Gustav Metzger uses the process of auto -destructive art to confront the machine based parameters of progress. That is to say as we become more adept technologically the more we define ourselves in mechanistic terms. This is analogous to the detournement of the Situationists who turned the language of the Spectacle back on itself. Metzger uses a machine aesthetic and methodology to manifest the problem of our mechanistic self-image. He also wishes to circumvent the ego driven idea of the artist producing stuff, which is perhaps a replication of themselves. The idea that ego is at the centre of Art production can be ascribed to a fusing of the rise of the Romantic idea of the artist together with the rise of celebrity , which grew out of the mechanical reproduction.
In my own practice I believe I am attempting to make work, which only I could have made yet at the same time with no component of Ego. My recent paintings for instance were produced with no reasoned decisions. This was a slow process and not the gestural spontaneity associated with action painting. I was aware that as a being I was making decisions but these were never rationalised or post-rationalised. It remains my hope that the paintings communicate an otherness due to this process. Here I see a weakness in that my desire to work outside of Ego could be construed as hubristically futile. I am Canute trying to command back the sea of Ego. My preferred analogy is that the Art- ist has become Canute trying to command back the language of the subconscious through post-rationalised Egotism.
Metzger’s work has parallels with Maholy Nagy in that both artists harness the power of technology. In Nagy’s case this was driven by a sincere belief that technology was a life enhancing force. His approach to technological mediums reminds me of an artist confronted with a ball of clay glazes and a kiln. He produced work that revealed the physical and metaphysical qualities of the medium. Take his telephone pictures for instance, which resulted in modernist enamel abstracts. In themselves these are not particularly remarkable but what is exciting is the idea that he was able to produce these remotely by way of a telephone, a numbered grid and a colour chart. Like a combatant in battle ships Nagy communicated the specifics to the technician over the telephone. I half-jokingly like to credit this as being the invention of the internet. Likewise, in the film "Light PLay - Black White Gray” Nagy managed to distil film to its essence and thereby harness its purity as a medium for time-space travel. At least this is the experience I had when viewing it for the first time in a blacked out booth in the Tate Modern. The object or machine within the film itself is still on view in a museum in Berlin where it resides in a state of perpetual death while the film is continually re-projected into being.
However, in the case of Metzger his choice of technology is as a warning of its devastating effects on the human condition. He equates the force of Nazi-ism with a machine with echoes of Orwell’s image of a boot stamping on a human face forever. He has relinquished any attachment to personal creativity for a greater cause. He has chosen the political and remains unequivocal in his view of how to deliver this. I am not yet ready to relinquish the joy of being a conduit for some other creative energy. I can see, though, how Rothko became increasingly disillusioned at the misinterpretation of open engagement with non-rational creativity and slowly moved towards an Art that gave less and less until the viewer was presented with a choice to engage or not. If the choice was “not” they were left bashing their head on a brick wall. Today the resonances of the look of his medium itself as symbol of a more selfish form of individuality make it hard to see the radical nature of the work. The question I ask myself is should I give up telling myself that ego-free painting can be a form of conceptual communication? After all it is not fame or renown I seek through the work so if it fails to get the point across why continue? Because, as Camus pointed out, meaning is found in imagining Sisyphus happy and in authentic engagement with the self. I have never been trusting of the form of detachment, which professes to be an attempt to by-pass ego because only a natural Egotist would need such strategies.
An after thought:
So whilst indigenous art may communicate an idea of primordial creativity it cannot be deemed living unless the artist embeds it within a state of now-ness. I mention this in relation to our protests at the consumerist or mechanistic nature of much contemporary art, which feels devoid of creativity but, which is essentially embedded in the now-ness of our culture and takes it's power from relating to our current cultural identity.