Imagine listening to the first phone conversation Maayan Strauss might have had with the Kohler Company to ask for the donation of sinks for her installation at the Andrea Meislin Gallery. I’m guessing it went something like this: “Why do I need sinks? OK, well, there was this guy named Duchamp…he took a urinal…yes a urinal….uh huh, yeah, a urinal from a men’s restroom and he turned it upside down and called it a fountain! Ha ha!…Yes, many people do consider this art…Uh, well, because one characteristic of an art object is its uselessness, so he made a bunch of useful things useless. Ha. He was kind of a funny guy. So, with your sinks I’m thinking…uh…hello? Are you there…hello?” So kudos to Kohler for being open-minded enough to take the chance of providing the sinks for an art installation – who knows what an artist these days might do with a bunch of sinks.
Actually, did you hear that there’s some debate now as to whether “Fountain” is really Duchamp’s work? Some researchers say it was the creation of Else Poltz aka Baroness Else von Freytag-Loringhoven. Who knows. Even if he took credit for a piece that wasn’t his, I think he still developed the theory of the ‘ready-made’ – when an artist renders a useful object useless in order to deliberately awaken and engage the interpretive capacity we all have, shining a more piercing light on how we view the world concretely and how we can also use objects as symbols to better look inside of ourselves. Through his ready-mades Duchamp basically showed that virtually anything can be interpreted on a deeper level or become a symbol for something or some process in our inner reality. Basically he seemed to say that throughout any given day we are constantly fluctuating between two basic cognitive processes – one focused outward and one focused inward, but our inward looking thoughts or concepts are based on symbols derived from ‘outward’ physical objects and their relationships to each other.
So Strauss has created a giant block of 7 unusable and very stylish sinks, with working faucets. In fact, the faucets go on and off periodically – the whole process is beyond anyone’s immediate control. Water, of course, is hugely symbolic. In allegorical, religious literature water is huge and seems to represent a stage in our humane development. In the symbolic story of the wedding at Cana, Jesus, for instance, has 6 stone containers filled with water, which then turn to wine. The effect of drinking wine, in the ancient world, symbolized moving to a higher level of being – when you drink wine you become more tolerant, social, forgiving and joyous – you become a ‘new man’ or you are ‘born again’ – the message Jesus kept promoting before Paul hijacked the religion. So in some religious literature water seemed to represent the second stage before the ultimate stage in humane development – water cleanses, helps create life and sustains life and prepares one for the big jump to ultimate meaning in life.
So to me Strauss’ installation calls our attention to the need we have for what water might symbolize, and the awareness that in regard to our inner reality there is a process represented by water or the flowing of water which we cannot readily control. The piece, to me, is about the anxiety of not being in control of something essential and the need for faith that a process that we might find to be indispensable is accessible, under the right circumstances, once one, perhaps, is ready for it. I guess my interpretation is very Augustinian.
Actually there are a zillion interpretations you can take away from this installation, the one above is just what this installation meant to me. The installation also incorporates photography, video and sound, so please drop by before the show ends this weekend and take in the whole experience. There’s actually a lot going on, on 24th street, these days, so pop into Meislin and check out what’s around it too if you get a chance.