Recently I painted some things red.
It began because I wanted there to be more colour around, and so I said I want to paint things. I’d meant I wanted to paint pictures of things, so I could put them on the walls and brighten the room up a bit, but then I noticed the very good ambiguity of the words. You can paint an apple and end up with a picture of an apple, or you can paint an apple and end up with an apple covered in paint.
Either way what you end up with is out of real-world circulation. An apple in a picture is separate from the world because it’s a representation of an apple; an apple painted red is separated from the world because it doesn’t work as a real-world apple any more.
I bought some thick red gloss paint and I covered some things in paint. So far I’ve covered an apple, a stapler, a spoon, a plant pot, a jar of herbs, a cup, a saucer and a bottle of shampoo. I painted them into representations of themselves, and then when they were dry I put them back where they belonged before. Now, some of the things around the house are red and they don’t work. You can’t eat the apple, the stapler doesn’t staple, the lids of things no longer open, and so on.
Having these red things around the house is useful for me. The thing on the shelf in front of me was my stapler, and now it’s different. It stands for the stapler, as a placeholder for the space the stapler once took up. And because it no longer works as the stapler but rather represents it, it’s more attentive. It’s not a stapler, but the fact of a stapler.
A painting on a canvas could also represent a stapler, but you couldn’t put the canvas on the shelf in the same way as the stapler. You could depict the shelf in the painting, yes, but it would only defer the problem. You’d end up having to depict the whole room around the shelf, and the whole world around the room. If you could do that, you’d be getting somewhere. Everything would relate directly. But you can’t paint the whole world onto a canvas like a 1:1 scale map.
The red things around the house are useful for me because they’re representations, but the world around them is a real world rather than a represented world. They feel like a step in the direction of art that lacks a frame. They’re useful for me because I’m interested in the ‘blurring of art and life’, as Allan Kaprow would put it, and distinctions between ‘art’ and ‘non-art’ modes and contexts of things and actions.
The red things are useful for me (and I keep imagining gloriously painting everything red.. would that be a 1:1 scale map of the world?), but I’m not completely convinced by them.
Keeping them in their places around the house is a good start, but even so they fail to lack a frame entirely: perhaps the paint’s the frame, or their colour, or just the idea that they’re painted. And then there’s the means of differentiation/representation/promotion, which is painting. It seems unsatisfying – unconvincing – to use a traditional art medium when my interest is life-things as opposed to art-things. As it stands, the red-painted things I’ve made might be interesting in the context of art and what art can do, but they aren’t really doing anything interesting to the world.
Perhaps the problem is the fact that the things are differentiated or promoted at all. No differentiation at all would convince me more, but I don’t know how to do this. Perhaps if I were following Kaprow by the letter I’d carry out the whole process without the paint, something like this:
1. take a stapler from the shelf you keep it on
2. consider it as a stapler
3. put it back on the shelf
4. when you see the stapler from now on, consider it as a stapler
5. do the same thing with everything
Or, more simply,
1. consider everything
Or, more generally,
1. contemplate your navel.
I’m not sure I like where this is going.