Text: Henrik Samuelsson
Marcel Duchamp spoke about how it was important for the artist to relate to posterity. A notion of freeing art from the preconceptions and self-imposed limitations of its own time by turning towards a public relocated to an imagined posterity.
Was it the case that Duchamp saw in his encounter with the young Ulf Linde a proxy for both this idea and his life’s work? Someone who unexpectedly crossed his path at the right time, equipped with what was required for the journey towards the future. Duchamp the chess player saw the possibilities and made his opening move … After having spent long periods over the past fifty years sitting amid a jumble of cryptic notes and musings, surrounded by a cloud of cigarette smoke, it seems likely that Linde is not totally averse to this thought – viewed from the vantage point of posterity.
He who believes that creative work can only be liberated in the encounter with the future will have to be prepared for a pretty lonely journey out of his own time. It might be a good sign that the road is sparsely peopled: that gives freedom of movement and, if nothing else, a certain relief. It has long been apparent to many people that Duchamp had the strength of character required to travel this road. That Linde had what it took to meet Duchamp in this peculiar terrain – backwards, if you will – is now becoming apparent to more and more people. Possibly this was a common trait in Duchamp and Linde: the ability to see beyond one’s own desires in and of the present.
By literally recreating Duchamp’s works, Linde offers us an alternative – another way of seeing and interpreting by means of the craft. In his practical work on the copies, Linde began to track the poetic codes: in the formal clarity and the exact measurements, but also in the small deviations. These elegant shifts, at first (apparently) imperceptible, form significant patterns and contexts for the attentive observer. All of this done with an unreserved acceptance of the time needed to wait the fleeting moment out. The revelation.
First: the one deposits his statement, the seen. The other works on the description of seeing. Two people shaded from each other, on either side of the work – waiting – until transparence occurs in the work on the formed and in a possible vision. Then: the encounter with someone else’s gaze through the work, and a perception that one is not completely alone. (My shadow falls together with someone else’s, across the linguistic common.)
In the winter of 1991-92, John Stenborg and I assisted Ulf Linde in the work on the latest version of The Large Glass. It turned into an experience in which many of our conceptions of what the craft of art can be were turned on their head. As we worked, the field of artistic work changed before our eyes: meanings became expanded and were freed of our prejudices – our preconceptions.
It was very hard work – but fun. Perhaps it was the sort of fun that arises when difficulty turns into sheer absurdity and ends up teasing out the feeling that you are in the middle of a wonderful joke. When you feel as if you are glimpsing the clever mechanism behind the pun, in the midst of its sense-expanding shock effect …
We often said: this can’t be done. Later, when it was done, despite everything, we said: how did we manage to do that?
What regulates the relationship between original and copy? That is a question which it is of course impossible to give any general answer to. (And most probably not a particularly interesting or even sensible one, either). When we began work on the new copy of The Glass there were, despite everything, some given preconditions – whose consequences would turn out to be unforeseeable.
Linde had a limitless material at his disposal. A meandering and yet open construction based on a long period of obsession. Calculations involving all the measurements of The Glass, strange drawings, language games, notes from conversations with Duchamp, poetic whims … And everything seemed to be in constant movement in his head: a sort of eagerly turning tombola from which lottery tickets with cryptic signs unrelentingly popped out. Usually accompanied by delighted cries, or roars of indignation. A winning ticket, or not …
In the course of our work, then, new contexts kept revealing themselves – new ideas which had to be considered as well as old ones which had to be reconsidered. For an assistant craftsman, a lot of this was difficult to embrace. And yet there was a strong feeling of participation … (Does what is seen in crafting really carry such significance?)
The thing that was easiest to understand was Linde’s verbal interpretation. It was delivered on a daily basis in front of the work – in the midst of the crafting – in what were much like improvised lectures. These expositions were very concrete and always included thorough instructions about what had been formed: the exact measurements, the rhythm of the drawing, the designation of the colour, the various materials’ characteristics and looks.
Added to this was the warmth from the other side of The Glass – Marcel Duchamp’s own handwriting and gaze.
In the midst of this flow we tried, quite simply, to make everything – from the impression of the whole, via an endless series of quibbles about material and technique, formal tricks and thematic riddles, down to the tiniest details – as alike as possible. Gradually we understood that everything we couldn’t comprehend then and there had its significance and effect all the same. This for the simple reason that we often did better than what we actually could do.
The original comes first, it heralds the copy. A good copy requires a sort of expanded attentiveness on the part of its craftsmen. You have to be attentive to the original, receptive to the point of self-effacement. All this at the same time as you are ready to use what appears to happen to the material you are literally holding in your hands. In the end you realise that there isn’t much that appears to happen. The essential emerges from entering into the material, into the viscosity and look of the colour, the alloy of the lead wire and its consequent resilience, etc. It is all this that later suddenly turns to your advantage. A quality which is new and yet neutral in the moment, a poetic artefact to dare to incorporate when it appears.
Ulf Linde has never devoted himself to copying, in the simple sense, anyone else’s art. With receptivity and precision he has interpreted that which has heralded his own work – he has placed himself on a level with what interests him, without necessarily making his own presence manifest.
With this approach – meeting art with his eye, inside and out – Ulf Linde has established a domain in which interpretation becomes art in its own right. An equal in an encounter, eye to eye.
That is, in a simple sense, beautiful.