2nd Mec-Art Manifesto
Contemporary artistic life is dominated by a capital fact: by then everyone, at one level or another, were aware of modern nature, industrial and urban. This orientation dominates the current evolution. Researches have developed on two parallel ways, due to the fact that the synthesis attempt is situated on the same level of the object by itself or that the ascertainment of this object is on the level of classic bidimensionality.
If the art of “assemblage” corresponds to a staging of modern nature, the art of “established” proposes a make up of the same objective reality. Honestly, there is no moral or philosophical difference between these two propositions traducing the same realistic “established”. These photographic transfers, these belinogram's enlargements, these direct editions or stereotypes decalcomanias, these typographic frames, these impression on a large run editions on the canvas are far away from the old figurative painting, which attempts today to hide its mediocrity with a subject's modernism.
The current crisis of easel painting is linked to “painted” image's one: but the painted image has nothing to share with the objective image obtained on the canvas through a stereotype, a mark, a photographic transfer, which means a process of mechanical impression. This capital difference, which could seem a quibble at a first sight, manifested more itself during the 1965 period. In the history of contemporary iconography, this marks the exact borderline between the authentic experiment and the attempts of an opportunistic camouflage.
What is at stake is very important. In front of this problem, the last stink of the dispute abstract vs. figurative art is doomed to sank into an intelligible oblivion.
Pierre Restany, October 1965
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La Mec-art: una pitura meccanica alla ricerca d'una iconografia moderna, by Pierre Restany (Nov 1967)
(in “Essere” n.4 exercise book of studies and contemporary art documents)
After its invention by Nicéphore Niepce, photography has tied relations even more closer with painting. In a early “figurative period”, the photographic snapshot has deleted a art of anecdote and of portrait. Furthermore images have melt and we had so many interpolations that it had been possible to speak about photographic realism to indicate a certain image exactness: the minute precision of the detail in easer painting. In a second time, we noticed that scientific photography allowes to isolate from reality the “non-figurative images” invented by abstract painters. A german magazine “Das Kunstwerk” has dedicated a special number to this meeting between objective data of photographic observation and “abstract” vision of the painter.
This meeting, however, puts further itself to the superficial phenomenons of naked-eye vision: old walls, fields seen from a flight, effects of matter and light. Negatives, due to electronic microscope revealed us a secret structure of matter containing together informal and tachiste principles: a fragment of volcanic rock passed through by a polarized light to become a Sam Francis, a piece of cerebral cortex 30.000 times enlarged remembering a Pollock dripping, the nervous ganglions fully express Mathieu calligraphy. Fautrier naked portraits represent fibrous structure of a womb. The discovery of this super reality vanished all speculations and all abstract-figurative controversy, and strongly contributed to the renew of abstract values. But the problem of mutual influences in photography and in painting situated itself always on the level of technic image and visual repertory. It is only in daily discovery of “other visions” that the photographer assume a leader function.
New York: Painting return on photography.
This photographer supremacy begun in 1961 when the photography vs. painting relation is going to be reversed with the introduction, into the painting sphere, of an industrial print processes and a mechanical reproduction with creative purposes. The process of photographic transfer on silk-screen was already in use by industrial and graphic designers. It consists of a photographic image transfer (it doesn't matter which image) on a silk frame and of printing this cliché, after inking it, on paper or silk sheet. A former New York designer, Andy Warhol, decided to use the silk-screen print process in his painting, excluding all subjective and manual interpolations, in order to obtain an image-object open to different combinations: enlargement, repetition, multiplication, seriality, etc.
Andy Warhol's Campell soup cans showed in 1962 in Los Angeles (Ferus Gallery) and later on in New York (Stable) made him shortly renowned. After this started the Marilyn Monroe series and the one on social theme of death, car crashes reportages, riots and electric chairs.
At the same time, in 1962, Rauschenberg, who had adopted ten years earlier Ernst's technique of photographic frottage for his drawings, has started again the print process and has used it in a series of canvases then inserted in Combine-painting logic.
The photographic transfer corresponds to a transposition on bidimensional level of the ready-made concept. There is no philosophical difference between Arman's accumulation and Andy Warhol's transfer: in the first case there are found objects, in the second case found images-objects. Neither Warhol nor Rauschenberg worried about working on the organic structure of the image-object. They considered this transfer as an homogeneous whole, a rough quantity of objective information, an element of an integrated-level collage.
Mec-art in Europe.
On the other side, all researches that has developed three or four years later in Europe tend to the reconstruction of the classical bidimensional image through different mechanical process: a (stereotyped) direct transfer on emulsified canvas, an analysis or net transfer, a large edition print on tissue or plastic.
Photography has been used as a mechanical process which allows to condition the image-object structures: the artist controls every stage of image mechanical elaboration, he take possession of photography and he has purely and simply replaced it with its brushes and palette. Since 1947 Raymond Hains perfectly understood this peculiar problem of objective structure of the image, remaining on the level of pure photography.
It's ought to say that mechanical painting or mec-art relating on a group of works by Béguier, Bertini, Pol Bury, Jacquet, Nikos and Rotella, that I have gathered in October 1965 in Paris under the significant title “Omage à Nicéphore Niepce”. All these works were using photographic processes with the same intent: the mechanical elaboration of a new image of synthesis. Their authors had a long artistic career and made themselves renowned for other advant-guarde positions. They have got there through very different addresses.
In September 1963, Mimmo Rotella has shown me his first “transfers”, they inserted it into the logic prospective of his tear posters. From Nouveau Réalisme, Rotella moved forward the research of a super ready made image selecting the posters whose tears stood out precise formal elements: movie's stars, objects or advertising slogans. The pursuit of this expressiveness of image-object leaded him to wondering about the utility of objective décollage: why tear a poster and remove it from the wall? The choice concept is self-sufficient, a photograph of the poster plays the same objective rule of the poster itself. In choosing the clichés of his décollages Rotella does a deep realistic investigation: the ascertainment of his vision and if we want an approach to image/object's verification. This was the starting point of his second stage of his career, subdivided in different series of operation directed on emulsified canvas (newspaper photographs, Vaticano II series) which lead him to the current “macules”.
Bertini, who has integrated typographic elements and newspapers' collages on his “machiniste” paint since 1960, opens in 1961 the “bertinisations” of flags and official documents. From 1963 he realized complex collages-peintures, gestural paintings closer to photographic collage with a more important rule. In 1964 he decided to give a new unity to these combined assemblages, by photographing them and transferring the cliché on canvas. In this case photography become a condensation way and an image unification: the cliché suppress all contrast effects, all matter differences between the collage and painted parts.
Researches of a new image.
This enumeration, with nothing of definite, underlined during these years the development of a stream of homogeneous researches inclined to a restoration of the flat image: if we want to talk about “Nuova Figurazione” (New Figuration), it's at this level that is ought to put it. As differently from their american colleagues, the mec-artists do not try to obtain a flat ready-made, but they really try to act on an organic structure of imagination and on fundamental data of vision. In the developing of the mechanical process, these researches on a new image set several unsolved problems, that now need to be solved: the use of a process of reproduction with creative purposes, the elimination of all pictorial elements, and above all, the issue of a quantitative production. These artworks can be easily obtained in a large quantity, both reproducing original clichés, and printing in large editions of a negative. Do Mec-artists want to respect the arbitrary fiction of the unique oeuvre or do they want to orientate themselves to a series production? Logic would like that the mechanical painting, which put its language on mass communication techniques, develops naturally in this direction. This evolution inserts itself in a whole phenomenon, in a collective aesthetics which translates the growing art introduction into social reality. Unluckily the artists themselves do not only bumped against public's reserve, but they also bumped against their psychological scruples and against their old prejudices. At the moment, only Alain Jacquet has faced the issue. Bury, Rotella and Neiman have occasionally carried on with multiples editions. Bertini, who has tuned an impression process on plastic material, is settled to do a production at a true industrial level. The issue is still open. It interests one of the more vivid segment of actual art. It's from the success of this experience, from the solution of these problems that depends the taking root of the modern and realistic conscience of an original iconography able to link itself to tradition without renouncing to the visual revolution that it represents. The bet is at so high standard that merits to be strongly considered.