John Cage experimentation

On Thursday morning I was set the task of producing a piece of ‘exploratory developmental work’ focusing on an element of an already established artists practice in order to contextualise the materials and processes that I have recently been using in my work. As I have recently been working with the intaglio printing process I decided to look further into the work of John Cage, in particular his print works made at Crown Point press from 1978 – 1992. What interests me most about Cage’s work is the way in which he creates and then uses systems that leave the work up to chance occurrences. With each print Cage handed the decision making of scale, materials, composition and colour, to chance by generating numbers from the Chinese book of wisdom; ‘I Ching’.

John Cage - Variations III No. 1 - 1992

John Cage – Variations III No. 1 – 1992

This was the element of Cage’s work that I decided to incorporate into my own practice, but I realized that in the two hours that I had it would be far too ambitious to try and create a system as complex as Cage’s, so I started off by deciding that I would use A2 paper, ice and acrylic paint as my materials. I then generated co ordinates using an online random number generator, I had to repeat this 3 times, one to choose the pieces of ice and then twice more to find the co ordinates on the 420x594mm sheet of paper.

After marking up the co ordinates I chose pieces of smashed ice out of a bag at random and matched them up to their given co ordinates on the page. In the first set of randomly generated numbers I set it online so that only 20 numbers from 1-10 would come out so obviously there were repetitions which I had to ignore which did not feel entirely truthful to the whole process so maybe this is something I think about when refining my own system. It also meant that not all the pieces of ice were used because certain numbers didn’t come up. Once the pieces of ice were positioned I placed a small blob of black acrylic paint on top of each one. This decision of using black was also made by me and I’m not sure it was the best choice, it would have been better if I had been restricted to a certain colour as this could have been more visually interesting.

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I tried to take photos of the ice melting every 5-10 minutes as first as the piece did transform much quicker as I had expected, as the pieces of ice were so small. I think the first photos where the acrylic paint first touches the ice are most interesting here as the way that the black seeps into the crevices of the small structures highlights the intricacy of each one. It may be interesting to see what would happen if the ice was put back into the freezer at this point.

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This piece worked as I had expected it to, but I’m not sure if there is anything particularly exciting about it at this point, the fact that the ice has been placed on the page because of randomly generated numbers doesn’t have as much impact as Cage’s work because of the fact that everything else in the composition was chosen and controlled by me. I think for this to be a successful contextualized piece of work I would have to look more into making a system that allows everything in each experiment to be determined by chance. I do still think that combining ice and paint for mark making is an interesting technique that I want to continue with but because this pieces of ice where sat on a piece of paper the marks are not as interesting as on the canvas where the water spilled out and was able to mark it’s surroundings too.

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