April 2012: MASCHINE: Zhivago Duncan
Zhivago Duncan has built a massive operator controlled painting machine that works with a series of spray cans. The resulting paintings come from a place that is free of the constraints of traditional painterly technique, yet not free of challenges. Duncan's piece is another tool to make paintings but has a series of interesting overtones which arise when one thinks about the concept of mechanization in art. Walter Benjamin's essay Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction and Warhol's factory approach to painting are obvious references from the past, but Wim Delvoye's Cloaca machine and Damien Hirst's spin paintings are contemporary references cited by Duncan in our recent discussions. Duncan's new work also brings forth associations to research into virtual intelligence.
Painting works off the human nervous system in a way that would make a simulated painterly experience difficult if not impossible to replicate. It is within this area of research that Zhivago Duncan has been developing his new work. Humanity's obsession with virtual intelligence extends to areas such as virtual creativity but Duncan is not concerned with this kind of advanced logic within his machine, nor is his project an overtly conceptual piece.
Becker: But currently you have just presented a new project in Miami with Snitzer gallery?
Duncan: Yes but I don't live in Miami.
Duncan: I'd been invited to Miami by collectors of mine.
Duncan: I didn't really propose anything but Fred Snitzer gave me a studio and offered me a show. I'd been thinking about this kind of simple Dadaist painting machine and how I would install this in Miami.
Becker: So this is a very different thing than the earlier paintings I saw of yours and wrote about for Art in America magazine?
Duncan: Yeah this is very different from that.
Becker: Were you showing any of the figurative works?
Duncan: I showed next door, I showed some of the figurative works but this machine is making very abstract works.
Duncan: It's called “Maschine” like the german spelling.
Duncan: It depends, the last performance was about 30 minutes in length.
Becker: And How many paintings does the machine produce in 30 minutes?
Duncan: The main goal is to kind of push and step outside the borders of painting. It could produce one painting for the rest of it's life - or many. As a painter yourself, you understand this situation where we try to give ourself obstacles within our technique to lose our hand, It's more about that. This machine is kinetic sculpture which is performed. It can't operate without me so it's really a machine that performs.
Becker: Do you show the paintings separately?
Duncan: Yes, many of the paintings have turned out beautifully. I still need to think about where I want to go with the machine and how. I will operate the machine for the duration of the exhibition and see where it goes from there.
Zhivago Duncan, Jungle Love, 2012, oil and spray paint on canvas, courtesy Contemporary Fnie Arts, Berlin and Snitzer Gallery, Miami.
Noah Becker: Editor-in-Chief