Decalcomania Writ Large

Concept for performance based on a surrealist art technique

created 3 February 2009


The Space – Prepare a large, studio space by taping sheets of plastic to cover the floor completely. Tape together large sheets of plain white paper and attach them to cover about 3/4 of the floor area at one end of the room. Cordon off the papered area, so that the audience can only walk into the non-papered space when they enter.

The Videos – Install three data projectors so that the three walls adjacent to the papered area can be showing continuous loops of videotaped decalcomania done in the Surrealist tradition – paint is put onto glass, and then pressed onto paper to produce random shapes. The hands of an artist are shown elaborating the random shapes into surrealist paintings.

Artist Performance – The audience is allowed into the non-papered area of the studio. The artist pours pools of paint at random locations on the paper. The artist will then get inside a German Wheel (gymnastics wheel) and roll the wheel around the papered area, rolling through the paint in order to smear it across the paper. [Note: using a real German Wheel under these circumstances would not actually be feasible, so consider this as a conceptual version, as a ‘thought experiment’. There may be other possible ways to implement the idea realistically.]

German Wheel

German Wheel

Image source – photo by Sethoscope on Flickr (Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic)

Audience Participation – Issue members of the audience with plastic booties to put on over their shoes, and appropriate types of art supplies. These may include markers, paint tubes, paint brushes, etc. Remove the cordon and invite the audience to enter the papered area. Audience members may draw or paint on the paper to eleaborate the designs.

Completion – Once the audience has finished elaborating the designs, detach large sections of paper from the floor and attach them to the walls. If desired, turn off the video projection at this point.

Documentation – All stages of the process should be photographed and posted to an archive. Audience members may be photographed standing in front of the part of the design they altered, if desired.

Process notes – This idea came from a confluence of two things. A performance artist that I met at the symposium on Performance and Philosophy over the weekend showed me his working notebook, which contained a sketch of the famous Da Vinci drawing, The Vitruvian Man. I have just been playing around with decalcomania, putting paint on glass and pressing it onto paper to make randomised patterns to be elaborated into designs. In that state between waking and sleeping, I suddenly had a visual impression of this art piece with the artist rolling across the paper.

There may be other ways of generating the effect of large-scale decalcomania. Ideas that come to mind include the artist rolling around in a plastic suit, using hula hoops, finding a large cylinder that the artist can stand inside and walk to roll it around, having the audience wear the plastic booties and walk through the paint, etc. However, none that I can think of so far is as graceful as the impossible German wheel idea. So just imagine it, then.


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