they really are, what they really bring out in us. money is all that is there sometimes – my consciousness is predominantly money when there isn’t enough. money is the shadow-consciousness of all my work – one facet of it i find it hard to address.

Swapping white for money is an old notion; like a passage to the afterlife that weighs the waverer’s heart against a feather, it represents a judgement in which each proposition depends on the other for a sense of proportion but the two cannot possibly be compared. Yves Klein made the same gesture when he offered portions of empty gallery space as certificates sold for gold leaf, and then threw the gold into the River Seine[8]. The white of gallery walls is always about trading trust for gold, equality for power, personal pecadilloes for shared values. The danger (charges of charlatanism, ‘the emperor’s new clothes’), is to assume these opposing forces measurable on equal terms, when in fact they present restive relations of mutual exclusion, perpetually in play.

Laird Hamilton:

i’ve wondered about that since 2002 or so: what constitutes ‘material’. do you think it’s more accurate to say art is something between the actual material and its apprehension? when i started wondering more about the ‘apprehension’ part of it my orientation towards the world changed forever, because it implies so many real things to me that deserve focus but without necessarily ripping them off as a resource for standard presentation as art. i feel like for years i confused representations of experiences to actual experiences of living in the world that we all share. i mean as opposed to explaining it to myself as an engagement in discourse…. that feels too much like a screen or a deferral…. as a general orientation it helps me make more sense of how and why i’m working, and also gives me a kind of deepdown stability or self-trust in what is often an overwhelming situation (so many ways of going about it, so much history, so much tantalizing writing and theory…) […] but back to the lottery thing […] it can only do – as art – what it would do if they weren’t winning numbers – which is no more or less what lottery tickets do every day anyways.”

Thinking of Hamilton’s lottery tickets, we might reflect on the expression, ‘play the lottery,’ as if the lottery were either sport (‘play ball!’) or entertainment (play the video, play the album, play me a song.) But a lottery is neither. The French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss notes that “Games… appear to have a disjunctive effect: they end in the establishment of a difference between individual players or teams where originally there was no indication of inequality. And at the end of the game they are distinguished into winners and losers.”

But not all games have obvious outcomes. Paul La Farge notes that fantasy role playing games in which “there is neither an end to the game nor any winner,” are closer to ritual, “the exact inverse: it conjoins, for it brings about a union… or in any case an organic relation between two initially separate groups…[9]” Think of the lottery for losers as a fantasy-ritual role-played with a largely virtual currency (hope, luck, greed, goodwill) with the understanding that the prize money is a proportionate sacrifice from one world to obtain real riches in the next.

A similar (if inverse) dynamic occurs in the contemporary practice of “Gold farming,” in which young, typically Asian workers slavishly play fantasy games like World of Warcraft to accrue imaginary status, experience and wealth in order to satisfy a market made up of less experienced but more affluent (typically Western) players for real-world dollars. If globalization’s progress from spiritualized desire to alienated labour is read as capitalism’s opus, gold farming is its mind-bending ouroboros.

Lotteries and gold farms are ritual strip-mined of the affirmation of affiliation: people are played, and nobody gets to play. And of course the gamesmanship of someone else’s ‘art world’ will only seem like either a lottery or a gold farm if you will not join in and make yourself a character.


Shortly after making his white paintings, Rauschenberg made a series called ‘black paintings’ but incorporating aspects of collage. Rauschenberg considered them to be “visual experiences…not Art” and refuted symbolic associations with his color choices:[10] the surfaces were alternately shiny and matte, curdled and enamelled. If white presents a purging determination to measure things against first principles, black is the view from the other side of the vacuum, dense with discarded possibilities, like an alchemist’s nigredo. Claustrophobic, haptic black is a workroom in the dark, like the black walled studio views Matisse painted in the years of the First World War.[11]

Paul La Farge (see appendix I):

According to modern neurophysiology, […] photoreceptors in our retinas respond to photons of light, and we see black in those areas of the retina where the photoreceptors are relatively inactive.1 But what happens when no photoreceptors are working—as happens in a cave? Here we turn to Aristotle, who notes that sight, unlike touch or taste, continues to operate in the absence of anything visible:


Even when we are not seeing, it is by sight that we discriminate darkness from light, though not in the same way as we distinguish one colour from another. Further, in a sense even that which sees is coloured; for in each case the sense-organ is capable of receiving the sensible object without its matter. That is why even when the sensible objects are gone the sensings and imaginings continue to exist in the sense-organs. We “see” in total darkness because sight itself has a color, Aristotle suggests, and that color is black: the feedback hum that lets us know the machine is still on.

The contemporary philosopher Giorgio Agamben, following Aristotle, remarks that the fact that we see darkness means that our eyes have not only the potential to see, but also the potential not to see. (If we had only the potential to see, we would never have the experience of not-seeing.) This twofold potential, to do and not to do, is not only a feature of our sight, Agamben argues; it is the essence of our humanity: “The greatness—and also the abyss—of human potentiality is that it is first of all potential not to act, potential for darkness.”3

La Farge’s cave or abyss is a concrete darkness, it has substance (presence, quantifiable potential), but only as a point of indecision and avoidance. From within its texture, one projects forwards and backwards, while melancholy echoes back a thousand what-ifs:

Black is the color of what might have been, not of what is: it is the color of pleasures past. Regret is black, and so is its cousin melancholy, which Robert Burton describes as “cold and dry, thick, black and sour” […] Melancholy is the humor that keeps the others—warm blood, angry choler—in check, the one that counsels against action. It prefers the potential to the actual […] The space of refusal is also the space of imagination. You can sit in the darkness for as long as you like, staring blindly at nothing, and see what you will. Maybe that’s the reason why caves, which are the Fort Knox of blackness, were the first sacred places. […] a liminal space, between two stages of life, the one dissolved in darkness and the other not yet known.

Studios are liminal spaces not unlike caves, between a future state and a present in which things are ‘dissolved in darkness’ (John Berger points out that a studio contrary to analogy is less like an observatory than a stomach.[12]) This dissolving is a timeless porousness, in which history seeps into the present tense and fuels accelerated, unexpected evolutions.

Sean Alward:

The pictures] deal with representations of space – historical spaces (domestic) – and are pseudo-archaeological […] including some based on my studio – which had a fire recently – and the secret room that was revealed behind my studio wall.

Alward’s photographs are glimpsed through circular mattes, like a camera-obscura or porthole, giving you the sense of being inside looking out. On the left panel, a worn piece of cloth is pressed between the viewer and the view, a repoussoir pointer engendering the sensation of zero gravity, vertiginous hovering at the darkened threshold. Rodchenko’s Constructivist camera aimed up into the sky or down from the balcony rail. The right panel is fringed with a soft blossoming of white gouache, like particles of light bending in a telescope; the ash-white wall of the photograph a half-shadowed lunar landscape.

Both these reveries suggest a tethered, projecting imagination, and each has a compelling gravity in the form of a negative attractor; the imminent becoming of a forgone history. The ‘pseudo archaeology’ of Alward’s pictures is a parallel to the physiological archaeology of the mind and body’s time in the studio, hidden pockets of wilful ignorance and delayed gratification like fossilized matter awaiting exposure and combustion.


Proceeding to the back of the classroom he sat at his usual desk and took out a pencil.

New Ending:
All over the world the beautiful red breezes
went on blowing hand
in hand
.  – Anne Carson[13]

For Rauschenberg, red was a colour liberally applied to the disparate inventories of his earliest ‘combines’, as if annealing their differences by smearing them with a common afterbirth. By admission unable to think of paint as an immediate, expressive syntax in the way the previous ‘Abstract Expressionist’ generation of painters had, Rauschenberg used red like a cosmetic, a superficial surface that confused allegiance in a decorative unity not without warmth; a gesture of confederacy.

It is interesting to note that the Greek nymph Pharmacia is responsible for our notion of modern cosmetics (kosmètikè) but also of pharmacy (pharmakon[14]); red as rouge but also infusion. For Plato, the notion of pharmakon encompassed both remedy and poison: love-drug, charm, medicine and paint. Arguably, the word can’t be translated definitively, nor was it even originally used in Plato’s arguments as a word with a decided deference; we may argue about it, but not from it.[15]

It’s quite possible by imagining the Rauschenberg of the early red ‘Combines’ to think of the cabinet of wonders (and by extension, its spectre the still life) and the spurious travelling road show rolled together, his expansive patter as two-parts Walt Whitman one-part snake oil salesman.

June Higgins’ ‘prom night’ is nothing if not pharmacology. The artist has attached a list to the piece (see appendix II) in lieu of a statement: an inventory of every bit and bobble, where it was found and how long held before it finally found its way into this particular sculpture. Consider the half-life of such kitschy picking awaiting use-value. Rememb Walter Benjamin’s observation that book collectors always believe the destiny of each of their prizes was only ever to end up as part of their library; the history that came before – the history of the hunt – their second text. But it is also the way each ingredient resists its ‘destiny’ that defines it as a sculpture.

Prom Night barely holds itself together; differences are the jumping-off point of its dynamism. The objects in it are silly and desperate, goofy and banal. Their coming together feels like the brief and confectionary coming-of-age bricolage: a homecoming float made of crepe; a cut and paste prom dress. The inventory is a tally of expectation, an adolescent’s spastic fantasy, like the bad horror film that is its namesake, a gory temper tantrum, the consummation of a ritual, with all of its climactic turn and transmutation.

Wendy Welch’s Reading the Heart (prototype) is an intensely personal piece cut from the Times Literary Supplement, a paper the artist has referred to as “a monthly reminder of the fact you are not reading,” As a kind of debt to the world (as well as to Welch’s mother, who had purchased the subscription as a gift), the papers must be absolved of their burden to tell all through a gradual disintegration of their readability:

Wendy Welch:

I have been thinking a lot about cells and how everything is made up of them and it is a great way to disintegrate problems if you start thinking of them as having cellular components.

Welch points out that “scientists now recognize the membrane or wall of a cell as its most important component.” In a cellular culture, surface communication is at the heart of the dilemma of all-consuming growth: strength by absorption and its shadow as thin-walled vulnerability, infection, invasion and collapse.


I would say that I’m interested in the metaphoric potential of the body and illness and in ideas surrounding the heart (the queen that rules the body) and the pericardium (the protector of the heart) and how the cell and its membrane is a microcosm of the heart and pericardium. The work also has a lot to do with strength and fragility.

Cut, layered and draped, the text is (recalling an old joke about newspapers) red and not read: wadding or swaddle, deadweight or treasure chest; the heart as the mind perceives it. Like Rauschenberg’s newspaper cuttings or old master images, Welch’s papers shift a little towards fictive friction. The associations will seem affectionate in retrospect, the body’s tale having been told, and the words having no more weight to bear.


Where the consumnations gather, where the disposal

Flows out of form, where the last translations

Cast away their immutable bits and scraps,

Flits of steel, shivers of bottle and tumbler,

Here is the gateway to beginning, here the portal

Of renewed change, the birdshit, even, melding

Enrichingly in with debris, a loam for the roots

Of placenta: oh nature, the man on the edge

Of the cardboard-laced cliff exclaims, that there

Could be a straightaway from the toxic past into

The fusion-lit reaches of a coming time! Our

Sins are so many, here heaped, shapes given to

False matter, hamburger meat left out.[16] – A.R. Ammons

That space between two positions (like the edge of a knife

cutting an orange) is a wake of consequences in

all directions. Constant explosive space to

wherever. Projection of circles starting from a straight line

– Gabriel Orozco[17]

Rauschenberg once made a painting out of dirt for John Cage. This dirt has been interpreted as emphasizing a sense of ‘base’ materiality, ‘lowering’ received notions of what a painting ought to be. As Yve-Alain Bois remarked, “the mud in Rauschenberg’s dirt painting is not depicted mud […it] does not lend itself to any metaphorical displacement.”

But there are other kinds of displacements: over time, the Dirt Painting grew mould and lichen, and seeds within its surface sprouted. The indeterminacy of the dirt mould became a kind of meditative communiqué between maker and recipient (an impermanent one, as Rauschenberg retrieved the piece years later for a retrospective, never to return it.) The articulation of soil into life is very slow, seemingly static, but the gesture of correspondence encloses it at either end, redefining it therefore as a garden.

Michael Jess’ short videos, ornen, reypeha, irithjiens, lstyn are likewise defined by delimitation. Refrains of rhythmic repetition (trees swaying, clouds drifting, escalator stairs rising) are orchestrated with and against music sequences that alternately enervate and still their colloquy. Brevity condenses, interrupts, and ultimately supplants the expectation of any linear narrative arc. Lively moments are funny but also poignant or manic as they end without warning; softer moments earn our involvement by virtue of their variation and invention.

Michael Jess:

these are all made up words/titles. language that is made up defines the made up language of art, in a way. they go together, or something like that.

The pieces (like Jess’ statement and drawings) are pointedly modest. Like Eric Satie, who Jess quotes as background for the vocals of John Cage in lstyn, Jess rejects long-range compositional development in favour of a direct appeal to the oscillations of attention span. The simplicity of the images buffers a steadily insistent pulse, the sensation of forever enveloping every present-tense.

Cage championed Satie’s music during his seminal period at Black Mountain College, citing his static repetition and rhythmic structure as a ‘correction’ to the emphasis on harmonics modern music had inherited from Romanticism.[18]Some of the more eccentric epiphets Satie used to describe his output (“furniture music”) or his vocation (“phonometrician”) are suggested both by the casual but conspicuous symmetry and the intimist analogue mechanisms with which the videos are presented.

Finally, the small packets of information in Jess’ videos can’t be separated from the obviousness of the edits that bind them. Cage’s voice in lstyn urges us to “alter, not the means of connection, but the things being connected.” In the tradition of ad hoc avant-gardism, these sequences of moving parts recall their own creative origins continuously, appearing thus as both naïvely cobbled and pointedly instructive etudes. As separated sequences, the images in the videos seem immiscible, (a chemistry term brought to bear on Rauschenberg’s work by Leo Steinberg), defined by mutual repulsion. As wholes, they are, like their titles, not quite articulable. Their life is in the cuts.

Jon Dowdall’s belated addition to Pedestrian Colour involved the placement of a small schematic collage (what seemed to me a little salon of windows or pictures and figure s at play) inclined by both orthogonal lines within the composition and its physical circumstances – leaning up against a dumpster near the gallery – away from us and toward a graffiti-covered dumpster siding on which the word ‘toy’ was scrawled by the artist or somebody else. The piece rested on the gutted frame of what looked like maybe a printer, which had been filled with clumps of dry, uprooted turf. Two days later the piece was gone, the clumps of dirt wet from recent spring rain, the graffiti dormant.


“Disinterested” work: knitting, playing chess, driving a taxi,. Short term objectives.

A time-space-person relation dedicated to the day and to that which

Is immediate. To construct a house just to construct a house (Schwitters). To make a

Museum just to have an office (Broodthaers). To form a political party for planting trees

(Beuys). To play chess. To read (Borges). To play chess. Billiards.

To play the landscape (Mondrian). To play the bull (Picasso). To play the sailor.

The businessman. The bureaucrat, the tourist. The designer. – Gabriel Orozco[19]

Rauschenberg’s term ‘Combine’ is a word that sounds like a verb made into a noun, or more properly (leaving its farming connotations intact) a tool. Thinking of the old notion that usefulness is to a good tool what purposeful purposelessness is to the beautiful, I might say that the danger of discussing the work of Rauschenberg as a body of tendencies that as a whole form an aesthetic, is to miss the implications of those tendencies in shaping real social situations. Shared agreements, contingent situations, collective gambles, bargains, poetics, friendships; by engaging these artists in such situations, I hope to have avoided this trap a little. But I would acknowledge that a Combine is always both/also as well as neither/nor, and allow that the instances of so many things coming together in so rough a way generated its own patina, one that retroactively, inexplicably, projects its history, legend of beginning, and underlying fields of use.


[2] A brief but useful interactive summary of Rauschenberg’s different ‘colours’ can be found courtesy of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art at

[3] Gianni Romano,”Francis Alÿs: streets and gallery walls”[interview], Flash Art #211, 2000 []

[4] Jasper Johns, “Sketchbook Notes,” qtd. In John Yau, “The Mind and Body of the Dreamer,” Uncontrollable Beauty, ed. Bill Beckley w. David Shapiro (New York: Allworth Press, 1998, p. 298.)

[5] Clement Greenberg, “After Abstract Expressionism,” Art International, Vol. VI, No. 8, October 25, 1962, p.30, qtd. In Michael Fried’s “Art and Objecthood”, Minimalism: A Critical Anthology, ed. Gregory Battcock (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1968), p.123.

[6] Leo Steinberg, Encounters with Rauschenberg, (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 22

[7] C.f. “Must Painting be Mark Making?”

[8] C.f. Yves Klein, “Le Vide” (Paris: Gallerie Iris Clert, 1958), at

[9] Paul La Farge, “Colours: Black,” Cabinet, Winter 2009-2010.

[10] Museum of Modern Art,

[11] Specifically, Porte-fenêtre à Collioure (Window Swung Open at Collioure), 1914 (see; and The Studio, Quai St. Michel, 1916,

[12] “The first thing painters ask about a studio-space usually concerns light. And so one might think of a studio as a kind of conservatory or observatory or even a lighthouse. And of course light is important. But it seems to me that a studio, when being used, is much more like a stomach. A place of digestion, transformation and excretion. Where images change form. Where everything is both regular and unpredictable. Where there’s no apparent order and from where a well-being comes.” John Berger, “Drawing: Correspondence with Leon Kossoff”, Shape of a Pocket (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2001), pp 71-72.

[13] Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red (New York: Knopf, 1998)

[14] Jacqueline Lichtenstein, “On Platonic Cosmetics,“ Uncontrollable Beauty, p 91.

[15] “The Pharmakon,”

[16] A.R. Ammons, Garbage, (New York: W.W. Norton &Co., 1993), p.29

[17] Gabriel Orozco, Photogravity (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1999 ) p 87

[18] Peter Gena, “Cage and Rauschenberg: Purposeful Purposelessness Meets Found Order.” (New York: Museum of Contemporary Art, 1992)

[19] Gabriel Orozco, Photogravity (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1999 ) p 39

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