PAULO HERKENHOFF [Curator, MOMA, New York]
One One Minute Sculpture (Spinoza)
by Erwin Wurm
Published in Do It exhibition catalogue,
Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery,
The University of Western Australia, 2001
This is what I think about each second of
- Spinoza. "Hold your breath and think of Spinoza" (Wurm). This is a One Minute Sculpture by Erwin Wurm.
- Name. "Its name is connected with the person [Baruch Spinoza] who said that free will does not exist" (Wurm).
- Date. Spinoza was born in 1632 and Spinoza 366 years later in 1998.
- Corpus. Spinoza is one of approximately 150 One Minute Sculptures.
- Concept. "The One Minute Sculptures are sculptures which can last only for a very short period of time" (Wurm).
- Measures. Spinoza is a case of disparity. Its interior is larger than its exterior. The difference is between (a) its visible part, i.e., the skin of the performer (skin surface 1.6-1.8 square meters); and (b) its invisible part, which is the lungs (the combined total surface of their air sacs is about 93 square meters, nearly 50 times the surface of the skin).
- Materials. Spinoza's materials are the body, air, imagination, and time.
- Body. "I was never interested in the body, only in the psychological subject, in the individual. I use it as any other material" (Wurm).
- Weight. The weight of Spinoza is the person's body plus the air inhaled [the atomic weight of oxygen is 15.9994. The tidal volume amount of air taken in by Spinoza is 0.5 liters (about 1 pt)]. In Spinoza , the lungs can hold about ten times this volume if filled to capacity. This maximum amount, called the vital capacity, is generally about 4.8 liters (about 1.3 gal) in an adult male. However, time is weightless.
- Air. The material of Spinoza is 4.5 billion years old, the time needed for the evolution of the present mixture of gases in the air.
- Spirituality. Spinoza belongs to the History of the Soul, seen as pneuma, in its ancient meaning of "air in motion". Jung asserts that the word pneuma took on the meaning of "spirit" chiefly under the influence of Christianity. Even in the account of the Pentecost miracle, the pneuma still has the double meaning of wind and spirit.
- The formless. The shapes in Spinoza are external (the body) and internal (the lungs). The issue of the formless "in Spinoza is the way one has to sit and to hold the breath in the lungs" (Wurm). More than 300 million alveoli contained in each of the lungs continuously move and impede the shaping of the gaseous mass in Spinoza.
- Smoking. Warning: The Surgeon General warns that smoking may harm your capacity to perform Spinoza.
- Colour. The body material determines the colour inside Spinoza. If performed by a child, it would be pink, grey if performed by an older person, and even darker if created in the lungs of an adult smoking or a city dweller.
- Plosiveness. Spinoza causes phonetic effects. It interrupts the flow of air that is necessary for the physical articulation of sound in speech. In linguistics, Articulatory Phonetics describes speech sounds genetically, i.e. in terms of the manner in which the vocal organs modify the air stream in the mouth, nose, and throat in order to produce a sound. Spinoza may interfere with that.
- Air depravation. The accumulation of harmful substances to the atmosphere (air pollution) causes damage to art, to the working of the mechanism of Spinoza as well as to Michelangelo's marble David.
- Air deprivation. If one overdoes Spinoza (for five minutes without interruption), the brain will be deprived of oxygen and may be permanently damaged. If Spinoza is continued even slightly longer, it will result in death.
- Poison. Spinoza is a breathing machine. In aerobic respiration, body cells use oxygen to metabolise glucose, forming carbon dioxide as a waste product that is exhaled. This internal chemical waste is dangerous because if it accumulates in the body, it can poison living tissue. Because body cells are constantly using up oxygen and producing carbon dioxide, the lungs work continuously. Therefore Spinoza is a factory of poison. Some artists deal with poison in their work, like Erwin Wurm (carbon dioxide), Sigmar Polke (red Saturn pigment), Katie van Scherpenberg (verdigris) and Mark Dion (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane and others).
- The minute. Spinoza, as a One Minute Sculpture, should last precisely one minute, which is formed by 60 seconds. A second is "the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between two hyperfine levels F=4, mf=o and F=3, mf=o of the ground state 2s 1/2 of the atom of celsium-133 undisturbed by external fields". The One Minute Sculptures are sixty times all this, yet the main task is the conversion of metrological precision into a poetic visual territory.
- Event. Every performance of Spinoza is an "event". It is tied to a time dimension. An event is defined by Whiteread as that portion of time - eg., one minute - through which a specific character of place - eg.,the body in Spinoza - is discerned - eg., breathing.
- Precision. In accordance with established time, the One Minute Sculptures should last one minute. Spinoza is situated somewhere between duration and the most accurate clocks, which "are quantum mechanical instruments, their uniformity in measuring time is assured by the constancy of atomic structures; their rates are determined through the selection of specific atoms for resonance and through the control of environmental conditions" (Fraser). However, Wurm says, "One minute is just a synonym for short. It could also be 10 seconds or 2 minutes".
- Duration. For Spinoza, "duration is the indefinite continuation of existing" (Ethics). Eternity would not be within the scope of duration. Duration is a certain quantity of existence. Time is the measure of the quantity, and existences, for Spinoza, have their being in time, while essences are outside time (Encarta). Deleuze speaks of the elasticity of Spinoza's concept here. Wurm's Spinoza understands itself in the domain of duration, whereas Brancusi's Endless Column is aimed at eternity.
- Immanence. Spinoza denies metaphysical connotations to experience. Its immanent time finds support in Lygia Clark's words: "We are a space/time totality. In the immanent act we do not perceive a temporal limit. Past, present and future become mixed".
- Precariousness. The One Minute Sculptures move beyond duration. They are built with precariousness, as Dubuffet's Petites Statues de la Vie Précaire, or Clark's proposals ("we propose the precarious as a new concept of existence against all the static crystallization in the duration").
- Rhythm. The clash of rhythms in Spinoza is related to the interruption of breathing and the continuation of other organic processes. Spinoza introduces antagonistic experiences of stillness and movement within biological time.
- Sculpture of Time and Space: Brancusi (Endless Column), Duchamp (Three Stoppages), Cildo Meireles (Fontes), Lawrence Weiner (Two minutes or spray paint directly upon the floor from a standard aerosol spray can), Erwin Wurm (One Minute Sculpture).
- Drawing. The One MinuteSculptures are exercises of transience" the line of the drawing flows. Nothing stays its course. It is precise.
- Photography. Spinoza is time retained.
- In-deterrence. Spinoza is about the impossibility to detain free will. While photography is about the detention of time, yet, is impossible to voluntarily stop breathing permanently because breathing, like the heartbeat, is an involuntary activity controlled by nerve centers in the brain stem, the lower part of the brain. The poetic incoherence is that Spinoza is bound by nature to a time limit.
- Video. Has Spinoza's time elapsed?
- Sculpture. The idea, says Wurm, "was to make an artwork which also can be realized by the public without my physical presence. All my One Minute Sculptures can be realized in different time and geographical levels and in different conditions. Every part shows another aspect, be it drawing or photography with me or without me in the picture".
- Performance. Spinoza belongs to the family of performance sculptures including Gilbert and George, Peter Weibel in Valie Export's Communication Action (aus der Mappe der Hundigkeit, 1968), Roman Signer, Andreas Slominski, Martin Walde, and others.
- Sculpture diseases. Among sculpture diseases, the best known is the "Bronze disease" (a malignant form of corrosion caused by chlorides that spreads rapidly and has a destructive effect on bronze). The main sculpture disease for Wurm's Spinoza could be: cough, like whooping cough (caused by the bacillus Bordotella pertussis), asthma (including bronchial asthma, bronchospasm), apnea syndrome (breathing cessation), central alveolar hypoventilation syndrome (abnormal blood ventilation and carbon oxide levels), hypopnea (abnormally slow or shallow respiration), pleurisy, hemoptysis, dyspnea (may occur in depression) and orthopnea, angina pectoris, lung cancer, poliomyelitis, pneumonia, pulmonary embolism, emphysema, etc.
- Criminology. Some possible crimes against this sculpture are: air poisoning, asphyxia, drowning, suffocation, administration of barbituates.
- Anatomy. The One Minute Sculptures do not address the body as support. There is intensive work with anatomy, though, like the muscles. In spite of their apparent anatomical absurdity, they are quite different from what happens in some of Rodin's sculptures, as noted by Rosalind Krauss.
- Physiognomy. In spite of the physical and mental labor determined by Spinoza, no change of external appearance occurs, either in the face or in the body. Even though it is an apparent opposite to Messerschmidt's sculptures, Spinoza might in fact be very similar to them as it deals with the physiognomy of apparent indifference.
- Phenomenology. We could paraphrase Paul Valéry ("la peintre apporte son corps"); Spinoza requests our body through that most unnoticed function of breathing unless it suffers from any Sculpture Disease. The phenomenology of Spinoza restores the wonder of breathing. Suddenly thought and consciousness find their material origin, as the mental finds its physical basis. "Therefore my body is a conscious structure of my consciousness" (Sarter).
- Senses. Spinoza comes close to organs related to taste or odor, depending on how one breathes, whether through the mounth or the nostrils. How is Spinoza perceived? Its material, oxygen, is an invisible, odorless, tasteless, slightly magnetic gaseous element. Spinoza allows no phenomenology of the senses.
- Anti-voyeurism. Spinoza is not for watching. It requests a level of lived experience through participation. However, if one should step on a platform, it recovers the ironic possibility of voyeurism. The breathing of the performer is as vital as the breathing of the viewer. Looking turns into the experience of a tautology.
- Interior Vision. Wurm's Spinoza could be related to Clark's work. She says: "When filling up plastic bags with air, one has the impression of molding oneself in this space; this experience leads to a perception that transcends the space taken up by one's own body".
- Proprioception. Spinoza brings the consciousness of breathing. This "proprioception" furnishes an internal vision of the body. Spinoza is a sculpture in the interior of the individual.
- Inhaling. Like Oiticica's Bólide Saco 2 Olfático, Wurm's Spinoza is about inhaling. The two pieces are related to odor and breathing, respectively.
- Value. "The utility of a thing makes it a use value. But this utility is not a thing of air. A thing can be a use value, without having value. This is the case whenever its utility to man is not due to labor. Such as air, virgin soil, natural meadows, etc. A thing can be useful, and the product of human labor, without being a commodity" (Marx, The Capital).
- Fetish. Can the air breathed in Spinoza be reduced to a commodity? Does the performance of Spinoza have the status of a commodity?
- Labor. In the economy of the One Minute Sculptures, is the breathing in Spinoza considered here labor in the economic sense? Does breathing, like labor, aggregate value to Spinoza?
- Self made sculptures. There are other One Minute Sculptures(Show your tongue, Be a dog for one minute) that share the economy of Spinoza, relying on individual effort with no outside material required.
- Anatomy. The One Minute Sculptures operate on the resistance of objects, equilibrium, desiring machines, estrangement (things against the logic of systems of objects), the bewilderment with the simplicity of their anatomical operations. Wurm's irony develops the vocabulary of a gymnastics performance. Individuals should remain at the center of their own life, in a region defined by narcissism and by the present stage of alienation of production and consumption.
- Museum. Collect yourself. You are a museum of "do it yourself" works. Be your own curator. Your choices include Spinoza by Wurm, Tip a bicycle seat so that the front points upwards and use the seat to squeeze lemons by Andreas Slominski, Caminhando by Lygia Clark, Casting a silver ring and losing it in the street by Maria Eichhorn, Inserções em Circuitos Ideológicos by Cildo Meireles, Do It Yourself: Fredom Territory by Antonio Dias, Franz West, Pistoletto, Kabakov, Baldessari, Birnbaum, Durham, Feldmann, Gillick, Gonzales-Torres, Gordon, Graham, Hybert, Kaprow, Kelly, Knowles, Lavier, Messager, Ono, Pippin, Rist, Rhoades, Tiravanija, Trockel, Weiner among others indicated by Wurm. Hans Ulrich Obrist would be the director emeritus of the Museum.
- Desiring Machine. Spinoza deals with a "partial object, a desiring machine, an organ machine, an energy machine, a producing machine, a schizophrenic machine. It deals with nature as a process of consumption, producing, of sensual pleasures, of anxieties, and of pain" (Deleuze and Guattari, L'Anti-Oedipus).
- Secrets. Spinoza can be performed in privacy and in silence. "I love the secret art of" James Lee Byars, George Brecht, Beuys, Duchamp sometimes, On Kawara, Maria Eichhorn, Stephen Prina" (Wurm).
- Infra-mincing. Soft breathing and velvet trousers are similar in sound. "The possible, implying the becoming, the passage from one to the other takes place in the infra-thin" (Duchamp). Would you include Spinoza in the "infra-thin" sphere? No, is Wurm's answer. Spinoza operates in the exchange zone between what is put on view and the gaze of the viewer, producing an exchange with an infra-thin separation.
- Yoga. A Hindu philosophy distinguished by bodily control. The liberation from the limitations of the flesh could be achieved through the practice of disciplines like pranayama (the regulation of the breath). Could a Yogi redefine the practice of Spinoza? "The meaning was & when someone does the piece, she or he has to be concentrated and earnest. It is mental", says Wurm.
- Sculpture and Philosophy: Socrates by Brancusi, Spinoza and Montaigne and Kant by Wurm.
- Mental Sculpture. When is Wurm's Spinoza more similar to Rodin's The Thinker: (a) when the performer takes the same self-concentrated position as The Thinker? Or (b) when the performer thinks?
- Conversion. Within the corpus of the One Minute Sculptures, one can switch from Montaigne and Kant to Spinoza; and the philosopher can then be converted into a dog: Be a dog for one minute.
- Humor. The One Minute Sculptureshave innocent, non-tendentious humor, similar to what Vischer called "abstract" jokes. "I prefer to call them innocent, in the one case the joke is an end in itself and serves no particular aim, in the other case it becomes tendentious" Freud commented (Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious).
- Spinoza in Austria in 2000. Austria, I despise you. Does Spinoza gain specific connotations when exhibited in present-day Austria? Austria, I love you. No, answers the artist. Austria, I am afraid for you.
- End. In the performance, the air inside Spinoza will be forced out with a contraction. Spinoza will expire. Spinoza will be over.
- Selbsterhaltungstrieb (Self-Preservation). One could die from Spinoza. The instinct of self-preservation needs breathing. Spinoza for a moment seems to deny it. Breathing is survival. Like all self-preservation instincts, it is both an ego instinct (Ichtrieb) and an act of anaclisis (Anlehnung) of the sexual instinct (Sexualtrieb). As they are opposed, they serve the sexual instinct to achieve sexual pleasure. The instincts of self-preservation are considered a particular aspect of the love for oneself. This explanation occurs as Freud introduces the notion of narcissism.
- Death. Spinoza warns that if there is a significant lack of oxygen in the brain there will be no vision, no language, no memory, no art.
If I do Spinoza
a second time, many of these questions might look quite different.