Text: Susanna Slöör
From the spectator’s point of view
1, 2, 3 and 7 and 8
Am I one of eight, or am I one and the others seven? This question holds the foundation of Marcel Duchamp’s collected works – that is Ulf Linde’s conclusion after studying Duchamp for almost sixty years. It also invites us to reflect on the “ego”, and in particular on how the ego understands life in relation itself and to others. The result is in keeping with Ulf Linde’s general view that art is ultimately about how it feels to live. The painting Moulin à café (The Coffee Mill) from 1911 contains the relationships and numbers that, it turns out, permeate Duchamp’s oeuvre with remarkable systematism. These are 7, 8 and 1, 2 and 3. Together, these numbers underpin a philosophy of life, if you will.
In Marcel Duchamp’s enigmatic instructions for his most significant works – the glass painting The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, even (La mariée mise à nu par ses celibataires, même, 1915-1923) and the peepshow-like spatial assemblage Étant donnés: 1º la chute d’eau, 2º le gaz d’éclairage (1946-1966) – , the numerical connections and symbolism serve as bait and set traps. For Ulf Linde, the work with Duchamp has brought a series of confirmations of an early hypothesis that the bride is a metaphor for the artist and the creative act. Ulf Linde’s Swedish translation of The Green Box was originally published in serialised form in the periodical Konstrevy, between 1961 and 1963. The box contains a loose-leaf system of enigmatic instructions for how The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, even, commonly referred to as The Large Glass, can be constructed and interpreted. Ulf Linde himself regards the original [are there several?] translation as the pinnacle of his fascination and obsession. He copied every illustration to the smallest detail. Even the letterhead of the stationery from a restaurant (Brasserie de l’Opéra) is minutely rendered. Where lay the allure in trying to get to grips with Duchamp’s thought by recreating several of the works? Ulf Linde has not just completed three versions of The Large Glass, of which two are 1:1 scale, but he has also made replicas of ready-mades and a 1:10 scale model of Étant donnés. The first full-scale glass, from 1961, Duchamp had signed and later this was also done with ten or so ready-mades that Ulf Linde had worked on. The collection now belongs to Moderna Museet. In a televised interview from the end of the 1990s, Ulf Linde describes a wish to be able to “lift the fontanelle and peer down into Marcel Duchamp’s brain”. What was he like as a person, as a boy?
The search set out from practical investigations into how Marcel Duchamp’s thoughts arose in interaction with the artistic workmanship. The replicas and models were not the subject of a mechanical and exact copying. Rather, they were based on very careful studies of details in the works (an inductive method) and on analysing the partially camouflaged directions for assembly which were contained in instructions and notes (a deductive method). The result included both reviving the act and recreating the work. A metamorphosis of spectation was triggered in which the artist and spectator variously exchanged forms with each other in time and space. In order to describe the process, a new character is needed to make it possible to move freely between the ideas’ authors.
It is impossible to approach Marcel Duchamp and Ulf Linde without reference to the playful disposition they share. Sticking a finger or a pair of scissors into “Art’s” pompously inflated balloon – art seen as concept – is wholly to their taste. Marcel Duchamp used language, symbolism, music and mathematics in order to deploy wit (the literary joke) as a battering ram against words, things, concepts, truths and absolute knowledge. Possibly this can be compared to restoring enlightenment to the realm of enchantment, or rather to the realm of falling in love. There the dual occurs when one meets the other. According to Duchamp, two represent the dual, not the plural. If you count to three, the rest are included. The relationships between 1 and 2 and 3 have met with approval in Ulf Linde’s interpretation. An enchanted chemistry – alchemy – may thus do for creating the joint name Marsulf. It can represent the thoughts that the interpretation, too, sustains and engorges.
In alchemy, the microcosm is a reflection of the macrocosm and vice versa. Soul and matter are reflections of a whole. The planet Mars is linked to iron, and sulphur is one of the alchemist’s most important catalysts. The compound Marsulf is simply pyrite, in which there are two Ulf for each Marcel. In popular parlance the substance is known as fool’s gold. August Strindberg, incidentally, took fool’s gold to be gold during his alchemy experiments. In the natural state, amusingly enough, the glittering stone forms a cube or a dodecahedron after platonic or numerological models for the visible but illusory world. Thus, in the company of these gentlemen, art could be seen as fool’s gold, from which it is the spectator’s task to create gold, or an inner clarification and ennobling of the soul.
“Amusing” was a word in vogue during the 1920s, which Marcel Duchamp, nearly forty years later, would utter with a sphinx-like smile to those, including Ulf Linde, who attempted to interpret his artistic intentions. “Very amusing!” It is probably not too far-fetched to claim that the exclamation may in itself contain a clue or a trap. Marcel Duchamp would have perfected his ear for the images and shortcomings inherent in language after his move from the backwater that was Paris to New York in 1915. There he periodically supported himself by giving private French lessons, which of course gave him insights into the fine art of linguistic confusion and the way in which different languages create mental images and abstract concepts. Perhaps the linguistic no man’s land that opened up in the shifts between English and French offered dizzying perspectives. On one of Marcel Duchamp’s ready-mades, À bruit secret, With Hidden Noise, are two engraved [?] texts, one in English and one in French. Ulf Linde is on the right track in pronouncing the French with an English accent and vice versa, but the riddle closes itself halfway. In my little game, mainly intended to introduce the creative system – which is based on distorted and admittedly deranged associations – , “amusing” with a French accent might sound like “a muse thing”. Something for the bride, perhaps? The heart turns delighted somersaults at the etymological possibilities that present themselves.
The historical uses of the verb “amuse” can, in principle, offer the perfect quick guide to the world of Marcel Duchamp: to divert the attention of someone, deceive, mislead and pass the time. If we simplify things and look at the verb “muse”, even more doors open. “To be absorbed in thought”, or sniff with your nose in the air like a dog that’s lost the scent. “Muse” as noun stands for a protectress of the arts. In all there are nine muses and she who celebrates love poetry and verse is of course Erato. The thought of Rrose Sélavy (eros c’est la vie), Marcel Duchamp’s alter ego or fourth inner dimension, is, in that case, “very amusing”. Additionally, one can allow oneself to be amused by the synchronous nature of the thought that arises without various authors’ mutual knowledge. In a comment on Kant in the 1910s, Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote that: “if one could turn the right-hand glove in the four-dimensional space, one would be able to pull it onto the left hand”. In a similar way, Duchamp regards man’s inner or fourth dimension as female. Man, in that case, would have a woman’s genitals turned inside out.
The bride given
The first note in The Green Box reads, in translation:
1. THE BRIDE STRIPPED BARE BY HER BACHELORS, even: in order to separate the ready-made, serially produced from the ready-found.
This separation is an operation.
In an article appended to the translations in the periodical Konstrevy (1963), Ulf Linde comments that the original [?] uses ready-made for tout-fait. The English expression was probably something Duchamp had invented even before he went to America. The reason for this is likely to be that Ready-made is pronounced in the same way as ready maid. A ready maiden; a bride ready to be stripped bare.
It is here that the Marsulf character becomes important for a further discussion. There is of course an international industry of interpretations and thoughts on Duchamp – not least about the term “ready-made”. In Marsulf’s world, however, it is the ready bride who constitutes the amusing entrance (peephole) to the oeuvre as a whole.
If the numbers (1, 2, 3 and 7 and 8) and their interrelationships, originally emanating from the small painting The Coffee Mill, recur with mathematical regularity in Marcel’s works made after 1911, it is also true that the works are permeated by erotic metaphor. A hint of this can be found in Duchamp’s portable museum, La Boîte-en-valise (1936-1941), containing detailed models of his earlier works. It was “serially produced” by hand, albeit in smaller numbers than planned. The placing of the ready maids/mades such as the ampoule Air de Paris, the protective cover …pliant de voyage…(Underwood) and the urinal Fontaine allude to different parts of The Large Glass, in which the bride, as we know, is undressed. The upper part is the bride’s (artist’s) domain, in the middle is the separating, trisected crossbar of glass (the work), and the lower part is the bachelors’ (spectator’s) domain.
We are cheered up by La Belle Hélène in several of the works (Air de Paris, Belle Haleine). Mona Lisa with a moustache (L.H.O.O.Q), she of the warm behind, Ulf believes to be an original. Duchamp, a master engraver, probably produced his own plate which was used to make the prints for his portable museum. In Duchamp’s secretive last work, the peepshow installed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art with the instruction that no-one is allowed through the closed door, a naked bride lies on a pile of twigs. Étant donnés was presented posthumously, at which point work on it had been going on behind the closed doors of the studio for twenty years. The world believed that Duchamp spent his time playing chess. Étant donnés means being or having been given. Maybe it is the bride that is given, even? But in Swedish it is easy to associate with the word “giv” in the card playing sense of “deal”: handing out cards for a round, the turn to hand out the cards, the cards received, or the round of play that follows. That, at least, would be a suitable interpretation for the continued discussion.
In the eye of the spectator
Ulf Linde’s Duchamp research thus interconnects the various works by means of the recurring mathematical relationships, the bride mystique and erotic metaphor. The latter [?] lives handily on in replicas and models. Ulf Linde made the first glass, in 1:1 scale, for Moderna Museet in 1961; the second and most complete was made thirty years later. The basis had been formulated by Duchamp in The Coffee Mill, painted in 1911, and the exhibition De ou par Marcel Duchamp par Ulf Linde is taking place in 2011, an even century later. The workings of chance are as “amusing” as ever, as if this were art’s privilege.
During the work on interpreting the meaning of The Large Glass, the enigmatic notes in The Green Box were a beginning. Ulf first presented these thoughts in his book Spejare (The Scout), published in 1960. In it he also laid the foundations of the view of art that caused a furious debate in Sweden. “The great art debate” at the beginning of the 1960s dealt with, among other things, the artist’s and the work’s more or less absolute role in relation to the spectator’s role. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is a concept that goes a long way back, to the early days of aesthetics in the 18th century and even further. Duchamp may have been inspired by the French writer Paul Valéry in taking the spectator’s co-creative role into account. Ulf Linde found these ideas in both of them and thereby confirmed notions that he been entertaining himself. Ludwig Wittgenstein also helped stock the conceptual larder. Human beings are thus equipped with a way of seeing that encourages or obliges us to choose to see something from a certain angle, e.g. to see something as art. Not least, however, Linde was inspired by the writer Lars Ahlin. Ulf formulated the thought thus: “The spectator is a co-creator of the work by applying his or her empathy to respond to the artist’s address.”
Ulf Linde seems consistently to have taken an interest in artists, poets, writers and thinkers in general who confirmed and refined thoughts already present, or about to emerge, in him. The compound Marsulf should be understood also against the background of his discussions with Ahlin. These were particularly lively in the transition from the 1950s to the 1960s. This period coincides with Ulf Linde’s intensive work on interpreting The Large Glass. It could well be the case that an evening’s hours-long telephone conversation with Ahlin was immediately followed by a nightly call to Marcel Duchamp in New York. The latter would clam up in the face of speculations about the contents of the glass, but responded generously regarding colour blends and construction. The defensive reaction “Amusing!” could perhaps be interpreted as a confirmation as well as a trap, the fool’s mirror in which you will only see yourself.
Ulf Linde’s classic view is that The Bride Stripped… (The Large Glass) is a meta-artwork about the art of looking at art. Seeming to confirm this, Duchamp would sign the description of the meta-artwork as well as the replica of The Large Glass (1961) and a collection of produced ready-mades – brides that were both willing and ready (1963-64). The erotic game in which the bride plays the first round thus includes the maiden, i.e. the artist, and her courting bachelors, an anonymous group of spectators who could be anyone. The artist’s intention (to stand naked) is never revealed, no matter how eager the bride is, [and] the bachelors remain bachelors in this alternating game of desire. (The artist also fails in this respect, if we bear in mind Ulf Linde’s later qualification of his statement to the effect that the artist should be regarded as the first spectator of his or her work.) In the shift between inner and outer, which requires its separation in order to be understood, we can thus construe the erotically charged shortcoming of art, which is perhaps the very prerequisite for the continued existence of the creative urge. Rrose Sélavy (eros c’est la vie) draws attention to our “hunting hearts” (coeurs volants), doomed or incarnated to hunt ever on.
To “hunt” one’s way to further insights means that one has to define one’s egos, at least two of them. Marsulf through Marcel operates (acts and appears) with the help of his masculine and his feminine aspect, respectively. Marsulf through Ulf hunts with the help of Lars Ahlin and George Herbert Mead, introduced to him at around the same time by Johan Asplund. Let us therefore return to the last sentence of the paragraph from The Green Box mentioned above: “Separation is an operation.”
The separation, or making a distinction, is in itself an operation on which language and thought rest. But at the same time, the division between words and concepts (establishing opposites, or comparisons) and, by implication, their definition, means that they lose meanings along the way. Even as they come into existence, words and concepts contain the seeds of their own dissolution, or perhaps dilution is better. Exactitude disappears, which in turn encourages a resumption of the separating and clarifying process. This applies in particular to the abstractions we employ to understand ourselves, existence and each other. It is this circumstance that constitutes a pillar upon which the compound Marsulf rests: the critique of the claim to absoluteness of language and words. Only in poetry, in the sense of transferred meanings, can the insight suddenly appear. It is with the help of poetry, and thus during the operative influence of the doing, that the game is kept alive.
But the game requires its players. The first player, the ego, meets the second (him or herself as well as the other). We get the numbers 1 and 2 (dual) as well as 3, i.e. everyone else, anyone. In Marsulf’s world, the first player is both spectator and artist. The spectator in general is an actor [?] (the operator is a Paris singing the praises of his belle Hélène).
By means of poetry, metaphor and visions, the glass, the separating membrane, the individual’s cage and carnal castle, is exploded. Metaphor loads the slingshot, fires the cannon round, to allow the event surprisingly to pass. The solipsist slips out and becomes a part of himself, the other, and anyone at all. Art creates the conditions for this sudden recognition of kinship in the face of solitude. The shots and the explosion are an eternal movement in Marsulf’s interpretation of the stripping of the bride in The Large Glass. The other works (the willing girls) indicate, like Cupid’s arrows, the way towards falling in love and the expected orgasm.
I and me
Narcissus falls into a trance before his own reflection. Lars Ahlin claimed that words should be seen as a mirror held up before the reader, and not as film frames flashing past. Ulf Linde translated these thoughts to the image, as a mirror for experiences and sudden insights, and says that it carries a basis for communion as well as an individual, ineffable experience, a free and exact vision.
The spectator encounters his or her ego in the relationship that the artwork establishes, and is at the same time reflected in the other. This ego (oneself) is general, and shares the common basis: symbols, signs, language, culture and convention. But it is also private/individual, indivisible and immediate, unaffected by agreements made beforehand. The individual is capable of partaking of that which is shown, but which cannot be described, or conveyed by general means. They might be new insights, ideas or a brush against the outer reaches of human capacity. In mystical terms it describes wisdom, the moment when one must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after one has climbed up on it, as Ludwig Wittgenstein so vividly describes it in his Tractatus Logivo-Philosophicus (1921), which ends with the words: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”. Such an experience can also be shared, but there is no way of establishing with certainty how the common understanding arises. It is uniform [solitary?], but those who have been struck partake of the pact or insight that the solitude is shared. Love and the shared experience of solitude are states that are awakened, beyond cause-bound contexts.
But the dual nature of the ego must nonetheless be further complicated. We thus have an ego that could be described as a generally divisible “oneself”, anyone. The only distinguishing characteristic is the position, the location, in time and space, which is personal and anonymous. But the individual, the “ego” also carries a position vertically in relation to others. This ego may be red-haired, intelligent, well liked, the subject of opinions and decked with adjectives and titles. One is dreadfully individual, but dressed in the streamlined uniform of recognition and position (the boundaries), like the anonymous bachelors in the lower part of the glass. Two forms of anonymity arise. Paradoxically, it is equally apparent in a personal as in an individualised, shaped, general dimension, which shows the quagmire in which conception formation finds itself. Concepts, and abstractions in particular, are incapable of creating distinctions that are sufficiently multi-faceted. Marsulf further shows how chance playfully forms the foundation of desirable systematisation. Our hunting hearts, or the urge for context, give rise to new separations or attempts at transgressive liaisons.
The bean or the powder
The opening question about whether Duchamp should see himself as one of eight or as an individual in relation to the other seven calls for an explanation. The Coffee Mill (1911) was originally painted for a brother’s kitchen during a period when Marcel was re-evaluating his relationship with painting and art. Ulf Linde’s view is that the seemingly random numbers seven and eight can be linked to the number of family members:
“The three brothers, Gaston Duchamp (Jacques Villon), Raymond Duchamp Villon and Marcel Duchamp had three sisters, Suzanne, Madeleine and Yvonne. With their father and mother a family of 8. Marcel Duchamp noted his own plight within the family. He could only see the other members of it. He was a leftover eighth – 1/8.”
The coffee mill grinds individual coffee beans into a homogenous powder: “Duchamp was the man who refused to fall in with the homogenous meal – the powder.”