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Desublimating the Gestalt: Towards an Archaeology of Robert Morris’s Anti Form

Chesher, Andrew (2017) Desublimating the Gestalt: Towards an Archaeology of Robert Morris’s Anti Form. In: Sublimation: Mind, Matter, Concept in Art after Modernism, 14-15.12.17, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz.

Type of Research: Conference, Symposium or Workshop Item
Creators: Chesher, Andrew

In his essay series ‘Notes on Sculpture’ (published in Artforum between February 1966 and June 1967) Robert Morris laid out what became an influential phenomenological conception of sculpture. At its centre was the notion of the gestalt. Morris took this concept from Maurice Merleau-Ponty, whose Phenomenology of Perception presented the thesis that the fundamental way in which the world allows itself to be encountered is as a gestalt, a situation-specific relation that exceeds the sum of its parts. The influence of Morris’s account can be judged by the fact that writers as opposed in their sensibilities as Michael Fried and Robert Smithson subjected it to criticism. In the latter half of the 1960s Smithson, for his part, often revelled in images and experiences that polemically exploded what he viewed as the facile anthropocentrism of gestalt perception. Within a couple of years Morris seemed to depart from the focus of his earlier essays and the simple geometry of works such as his classic L-beams (1965-67) and move closer to Smithson’s position. In the closing years of the decade he gravitated to the more entropic concerns of process and materiality, as espoused in his essay ‘Anti Form’ (April 1968) and exemplified by works made of piles of thread waste and earth. His approach, throughout its changes of emphasis, however, remained phenomenological in orientation into the 1970s. The concept of the gestalt, nonetheless, has been condemned as conservative and even reactionary by some subsequent theorists (Krauss and Bois’s Formless, A User’s Guide, 1997, being a case in point). One question this raises is the degree to which anti form, with its process- and event-orientation and its affective resonances, should be viewed as a development or contradiction of the gestalt-orientated conception of sculpture. The combination of a phenomenology based in a Merleau-Pontian gestaltist ontology and the espousal of desublimated, entropic materialism indeed throws up contradictions. Whereas Merleau-Ponty’s gestalt ontology entails the subject as a moment within its conception of the phenomenal world, entropy, like its counterpart information, imply a flat ontology with no need of a subject. Rather than attempting to resolve these contradictions theoretically, however, this paper will approach them archaeologically and consider Morris’s various theoretical statements as expressions of possibilities generated within the same ‘enunciative formation’ (to borrow Foucault’s term). That is to say, the emphasis will be on the place that Morris’s gestaltist and anti-form conceptions of sculpture have within the larger discursive field of art practices in the late 1960s, and in particular how they relate to other post-modernist ‘dematerialising’ tendencies (Cagean indeterminacy, the models of information and idea in Conceptualism, and, in particular, Smithsonian entropy). In this perspective, the phenomenon in its open-endedness might be seen as the prelude to, or indeed the parallel of the indeterminacy of chance and entropic processes. Subtending Morris’s earlier emphasis on the dissolution of the object into its situation and his later focus on its dissolution into process and matter, I will speculate, is a deeper correspondence between the sublimation of ideal objects from material experience and the desublimation of ideal and institutional forms into base material and experience.

Official Website: https://sublimation.uni-mainz.de
Your affiliations with UAL: Colleges > Chelsea College of Arts
Date: 12 December 2017
Event Location: Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Date Deposited: 09 Jul 2018 13:30
Last Modified: 09 Jul 2018 13:30
Item ID: 13098
URI: http://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/id/eprint/13098

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