One day, I saw a man on the street using his hands like a potter, except there were no pots he was making. He was shaping imaginary things. He saw me and with a smile said, “Art is fart.” I was convinced there was something wrong with his head and left him behind to do his ‘work’. But his rhyming aphorism kept ringing in my head.
A few days ago, I read about a French court upholding the imprisonment of a Pierre Pinoncelli. Monsieur Pinoncelli was convicted of vandalising a urinal called Fountain. In India, we would have shrugged our shoulders and carried on with our lives. But the French seem to value everything, especially a urinal presented as art by the Dada artist Marcel Duchamp.
Now, we have different ideas about the word ‘Dada’ — from Sourav Ganguly to back alley no-hopers. Yet, Dada also refers to the early 20th century art movement denounced by critics as anti-art and an apology for philistines.
Whatever might be the case, ‘Dada’ has entered the lexicon of art and any discussion on aesthetics cannot ignore its impact. It’s another matter that Duchamp, one of its pioneers, gave up art to “play chess”. In fact, Duchamp’s wife was so exasperated by his love for chess that one night she glued all the chess pieces to the board. Maybe this incident had a profound impact on Duchamp and he gave up ‘created art’ for ‘ready-made art’. Like his Fountain (photo above), a urinal he bought at a store and is today valued at $ 3.64 million.
Pinoncelli said that he had increased Fountain’s value by making it “an original” and that his actions had the late Duchamp’s blessings. The role of the spectator, according to Duchamp, “adds his contribution to the creative act.” So Pinoncelli may be right, along with kindred spirits like Yuan Chai and Jian Jun Xi who had earlier tried to urinate in the Fountain. I think there’s an artist in me waiting to break out.