A cube, seen as a room or cage or frame surrounding or containing something is a common device in art.
Perhaps originally it stems from a desire for control over chaos. A frame is an ultimate series of straight lines. Nature ‘framed’ is generally more appealing than wilderness. The parts within that frame are able to be contained and seen without distraction.
A frame can also be a window, a doorway or a portal to another place. Typically to somewhere divine and otherworldly as in Giotto’s early renaissance painting Annunciation to St. Anne. In this case the artist has opened up one side of a building to enable (like a stage set), us to witness the miracle of an angel speaking with Christ’s grandmother. The fact that the act is contained in a managed virtual-reality emboldens the viewer with a temporary leap of faith. The message being that this imagined idea is a safe, isolated way to deal with the supernatural. The device is no different to that of watching television today
All of us spend a great deal of time within a box of some sort, and ultimately within the box of our own minds. Surrealist artists such as as Ernst explored this box of the subconscious through visual metaphor, which includes, (as with Giotto’s painting), linear perspective and windows to other realities.
Surrealists were mostly about encapsulating the Victorian fascination with the subconscious. Doll-house’s were for children, but also represent that period’s obsession with private, inner worlds. They loved rooms and houses, straight and upright control, madness and chemical wallpapers and invented psychoses. At the time words such as histrionic were synonymous with nature, femininity and chaos, sanity was for rational, maleness.
Artists such as Ernst enabled an expression of our new understanding of visionary phenomena as being a personal rather than religious right.
At the same time artists such as Joseph Cornell focused on a pagan nature as being the weirdness which represents our our minds fears and lusts etc.
The frame device he utilises enables a civilized window into that strangeness. Horror is scary, but exciting.
Later Modernists such as Francis Bacon borrowed the frame device from surrealism. His paintings, says Matthew Collings in This is Modern Art puts, are mostly ‘something nasty inside something geometric’.
In a way his gold framed visions and nightmares are a twisted take on the religious painting of the renaissance – Lovely colours, geometry & people being weird.
It is hard not to see the idea of a frame or room as visual metaphor for the subconscious. True subconscious imagined realities rely on base facts such as fear, sex, madness and other acts of the the bedroom.
Duchamps last act was to leave a work of art that juxtaposes these facts with his own legacy as a man both equally afraid and obsessed with creation and death. These days, he says we may still be born from wilderness, but now we enter into a box, we live in a box, we leave in a box.
This blog-post forms a part of an Arts council funded ‘Research and Development’ project.
The artists involved are Daniel May, working in collaboration with the artist Ben Lloyd
This project is sponsored by The Arts Council of Wales