We had a lecture on Friday about Marcel Duchamp. One of the images which we were shown was The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelor’s Even. It is an extraordinary piece! In the top section is the Bride, her veil, which trails behind her, has 3 white, almost rectangular sections which were apparently formed by hanging sheets of paper in the breeze and copying the shadows that they formed. Just below the veil, on the right are 9 holes which were created using a toy cannon. I remember having great fun with such a cannon in my childhood. They fired matchsticks and could fell a tin soldier at twenty paces! Here they represent the sexual emissions of the nine Bachelors in the lower half of the work.
The Bachelors, nine Malic Moulds, represent nine rather emasculated men in the uniforms of, among others, a priest, a policemen, a cavalry officer and an undertaker. Apparently the trajectory of their ejaculations was decided by copying the random patterns formed by dropping lengths of string onto a surface.
In the warmth of a darkened lecture room my mind wandered to the big question – Why? I think I might have drifted off because, having done some research into the meanings of this piece this morning, I have discovered all kinds of interpretation of this work, including the following: http://cosmosfromchaosblog.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/defying-gender-binary-comparative.html. I suspect that, had I paid closer attention, I would have a clearer understanding of the answer. Yet it seems to me that, even if I can be convinced that this is more than barely disguised pornography and that the significance of the Freudian theories which form the backbone of much Surrealist ideology are valid (big subject, might have to come back to this!), I have one over-riding concern which I have to voice: Whilst the world is fascinated by work of this kind, however worthy, what have we missed? Are there artists who were working in another, less shocking, genre at the same time but who for some reason lacked the oxygen of publicity. If you follow this train of thought, are there still artists of incredible calibre, working today, who go un-noticed because the press cannot say sufficiently disturbing things about them and so we never get to hear about them. Whilst I have absolutely no intention of demeaning the work of artists such as Tracey Emin, I do see a difficulty. If we are so fixated in trying to understand art that shocks do we risk failing to discover other, equally valid, technically skilful but less shocking work. And, whilst I struggle to get my head around the thinly veiled pornography of Duchamp, however important its message, what have I missed?