Last week’s sequence of ‘the Unseen Masterpiece’ ended with Jonathan Owen’s reductive processes of carving in two and three dimensions, which brings us to another artist for whom the processes of erasure and alteration have creative potential. Marcel Broodthaers was a poet who turned to the visual arts aged 40 and whose short but influential career lasted just 12 years until his death in 1976. The playfulness which marks much of his work is nowhere more evident than in the short film ‘La Pluie (Projet pour un texte)’ from 1969 in which the artist attempts to write in the pouring rain (actually a watering can concealed just outside the frame) the ink of his words washed away before they can fix to the paper. It’s funny, but also a melancholic reflection on the poet’s struggle.
There’s a link here to another of his works from the same year – ‘Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard’ (A throw of the dice will never abolish chance, 1969) in which the carefully arranged words of Mallarmé’s poem of the same title are blocked out by solid bars, turning the verbal into the purely visual, and (inevitably) recalling Mallarmé’s remark that the perfect poem would be a blank page.
Broodthaers’ use of the found object, in this case a poem on the page, brings to mind something of the ‘eraser drawings’ that Jonathan Owen makes on the pages of old books of photographs. And as with Owen, the borrowing of a found object sometimes involved the appropriation of another artwork. One in particular, a thrift shop painting of Marshal Pétain with a cigar stuck through the mouth (Le Général mort fume un cigare éteint - the dead general smokes an extinguished cigar) suggests itself as a spiritual forerunner to Owen’s re-carving of ‘found’ marble busts of once powerful men
We showed ‘La Pluie (Projet pour un texte)’ alongside work by Cornelia Parker in our year long series of artist pairings ‘8 Days’ in 2008. We are grateful to the estate of Marcel Broodthaers for permission to reproduce a still from the film here.