Dioramas: A Game of Imaginary Art
Dioramas is a game of literary invention creating a fantasy space for fresh forms of visual art and criticism. Something fictional, whimsical, vigorous, for the next several weeks our game will be shared through Temporary Art Review’s online platform. Every Tuesday and Thursday we will serialize Dioramas as a call and response by starting with the debut cast of players, and then opening the sandbox for everyone to join.
Favoring the mind’s eye, Dioramas is played entirely through text and imagination. Our inaugural cast of players has been collaborating remotely for several months with the following prompt: together with a randomly-assigned partner you will create an unmade, non-physical, and unphotographable work of art.
Players 1 start by invoking the image of an artwork through a constrained set of abstract descriptions. Players 2 then regard that invocation and materialize an alternative, complementary image through the medium of rhetoric. Players 1 gesture towards images and imaginary objects existing beyond any budget and limited only by the laws of physics. Players 2 reify just one possible iteration of these gestures through a literary embellishment shot through the prism of art criticism.
The art collective Our Literal Speed sparked the spirit of Dioramas. In 2012 they concluded a performance at Princeton University wondering that, “if the twentieth century was defined by the Readymade, then perhaps the twenty-first century belongs to the Nevermade.” Conceptualism tends to motivate object-based art practices by favoring an idea over that idea’s inevitable, physical embodiment. By contrast, Dioramas is a sandbox for creating visual artworks that have no need for physicality. Dioramas is for the Nevermade.
Invocation (Tuesdays) > Regards (Thursdays)
First: Player 1 invokes the image of an artwork through a constrained set of abstract descriptions.
Second: Player 2 regards the invocation and materializes the image with their own written words—a form of criticism.
Player 1: Invocation
Imagine a work of art, a painting, sculpture, performance, any thing. You have all the money in the world and you are limited only by the laws of physics. Complete the following four-stage rubric to invoke the image of this unmade work of art.
Scale, Sense, Place: Compare the size and sense of the work between two or more references. Senses include four of the five (excluding discrete vision): touch, taste, feel, hear. Be as rigid or casual as you wish without completely confusing Player 2. Also consider where the thing would exist in a physical form: gallery, forest, clouds, rooftop, etc. For example, if Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa were being imagined, you could describe it as being smaller than a billboard, bigger than a postcard, and hanging on wall in a gallery; regarding the Statue of Liberty, it’s probably lighter than most large buildings, not as tall as you’d think, tastes exactly like metal, installed on an island.
Medium: Generic words like “painting” or “sculpture” or “drawing” are barred unless used within a fuller context. Instead of stating, “This is a performance” or “It’s a screenprint,” attend to the process and define the materials. If you can, avoid using those generic words altogether. For example, you may describe your work along the lines of “a lost-wax bronze cast of a dead tree found in the forest,” or “pencil shavings dusted over a canvas coated with fresh Elmer’s glue,” or “two two-minute videos of five white people standing somewhere on Hennepin Avenue,” or “a series of
photographs featuring nude models in the woods mimicking the body language of wolves,” or “a series of papier-mâché busts constructed with receipts.”
The medium could also be described in the form of a command. For example, “grip a pint glass and squeeze until it breaks. Now slap your hand on a series of fresh pages of non-archival paper until the blood coagulates, making an edition of prints.”
Subject: Be as evocative, nuanced, or restrained as you wish without limiting Player 2’s ability to produce the next step. For the example featuring white folks standing around, the paired subject matter could read, “Four of them wear shirts that read ‘Black Lives Matter’ and the fifth wears a shirt that reads, “Sure” or “You Betcha.” The subject of the pencil shaving artwork could be, “angry tulips,” or “drunken self-portrait.”
Mood: List seven words that do not describe the moods which this artwork could evoke.
Player 2: Regard supplied with Player 1’s invocation, sew everything together to produce one possible iteration —a finished work of imaginary art. Using no more than 500 words, materialize the invoked image(s) using as many rhetorical devices as you wish. Dole out as few or as many of your favorite chewy adverbs and adjectives. Persuade your readers to experience this unmade artwork as you have, as you think the artist intended. What would this thing look like and feel like if it were right here in front of you? Translate the experience. You may use the exact words and phrases as Player 1 used in their invocation.
Play the game yourself as either Player 1 or Player 2, you choose, and send submissions to email@example.com
Invocation: Tuesday, October 4 by John Fleischer
“…and so we were told that palm-sized obsidian spheres were integrated through the most metaphysical methodology at the exhibition ‘Giddiness, Silliness, Bounciness, Ditziness, Hyperactivity, Paranoia, and Stress are Not Evoked,’ and that this would be an art-for-community type of occasion, which we love.”
“Experiencing rolling blackouts in your area? Call…”
[A new voice, a friend, to be sure, says, “Dear readers, kindly proceed without seriousness or discretion.]
“Visitors would somehow get to the Sonoran Desert, camp, live…wait with religious exuberance for the wind to…the sand and reveal glimmering signs of new works born through the controversial soul of John Fleischer…most sought after participation-installation-land archaeo-artists of our time.”
“We were excited, you see, our whole family saved up and went; other colleague-friend-intellectuals also saved up and went; we were counting on this to become an experience that would stimulate topics during our wine and poetry gatherings in the next months, or even year! Some hoping [refills wine] to be so stimulated that ingenious exhibition reviews and features would finally come to be written by one of us, if not several of us, every line of which bearing that unique sparkle a freshly enlightened mind exudes; we were ecstatic! What potentials! What fun!”
“Six days went by, famished anticipation and…inexhaustive curiosity drove their frantically substantial verbal exchanges. After numerous specks of sand…blown up, down, left and… right, on the seventh day, having observed no art-glimmer, they decided to once again consult the exhibition title. Brilliant as Fleischer, answers to effectively unpack the meta-art-glimmer must somehow be encoded in the title.”
[The choir sings, “H—–u——h——?” Maybe a few Instagram updates later? Maybe like the microwave dings? “We discovered…”]
“We discovered with abhorrence how Fleischer’s title had betrayed us, which came to prove itself a description opposite to our experience so far at this exhibition. In the despairing air of heavy disappointment one colleague-friend-intellectual shouted: ‘Interesting!!’ My friends!! None but we can even begin to comprehend!!!”
On the other hand, in another scene potentially relevant, I, Milo Mi, one of the most sought after and controversially-souled curacritics of our time, humbly accepted an invitation by John Fleischer, a certain remote art acquaintance of mine, to pen an introduction to the catalogue of his new exhibition. On a flying vehicle I was taken on site, where I observed, with an acute sense of critical boredom, a troop of exhibition-goers laboriously digging around a few glimmering artnesses in such indiscernible forms, still half veiled by sand sheets, as two ‘I’s and one ‘C.’ I began to suspect, with a curacritic incisiveness, that there is an artful allusion to zinc. Meanwhile, I was told there were obsidian spheres.
“Interesting!!’ I gasped.
“Right?!?!” Fleisch confirmed.
“I like the dialectical reverse-deconstruction embedded in the self-other quatnum-epistimo anthropocene that’s going on here,” I paused. “John.”
“Totally! Don’t you also think that, those people that are digging, the viewers, as we call them, are indispensable, in fact part and parcel, to the art’s experience being in the exhibition? I mean I am the kind of artist who strives on entertaining my art with the viewer participation, you know?”
“Undoubtedly, John, ‘try not to bore the art to death,’ as we curacritics often say.”
[Fade to cats stuffing themselves into tiny boxes, and glute-workout progress pix, respectively—life is good.]
Rollercoasters. Car sickness. Motion sickness. Falling from great heights. Descending into fevers. Ascending too quickly. Fainting. All things that aim to set the world around you into spirals where hard lines should be. A maelstrom of bending realities and unsteady ground arresting the singular viewer while the rest of the world goes by unfazed at the toppling of its axes.
‘Trudy is best viewed alone’ the postcard in your hand reads as you walk through an anteroom draped in crimson crushed velvet. The otherwise blank postcard does not tell you that the warmth of another body next to you may cause you to reach out a hand, extend a head onto a shoulder, or mutter a word into an ear in search of something steady to hold on to that would distract from the experience.
Padded carpet that permits no whispers follows your entry into the small theater. You are not surprised to find that it is dramatically lit and quite comfortable with an array of seating options, each more reposed than the last, set in a circle around the stage. The postcard also does not tell you that Trudy does not perform for an audience of more than one. It does not need to because no one has ever attempted to defy its “recommendation.”
For first time viewers, ‘Trudy’ is the promise of pellucidity. A return to the good ol’ days before Tru-D when performance lived on stages, their thinking was far less complex, and their lives more blusterous. A time before they had learned to train minds and bodies to consistently achieve intended effects: lucid dreaming, omniscient psychological perspectives, synchronous home life, the reconstitution of bodies through charts and graphs illuminated on obstinate skin, overgrown social lives petted through holographic gatherings. Whether these effects were indeed desired rather than Pavlovian was only secondary. Neither could one argue that the needs the Tru-D met were quaternary or tertiary.
“Be not deceived, revolutions do not go backward,” Abraham Lincoln’s voice booms from every crevice in the room as the lights shudder suddenly. The visual and aural assault on senses lands disconcertingly at your feet awaiting a physical response. When the lights find their footing and the room reappears in focus, there is a lone spotlight on stage. Trudy stands in the center, dipped in all your forgotten fears. In their hand sits your breath which they unfurl slowly, filling your chest back up.
Invocation: Tuesday, October 18 by Ruthann Godollei
Regard: Thursday, October 20th by Patrick Nathan
In the eighteenth century, Edmund Burke defined the “sublime” emotions as those that excite the idea of pain or terror. The sublime, he says, “anticipates our reasonings, and hurries us on by an irresistible force.” Astonishment, he says, “is the effect of the sublime in its highest degree.” While On the Sublime and Beautiful first appeared in 1756, and Burke himself could not have anticipated the 250 years of art history to follow, his articulation of the way I feel when I look at a piece like “Purge” remains relevant.
“Purge” demands astonishment: there is nothing kind, beautiful, or hopeful in its presence, and yet it’s hard not to be struck, even dumbfounded, in awe. Its series of bronze discs with their raised, indecipherable language of invented letters could be the rusted gears of a lost society, no longer functional or knowable. Its stench of sewage could be the rotting maw of whatever ideas and beliefs consumed that society. Looming over the intersection at 5th Avenue and East 56th Street, in the shadow of Trump Tower, it could be a warning — but it’s art, and therefore it could be anything. “The earliest experience of art must have been that it was incantatory,” Sontag reminds us.
“Purge” is as close as one can get to retrieving that “innocence” when “art knew no need to justify itself”: its presence is its only fact, and like all great art stays ahead of reason or interpretation, leaving you wondering why you’re short of breath, why you’re suddenly unsettled, and why it is, going forward throughout the day, you can’t scrub its rust from your eyes or clean its contaminants from your blood.
Invocation: Tuesday, October 25th by Tucker Hollingsworth
Regard: Thursday, October 27th by Lara Avery
Human bodies leave their traces in “Grotesque,” but none appear, casting your own figure against ten formal dining table-sized photographs in stark relief. The word “grotesque” is said to have emerged from the Italian grotte, deep caverns mosaicked in mirrors and gilded renderings of spirits, saints, and devils. Paying tribute to the beauteous underbelly of its etymology, the viewer must tunnel to see each piece. If you attempt to walk a linear path through the gallery, the photographs, suspended, will block your way.
One could say “we see,” but the images are too big to “see.” The viewer, rather, stands against a giant, two-dimensional rendering of a bin of brown banana peels, rotting; becomes silhouetted by a factory bed of half-plucked chicken carcasses; falls into an aerial view of Hong Kong, through a sea of smog, the tops of skyscrapers bobbing over an imposing grid of streets. Nearby, the grid tangles red and wet in the soup of someone’s insides, a blown-up capture of surgery in progress. Each photograph offers abundant shape and no guidance, intricate tableaus that are deliberately without sight lines. There is no story to be told, only a catalog of substances—what humans have told themselves they need, what they leave in their wake, what they ignore, and the conclusion such confrontations inspire: too much. We want and do and are made of too much.
If the images had been estranged from their subjects to the point of non-recognition, perhaps via a further distortion, they might have been pleasing (the way a surgical floodlight sparkles on a large intestines, for example, like sun glittering on a pond), but this is the purpose of “Grotesque,” or any exaggeration: the dizziness of estrangement paired with recognition. The jutting chin in the caricatured politician. The feeling of seeing someone you know in a dream. “It was you, but it was not you,” we often say.
When you exit “Grotesque,” and return to accuracy, to waking life, to an ordered, gentle world, you may realize distortion has become just as necessary as the absurd. How else will you know what is enough until you have seen too much?