Monday, June 20, 2011

Hans Bellmer "Notes on the Ball Joint"

by Hans Bellmer
Translated from the French by Guy Bennett

Born in Kattowitz, then part of the German Empire, but now Katowice, Poland, Hans Bellmer began as a draftsman for his advertising company. But with the rise of Nazism, he began his "doll series," purposely sexualized images of dolls, often in mutated or incomplete form which in performance-like actions he placed in unconventional poses, in direct opposition to the Fascists' cult of the perfect body.

Inspired, in part by the articulated dolls in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Bellmer constructed his dolls around the principle of the "ball joint," and one might describe his "Notes on the Ball Joint," printed below, as a kind of early performance piece, projecting a series of positioning and moving of his dolls.

After the War, Bellmer gave up his dolls, but continued creating art until the 1960s. He died on February 23, 1975.

The game belongs to the category of experimental poetry. If we recall its essentially provocative method, the toy presents itself as a provocative object.

The best game sustains its exaltation less in the predetermined images of an outcome [result] than in the idea of the perpetuity of its unknown continuations. The best toy will therefore be the one that ignores the pedestal of an a priori functioning, the one which, rich in applications and accidental probabilities like the poorest of rag dolls, confront the exterior to fervently provoke, here and there, these answers to any expectations: unexpected images of the You.

So that such a doll, full of affective [emotional] content but suspected of being but a representation and a fictitious reality, may find in the outside world, in the shock [clash] of its encounters, the certain proofs of its existence, on the other hand the outside world, the tree, staircase or chair, suspected of being but a perception, must reveal what the I has accumulated of the you. In a word an amalgam of the objective reality of the chair and the subjective reality of the doll must be formed, an amalgam endowed with a clearly superior reality, since it is both subjective and objective.

Thus the role of the provocative object takes shapes. Let it occupy any place on the swings closest to or farthest from the confusion between the animate and the inanimate, it will be a question of the personified, mobile, passive, adaptable and incomplete thing, it will finally be a questionÄto the rather broad extent to which the principal of the doll or the articulated object appears to respond to these demandsÄof the mechanical factor of its mobility, of the JOINT.

In his memoirs, Cardan allows us to understand against which attacks he had to defend his equilibrium. Thus warned, one believes one finds the principal of his individual strategy in what it called the "Cardan," this ring mechanism developing into a cross "in the center of which a body could be suspended in such a way that no outside disturbance would trouble the stability of its equilibrium." Not allowing any outside force, with the exception of weight, to act on an object, this idea seems to be the very symbol of egocentrism; but, oddly enough, it is reversible. For, rather than suspend the object within the system of rings, which by its periphery is connected to the outside world, the outside could be attached to the center of the system, in the object's place, and consequently [conversely] the object on the periphery. [image] If we consider that in the first case the distance delimited by the object's center of gravity and the center of the rings can be reduced to zero and that, in the other case, it could go on infinitely, the following surprise results: the system of rings lies between two elementary and contradictory claims, between the two tendencies of concentricity and eccentricity, thus between two adversaries, whose interchangeability is in fact too incomprehensible to dispense with a demonstration by example:

1st example
"We make an octagonal, hexagonal, square or pentagonal inkwell, or in one of the many forms given to prisms. On each one of its sides the inkwell has a place to dip one's pen, and no matter how you set it down, you always have a hole on topÄyou dip your pen in the hole, it takes on ink and you write. Take the hexagonal inkwell that you see here. [image] On the inside there is a collar on a tourillon ab; within this collar there is a recipient that forms the inkwell. It is in the Jewish manner, if you like, and the construction of the device resembles that of the censer which turns but remains in equilibrium."

Phylon de Byzance(end of the IIIrd century b.c.) describes this "construction of the octagonal inkwell, an elegant device," in the fifty-sixth chapter of his "Pneumatics." An unknown Arab hand added in the margins of the manuscript:

2nd example

"This mobile device is like the throne of Solomon, son of David. When someone who knows Solomon's throne sits on it, he may stay there; when some one who does not know it sits on it, he is thrown to the ground. It is very nice."
We add two cases where concentricity and eccentricity are contrasted in the same object:

3rd example

The famous "Henry's carbine" which, in the fifty-eight volume life of adventurer Karl May, constantly reinforces the shirking of Christian responsibility and the sentimental brutishness of national heroisms. the construction of this manly carabine has remained technically vain. Nevertheless, it touched on the
marvelous: "He seemed to have finished the rifle barrel, then took a polygonal piece of iron from a box and began filing its corners. I noticed that there was a hole in each one of its sides.... His eyes sparkled, and when he contemplated his work from time to time, I could see that it was with an expression of love. The piece of iron will become a ball which will move exentrically; it's twenty-five holes will hold cartridges. With each shot, the ball will turn and a new cartridge will enter the barrel."

4th example

are taken to the extreme, leading to a third image, in Marcel Duchamps' "Roto-relief," which operates on the following principal: on a disk with center A eccentric circles revolving around a false center B are drawn. Set spinning on a gramophone, the disk turns around its center A in such a way that each point of the circles simultaneously describes an excentrical movement. A real optical miracle results from this intolerable, theoretically scandalous contresens [nonsense], the illusion of three dimension: the surface of the circles, plum pudding or breast, periodically rises, swells, and subsides.

It is significant that the origin of the "Cardan," faithful to its contents, historically occupies the point of intersections of two contradictory conceptions of our world, which is experiencing a complete crisis of the Ptolemian conception. At the very moment when the Renaissance, at the height of the geocentric edifice, draws one last epicycloide, while Copernicus is already smashing its foundations, Cardan exposes by emancipating the specifically mechanical contents of the astrolabe, the image and measure of the old system, the center of the quarrel.

In the course "suspending" it, and as soon as this is necessary, the gravitational factor disappears from the equation; the remaining joint, called the Cardan Joint, the Universal Joint, the Ball Joint, "serves to couple two rotational axes transmitting a force and together forming an open, variable angle in three-dimensional space."

The given freedom of spherical movement, a drawing of the two axes coupled at point O and of their displacement would give the image of two cones, whose tips meet at O and whose bases form two diametrically opposed parts of the surface of a ball; an image directly related to another, similar image well known in optics. [image]

The appearance of such connections linking habitually distant facts makes us hope that these notes take on meaning, the following meaning: in any domain of the imagination, of thought and realization one principle exists which, in the mechanism of solid bodies, is translated by the Cardan joint and which could be called, to use a more general term, the "focus principal [principal of the focal point]."

The determination of the marvelous [fantastic/supernatural] linked to this principal will henceforth be carried out along a rather clear line of conduct. A child between 9 and 13 years of age knows that no object aims its form at a "focus [focal point]," which is not perceptible like the black cone, bristling with breasts, of the Diana of Ephesus, but the top. Only solid matter dares demonstrate in and of itself such a rupture of reciprocity and split the infinity sign at the point of intersection, which it would never do in optics, on pain of catching fire. As soon as we suppose that the immense tension of the top resides in the fact that it is but one half, this tension inevitable seems due to the constraint by which its virtual, reversed image is evoked, and to the violence with which it remains absent.-The whip proves it: once exposed, the top contests its instability, insistently singing along the inadmissible inclinations of its axis, confronting and contradicting two habits of gravitation all the while referring to its invisible counterweight. [image]

If the solution also does in fact take possession of the real part of perfection, it beautifully demonstrates the nature of one of virtues of the provocative object that the top would be, with one or two reservations. It consists of its acute incompleteness, the shock which disturbs habit and which compels the imagination to complete so as to reestablish equilibrium. In the same way that, before we can accept the idea that half a dog is running along a wall before us, out of habit we prefer using shadows, stains, objects which hardly resemble the silhouette of a running quadruped, even hallucination, in order to prove to ourselves that the dog in question is indeed whole.-Let us not conclude that a top only aspires to the form of a rigid diabolo; this would merely simplify the transcendent tone of its irony instead of attempting to understand the role that movement plays in relation to symmetry.

Judging by this, it will suffice to hold a frameless mirror perpendicular to a photograph of a naked body and to move it slowly, maintaining a right angle. The visible part of the image and its reflection in the mirror form a whole whose involuntary perception as a group finds its obvious explanation less in the pseudo-organism of the entire symmetrical image than in its astonishing movement. For as the two fragments grow or shrink, the double image is ceaselessly reborn in bubbles, one might say, or flows like glycerine in its symmetrical axis. It is absorbed in emptiness like the candle which, stuck to the red-hot plate of a stove, feels itself fearfully melt away without seeing that its horrible debacle is reflected in what it loses [the melted wax]; in such a way that this fascinating positive or negative evolution binds the eye to the uninterrupted interpretation of the overall image and that the question of the reality and the virtuality of its halves fades away at the edge of consciousness.

From a focal point, we now stand before the practical demonstration of a "third image," of its components and of the active factor: the mirror simultaneously intersects and splits in two, creating antagonism while its movement resolves [le conresens], like the whip does to that of the top, and overcomes it in favor of a third reality.

To this we might add another remark, namely that the experience of the mirror has strangely compromised what man knows of his anatomy and what he forgets when he tries to realize the interoceptive images that he has of his body, or when his desire to express feelings or excite them stems from physical representations. When does it not? Any language makes itself understood, whether it be reflex, gesture, sound, word, graphic image, object, which makes up its letters, it makes little difference whether pain or the plumber is tapping in the house, we are sure of it: imagination draws exclusively on corporal experience-if it is not already a part of it-and in an elementary way, which remains to be clarified. For who is to believe that only fables are hyperbole and that only parabols are on the order of poetic equations, or still that fantasy only rises in slow strides of interest to the upper floors only to let its posterior slide down with the haste of second degree functions to the bottom of the polished ramps of the staircase? The heart of representations also adds, divides, rises to a higher power, differentiates, multiplies preferred details of the body, takes on their logrhythm or makes errors in the calculation, since the head alone has surely not invented mathematics: "Everything does something in everything, man feels complete in everything, and if I retain (a+x)(a-x)=a - x it is perhaps because my thumb retains a part of it, as tiny as it might be, it is enough so that such and such a man might remember the formula by the mere contact with an object, or so that he might think, dreaming or in a feverish state, that it is nothing but a small bit of canvas." (Lichtenberg: Vermischte Schriften, 1844)

The heart of representations; the fact is that language has few means indeed to illustrate interoceptive images of the body, because their voluntary description has hardly been cultivated. How do you describe, for example, the plane of the physical consciousness of a seated little girl who, putting all of the accent in her raised shoulder and stretching her arm lazily across the table, hides her chin between her biceps and breast, in such a way that the pressure of her arm, like the reflexion of the counterpressure exerted by its support, flows from the armpit in a linear release, then slips further down, passing through the elbow, onto the lightly inflected wrist, hardly feels the inclination of the back of the sleeping hand any longer and ends up, beneath the pulp of the index finger on the table, in the accent of a grain of sugar. [image]

What are we to think of this? Outside of the described radius, whose center of "gravity" is located just about in the chin, the other parts of the body have lost their actuality, their presence has been attenuated, as in a touched up photograph, or eliminated altogether. Still, the ordinary, banal character of the pose does not allow one to presume that this is an absurd or exceptional regression; it will be important to discern its corresponding necessity.

The group of images of the body tending to remain intact, even after real amputations, we might think that the parts located within the framework of our description-the chin, armpit, arm, in addition to their true meaning, take one images of the leg, sex, etc., which their very "repression" has made available. That amounts to this: the body, as dreams do, can whimsically displace the center of gravity of its images. Inspired by a strange argumentativeness [?], it superimposes on some what it has removed from others, the image of a leg for example on that of an arm, of a sex on that of an armpit, creating "condensations," "proven analogies," "ambiguities," "plays on words," strange anatomical "calculations in probability."

As with any pose or voluntary expression, the slightest reflex movement of the body must be considered as obeying this displacement mechanism, and not differing in anything, except in violence, from the shrill [acute] muscular contractions of the hand when, in a raging toothache, it wants to lessen the pain by creating an equivalent, contrasting pain, by transferring the image of the tooth onto itself. It is thus in the potential center of stimulation that the little girl's pose must be understood; forming around the "armpit" center, it had to shift attention away from the "sex" center, in other words, that which was painfully forbidden or troublesome to satisfy.

In such "focal points," where a desired [intentional]stimulation is contrasted with a physical stimulation, we shall later have the opportunity to explore the birth and anatomy of expression. We shall immediately decipher in it a functional, automatic component, just as a clenched fist translates a simple reflex, and a figurative, illusory component, just as a clenched fist evokes the illusion of an aching tooth. The arbitrary does not exclude verisimilitude; with the surprise of the improbable the expression will say what it designates, if at the same time it IS what it says. Forms of expression, even words, function. If not, they would like to be extracted, one could say, like teeth, slowly, instead of being themselves, corner, screw, tooth or joint of coincidences.

They probably function according to all of the still somewhat obscure equations of interanatomical images, according to each "method" which, like the interlocking of sentences, grammatical analysis, permutation, interpretation, cross sections, the formation of mosaics, the ersatz and double-entry book-keeping, do not only belong to the specialist or to nature.

Nature's realization [creation] of the organism's imaginative methods, the monstrosity, in spite of its insufficient practice of a rather remarkable collective fascination, demonstrating, though awkwardly but at the source, the fundamental irrational and the "poetic" necessity of human beings. Let's not push it. The child plays more gracefully. Only in passing does it bend over certain flowers of the "rosa monstrosa" to plant them in the hair of the ball joint, before the latter enters, in a provocative reflex of the hips and of what it is missing, into the land of external reality.

We follow it slowly...

English language translation copyright (c) 2011 by Guy Bennett.

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