Fail again, fail better [Samuel Beckett: Worstward Ho!]
You cannot lose if you throw the race [Adam Ant: Ants Invasion]
You’ve heard of objets trouvés, you’ve heard of art brut, and if you haven’t, you should have so, in the immortal words of Judy Holliday, look it up!
But you may not have heard of art raté, cos the term was only invented last week.
(that is your actual French: pronounce it ar ratay)
Yes, art raté, failed art. The sometimes fascinating and even better-than-intended pieces that can result when everything goes horribly wrong. Not just the art world’s equivalent of bloopers and out-takes, but, this being the art world, objects imbued with deep meaning and significance and redolent with fulsome opportunities for overblown bullshit.
This idea came about during a discussion of recent disastrous attempts to produce some 3d prints, based on Max Ernst’s chess set (see Chesses and Foods, May 13 2020).
A cheap, kit-form 3d printer, purchased two years ago, had initially produced no more than wee blobs of plastic. When eventually something resembling a pawn had been created, it was a lacy affair, not the solid, smooth entity it was meant to be. Giving up in frustration and muttering you get what you pay for, seemed to be the order of the day, not to mention the next 22 months. The machine sat on its table in the corner of the room, by the telly, a gloating memorial to excessive ambition meeting inadequate dedication and ability.
Well, a pandemic came to the rescue, bringing with it a natural need to find something to do other than writing the promised novel. Various articles were read, videos watched, the thousand and one possible settings considered and tweaked, and finally a few things vaguely and even more solidly resembling their intended aims were produced.
The conclusion reached was that a 3d printer, particularly a budget, knock-off, build-it-yourself 3d printer, is a good tool for art raté, mainly because, not to put too fine a point on it, it’s an utter bastard! Domestic 3d printing is still one of those things only geeks can master. They are in their element, tweaking a thousand and one settings in their slicing software, printer’s firmware and week-old underwear. For the casual user, even one with a forty-five-year-old third class computer science degree, they are a minefield, a generator of naught but frustration and foul language.
As soon as the user’s back is turned, the machine does something chaotic, due to overheated nozzle, insufficient extrusion or warping on an incorrectly heated bed (I know, it’s Finbarr Saunders on speed). Trying to print three pieces at once, for instance, resulted in two hollow bases and what looked like an ice cream cone from Bizarro World, when the nozzle became overfriendly with one that was coming loose from the bed. And the silver pieces that look about right, still look more like rough-hewn, brutalist, concrete creations, writ small.
But then a friend said she rather preferred the failures to the more-but-mainly-less accurate pieces. The differing levels of crapness also added to the feeling of futile striving. And thus, the idea of failed art was born.
As he might have mentioned already, your esteemed blogger has spent most of his too-long life bringing new depth of meaning to the term, ‘abject failure’. Apart from being reasonably competent in the kitchen, he has not really achieved anything of note, not having learned to drive, swim, skate, ski, play a musical instrument (who said ‘or write’?!). The only positive contribution made to the well-being of humanity is his failure to reproduce.
So you’d think he’d be a natural to pioneer art raté — but of course you can’t fail on purpose. Once one sets out to produce failed art, one is trapped in a paradoxical loop: successfully producing failed art is hardly a failure. What you have is just boring old art. Even subsequent accidents will be tainted by the fact that the idea of failure as art was lurking behind the original attempt at whatever one was trying to make.
So it seems that the only true art raté Yours Truly can ever produce, is that which was made before the concept entered his head. And therefore, here, for the first, last and only time (perhaps), is a magnificent piece of fucked-up art, symbolic of life itself, The Battlefield (grey hosts v motley crew) [J D Lowe, 2002]
My ideas of art guérilla (art done in public places with no way of knowing it’s meant as art) and art fortuit (accidental art) never really caught on, so no doubt art raté will sink without trace.
Which is itself a piece of performance art raté, I guess. A successful failure?