Slap (Slip?) Happy Accidents

From: Ken Paul Rosenthal (email suppressed)
Date: Sun Mar 25 2007 - 17:23:40 PDT

This thread inspires some interesting qualifying questions to Vera's
original post, namely:

1) Is it only a mistake if 'circumstances force us to adapt or radically
change our projects...'?

2) If the upredictable results are born of intentionally employed
indeterminant processes such as burying/composting film
( are they considered mistakes?

3) Are not mistakes instrinsic to all creative processes, no matter the
medium/context, ie one produces mistakes by way of manifesting one's inner
vision/inspiration as a seed and each obstacle helps us fine tune our

4) And simply put, there's the Murphy's Law ethos of, 'if not one thing then
another', be it an unintended lab error or a willful chance operation. So is
there not a fine line, but a huge--and I daresay, NECESSARY--gray area to
defining mistakes?

For example, my above mentioned piece, 'Spring Flavor' was produced through
strategies of organic decay. Having never optically enlarged from super 8 to
16mm, I requested a 3/2 pull-down which introduced a preferred rhythm not
apparent in the original. Did the lab make an 'error' because they did not
suggest a 1 to 1 blow-up? I was surprisingly pleased with this unexpected
twist on my expectations.

Vera, I think these considerations could open up some really interesting
possibilities regarding the scope of your class. You may wish to broaden
your (qualifying) definitions of 'accidents' in order to provoke discussion
beyond 'is it/isn't it?' It certainly touches on threads well-trodden on
this list regarding what is/isn't 'experimental'--not necessarily in terms
of the idea, but the boundaries within which a discussion can evolve.

In regard to my own teaching, I'm less interested in method (even though I
love sharing 'alternative' techniques), and more intrigued with discussions
that arise around 'Why do we do what we do?', and 'How is what we do
seen--and why?' Accidents in an age where we are increasingly reliant on
technology to produce predictable results--whether as a consumer or artist
(and who isn't both to a relative extent?)--is a really fascinating
discussion. Students invariably inquire--"Why would I want to consciously
mess it up?" And then when they make a classic mistake like forgetting to
close the pressure plate on the Bolex, they dispair until the rest of the
class chimes in how beautifully lyrical the dancing blurs of light appear.
If the student claims to have intended the effect in the first place, has it
lost it's status as 'mistake'?

I suppose, as usual, that it is the context/culture/institution (genre--but
we're not going to go there ;-) ) which defines/codifies the outcome, or
process be as it may. John Cage's writings/work--amongst so many others in
Western culture--has much to offer us here, no less non-industrialized
cultures who produce art without being attached to prescribed results as a
matter of course, rather than what we would deem 'accidental.'

Lastly, I'd like to give props to an extraordinary volume dedicated to
accidents in art called 'All Messed Up (Unpredictable Graphics) by Anna
Gerber. A fascinating introductory essay and 220 color illustrations!


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