Does a ship replaced beam by beam remain the same vessel? Does a broom with 17 new heads and 14 new handles remain the same broom? Does a refabricated sculpture remain an original?
In 1993 it must have been a thing of joy: pristine wood skilfully curved into the shape of a dirigible. The laminate finish reflected the surrounding trees and the sky into which it might have floated.
Now it looks more Roswell rumour than classical bark. This tells us a little about the digital age which was only just beginning in ’93. Never Mind was put back together like a jet engine.
Stainlesss steel has been used for a full-scale replacement forged from notes and measurements. The legs are so polished that the Middelheim landmark really does now appear to float.
It still looks like it could travel; the unmanned voyage should be good for another 24 years. Will any of us be here in 24 years? Who cares, asks Never Mind. Just marvel at this precise workmanship.
Legally, at least, it is the same sculpture. Restored and recoated, say Middelheim Museum. A work in progress the catalogue and the app both seem to imply with the dates 1993-2017.
The art lies in the outline, the gradients, and the precise dimensions rather than the materials. If an object is a displacement and not a thing, that’s one response to the paradox above.
Never Mind can be seen at Middelheim Museum, Antwerp. Until 24 September it forms part of the Richard Deacon retrospective Some Time.
I once knew a live music review to open with the following line: “Blur used the minimum of props to the maximum of effect. Damon was lowered from the roof in a giant TV set.”
The author, who was a colleague on the student newspaper I wrote for, accosted me in the bar and read his immortal opening for me. He was proud as punch. I found it funny as hell.
Years later I want to paraphrase him and say: Chris Burden has also used the minimum of props to the maximum of effect…fifty steel beams were dropped from a crane into a pit of liquid concrete.
Because although Beam Drop is an epic, expensive, time-consuming and hazardous production, it is also in essence very simple. It is not far removed from dropping toothpicks into porridge.
Burden has gone to a whole lot of effort to monumentalise a pastime that a child might engage in. So Beam Drop is a grandiose response to the tired old sentiment, ‘My six year old could do that’.
Incidentally, there’s not a six year old on the planet who would not have enjoyed the performance of this piece. Your inner child should also respond to the outbreak of controlled violence.
I want to call Beam Drop harmless. But even eight years on, as the beams turn a plot of sculpture park lawn into a rusting pin cushion, the sight of this piece causes some visual disquiet.
The materials are industrial. The formation is random. The appearance is out of step with its natural surrounds. Created by a crane rather than a brush, on this scale, the piece appears to lack humanity.
But given the alternative use for steel girders (a corporate HQ in downtown Antwerp, say), we might decide that the wreckage here in Middelheim is an expression of rebellion and even redemption.
Beam Drop can be found at Middelheim Museum, Antwertp. Museum website is here.