This Post Will Autodestruct…

Why are the HowToBasic videos so funny? Those spoof YouTube tutorials on how to perform simple creative tasks that quickly run amok. How To Cool Down Your Computer is astonishing. And How To Paint An Incredibly Realistic Eye is literally a work of art… although not in the way you think it is going to be. There is something intrinsically, impishly funny about an act that purports to be creative suddenly revealing itself to being spell-bindingly, Dadaistically destructive. This can be explained in a number of ways. There is something about the sudden relief as one slips from the bonds of control I’m sure. There is also the recognition of destruction, failure and anger as intrinsically human experiences.

In MOMA’s collection there is a rare moment when we get to see this comedic strain in high art. The object is a series of wheels and charred wooden drums. It isn’t actually the art work itself but a fragment of one, the remains of the real work. It is a remnant of Jean Tinguely’s Homage to New York, a 7m long, and over 8m high infernal machine composed of bicycle wheels, motors, a piano, a go-cart and other cast-off objects which was set in motion on March 18, 1960, produced a cacophony of noise before bursting into flames as apparently planned. Its pretty funny watching it although sadly the moment where the fire brigade extinguished it before it down entirely is sadly missed off.

Tingueley’s work is one of the few that can be said to share an explicit relationship with the Auto Destructive Art Manifesto, written by Gustav Metzger, which is one of the hidden gems on the Reading Design site. However, this is not necessarily a sign of the manifestos irrelevance but in fact its total relevance. Yes, there was the Arte Destructivo exhibition in Buenos Aires and there was Rafael Montañez Ortiz beating the shit out of a piano at the Destruction in Art Symposium in London in 1966 (see below). However, what Metzger also identified was an inherent tendency in industrial and post-industrial societies to hide their destructive tendencies.

Of course destruction had come before and Metzger’s ideas slipped easily into the world of art virtually unacknowledged but for the words of Frank Popper, who admitted that whilst the theory far outstripped the practice, “its place in the evolution of art is now assured”. This as true of design as art. When Alessandro Mendini’s built a chair and set fire to it in his Destruction of the Monumentino da Casa project in 1974, it was about obliterating the past and moving on. Metzger’s manifesto highlights the double destruction of all media, not simply performance art. Every creative act is an attempt to supersede what went before. Every creative act will be superseded.

Tim Abrahams

Raphael Montañez Ortiz and Paul Pierrot, Piano Destruction Concert, performance at the Destruction in Art Symposium, London 1966