February 13, 2010

posted and written by Caroline Picard

2 + 2 = 5                                 2 + 2 + 2 = 8                      2 + 2 + 2 + 2 = 11

When I was reading The Divine Horsemen, Deren mentions that according to the Haitians when adding two and two, the action of addition is itself an additive principle, thus the result of such an equation would be five, not four.

The proposition makes sense. It’s actually quite sensible and imaging that a one can add two things together with changing the principle units reveals something peculiar about the Western European approach to the world. The founding principles of Western logic are based on the assumption that units can be combined without a trace of that action. It supposes that those units are therefore stable, that the addition is an invisible action–an action without a trace.

You can think about it in terms of the contextuality of art. Supposing that the meaning of a work of art is itself stable and unchanging–a unit; exempt from the accumulation of associative, contextual meaning. Take Rodin’s Thinker, for instance. “At approximately 1am on March 24, 1970, the Cleveland Museum’s version of Rodin’s The Thinker was irreparably damaged by a pipe bomb. The bomb itself had been placed on the pedestal that supported the enlargement and had the power of about three sticks of dynamite.” (click here to read the rest of the article). The museum director had a choice after that–send the Thinker back to be refurbished? To restore the legs, returning the piece to its original wholeness? Or let it remain. In letting the work remain the piece garnered new meaning. Suddenly it’s history is tied to an, albeit anonymous, act of violence–one specific to American history and, most likely, the Vietnam war.

Here too, an action took place with a mathematical character. The legs were lost. What was added was an historical tracing–a mark or trauma and transformation. Suddenly this Thinker has gone beyond the context prescribed by Rodin and the disaffected passage of his work through time. Suddenly that thing become contemporary, added to, by an action with a value that gloms on to the original unit.

2 – 2 = 1                                   2 + 2 – 2 = 4                       2 + 2 + 2 -2 = 7


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