Master thesis: Motion Matters?! The kinetic art of Gerhard von Graevenitz (2001)

Posted on Fri, 09/05/2008 - 10:06
Master's thesis by Ulrich Lang
Lang investigates works of kinetic art which comprise of mechanical moving elements as part of their physical form.
FHTW (University of Applied Science) Berlin
One approach of the arts has always been the examination of life, motion and its many manners of transformation. In the painted picture, very typical is a still life, transitoriness may become an issue explored within the subject but the very material itself, in most cases, were seen to last forever. In comparison the Eat Art of the 1960's used food whose purpose was to decompose, degenerate and rot. Both may be concerned with transitory qualities of life as a main theme but their different approaches generate more complicated questions around preservation and restoration. Few would deny the restoration of a painting, but what of a piece of art whose purpose is to degenerate and decay? The divides which are apparent in these two approaches within conservation are blurred with art which employs stable physical forms in conjunction with moving elements.
For the purpose of this document and discussion I will focus on the questions concerning works of kinetic art which comprise of mechanical moving elements as part of its physical form. No matter if the origin of the impetus comes from the artwork itself (engine, electricity, magnets, etc.), any environmental influence (sun, wind, water, etc.) or by activation through the visitor (pushing, pressing, stepping on, ...) etc. Do artists who employ real motion through moving parts as an artistic expression realise that there is an inbuilt obsolescence that comes with it?
Fundamentally such works of art offer the viewer an experience encapsulated in 'real time'. Integral then is the physical qualities within the duration of its motion and the associated time needed to experience such work. Looking at a sculpture or installation, I determine the time I need to grasp the whole. Whilst most aspects of the plastic arts have an unconditional time demand on its viewer, kinetic art demands a predetermined period to realize the full emphasis of the work.
The conservator when approaching such art has now not only to consider the physical qualities of the piece but also the dimension of time and the physical mechanics which contain and produce its time frame. The viewer has to take the time 'it needs', like that of Sound-, Video-, Computer-Art or the Performing Arts. The conservator confronted with the task of preservation and restoration of such kinetic artworks wishing to remain sympathetic to the intention of the work, is challenged by certain questions:
Can a kinetic artwork 'work', if it does not work? Therefore is it legitimate or even a necessity to keep a kinetic artwork going at all costs, or are there limits set by the properties of the materials used? May I or must I exchange parts of wear and tear? If I do so where does » retouching« end and »replacement« start? How far does the preservation of the mechanical working of the artwork take precedent over the pictorial form? Is there a difference between the pure impetus (invisible mechanical parts) and the works portrayal (visible parts)? What parts are fundamental to the works portrayal? How can wear and tear be kept as little as possible (active and passive conservation)? What consequences does that mean for care, maintenance, exhibition, storing, loans and transport?
Beside the relevant material problems in conservation I am trying to address questions like 'conserving and documenting the kinetic idea', the 'conservation of wear and tear' and a 'conception for storing and exhibiting' such works of art.
These questions are encapsulated in the artworks of Gerhard v. Graevenitz. His work which employs motion set within a strict and conceptual form, is the focus for this paper. The theoretically acquired conclusions will be scrutinised at a piece of the estate (Kinetisches Objekt, 1975, 4 exzentrische Streifen, je 2 synchron; 122 x 122 x 10,5 cm; Nr. 240/677) as an example.