Iconoclastic Geometry and the Geometry of Accident (1981)

Geometers have always known it, and I myself suspected it, but it took me twenty-five years of para-geometric practice to accept it: it is not possible to “represent” geometry.

Yes, immateriality and infinitude are the primary qualities of these lines and planes of which I specialized in “portraying them.”

Of course, I knew (annoyingly) that for most art lovers the primary charm of these so-called geometric paintings was the accidental—that is, that which is not geometry:

the irregularity, the texture, the color of the lines and planes (the sensitivity of Malevich’s black, of Mangold’s colors, of Serra’s Corten steel, of the thickness of Mondrian’s lines or the wobbliness of S. LeWitt’s).

I believed that these art lovers were wrong. I even accepted, not without a certain satisfaction, their disgust at those works of mine from which I had removed, as much as was possible, these imperfections. As much as was possible, of course, but certainly less than was necessary (for a pure geometry).

Now my reaction to these “accidents” is considerably more complex. Yes, I continue to refuse the accidents of tools (shaking pencils, dribbling brushes, leaking containers, etc.) or the accidents of surface (folds in the canvas, veins in the wood, rust on metal…), that whole science of artisanal flaws used on non-homogenous materials, that “taste for the poorly done,” cherished by reclaimed ecologists, which inspired industrialists to dream up special machines to create visible knots in linen canvases, cracks and stains on ceramics, irregular edges on lumps of brown sugar, etc. I did not capitulate to the ever more pressing demands of these lovers of refined accidents, but I abandoned the dream of faithfully representing pure, irrepresentable geometry. So, with the basely vengeful spirit of a jilted lover, I allowed myself to embrace my taste for another kind of accident, the kind that comes from the absurd meeting of two logical systems. I have always had a weakness for these exemplary and historical encounters, like the manufacture of urinals with the promotion of art, or the representation of an object with a title that has nothing to do with it, or the superimposition of two works of different natures, etc.

Yes, I am quite fond of these accidents in the circulation of information! The collisions of logics not designed to coexist, the unnatural couplings of inverted logics, and in general anything that allows the intelligence to remain free, noble, and absurd.

In this spirit I have amused myself, over the last five years, by provoking some of these accidents. I have, for example, taken two traditional systems:

— the system of presentation, i.e. the nuts and bolts of the medium (wall, nail, string, frame, canvas, etc.), which is, in principle, neutral.

— the system of representation, i.e., artistic intervention brought to bear on the medium (drawing, painting, collage, etc.), which is, in principle, the work of art.

In the first accident, I put the two systems on equal footing, giving them the same function: for example, representing a square. These two squares are to be superimposed, one on top of the other, with one rotated by a few degrees around one of their angles. A classical problem of classical geometry. But the medium-square is thick, and the artwork-square is limp.

In another accident, I inverted the two systems. The medium, thanks to its placement at an unusual incline, becomes the artwork, whereas the painting is there only to indicate what little the neutrality of the medium normally communicates: the horizontality-verticality…

Translated by Daniel Levin Becker. © Dia Art Foundation. English translation originally published in Béatrice Gross with Stephen Hoban, eds., François Morellet (New York: Dia Art Foundation, 2019), p. 205-206. Originally published as « Géométrie iconoclaste et géométrie accidentée » Bulletin, no. 12 (1981), n.p