Within the framework of my research into Asger Jorn´s writing and thinking I organize public sessions with special guests at a variety of venues. The guest´s practice, knowledge, insights, or responses are informative to my research, or steer the direction I take on a particular topic. The sessions also often respond to the context of the hosting institution, or to a specific request. Making the sessions public is a way to share and enter into a dialogue with the audiences.
´Hilde goes Asger with Mattin´ consisted of several activities. Saturday 11 January 2013, the day preceding a performance by Mattin, an artist based in Stockholm, the two of us visited Amsterdam-based artist Jacqueline de Jong. De Jong, a former member of the Situationist International (like Jorn himself) was involved in the musical experiments by Asger Jorn and Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985). Dubuffet, who was invited by Jorn to conduct collaborative experiments at the end of 1960, has written about these experiments in 1961, an English translation of this text can be found on Ubuweb via this link: http://www.ubu.com/sound/dubuffet.html.
Mattin himself works mostly with noise and improvisation. He has also written about improvisation, free software and against the notion of intellectual property (see also his text in the Value and Economy category on this blog). Mattin asked to arrange a meeting with Jacqueline de Jong to talk about Jorn and Dubuffet’s musical experiments. We ended up discussing a variety of topics, but it is De Jong’s account of the musical experiments that sticks with me most.
De Jong told us that at the end of December in 1960, she and Jorn, who loved music and could play the trumpet and violin, took a taxi to a Parisian shop that sold all kinds of western and non-western musical instruments. Jorn approached the shop-owner and asked for as many instruments as possible for the available amount of money. Then Jorn and De Jong went off to Jean Dubuffet, the taxi loaded with instruments that for the most part, neither of them knew how to play. Dubuffet had bought a portable Grundig TK35 tape recorder, and they tried to find all possible ways to create sound with the instruments, while Jacqueline de Jong made vocal contributions (such as screams).
During the conversation it became clear that not only it didn’t matter to Jorn that he had no idea of how to play the instruments, it was what in fact attracted him about it. This way of working, of engaging with the world of matter around him, typifies Jorn. Jorn considered himself a ‘materialist artist’, and I would say that his approach to the instruments is completely in line with this attitude. Similar as in painting or ceramics he would consider a line as “the track a certain substance leaves behind as it passes another substance” (Jorn in ‘What is an ornament?’, 1949), the sound would be the result of his interactions with the materiality of the objects. This unrestrained and experimental approach was of crucial importance to Jorn, who was convinced that it is art’s ability to play and the artist’s inclination to take risks that generates knowledge, change and hence progress.
After our visit to Jacqueline de Jong, Mattin and I went to meet the participants of a semi-public reading session. The participants of the reading session consisted of an intimate circle of people that had shown an interest in Jorn over the past year. Upon Mattin’s suggestion we read the last 20 pages of Jorn’s ‘Value and Economy’, and consequently discussed a variety of topics in relation to our own practices. In hindsight the most striking about the reading session to me is, that Jorn’s outspoken ideas about the position of the artist in society, and especially his willingness as an artist to take responsibility over what he called “the best possible environment for mankind” resonated so strongly. The need for finding ways to take on that responsibility (albeit perhaps not with the pretension to be able to create ‘the best possible environment for mankind’) seems to have regained a certain urgency. This became especially clear when graphic designer Richard Niessen discussed his motivations for starting the ‘Seven Rulers Tracing Board’, a ‘collective’ or ‘platform’ for designers to think through responsible and sustainable design practice. See also http://www.platformbk.nl/2013/12/initiatief-van-de-7-linialen/(text in Dutch)