An Interview with Arman - 1969
Armand Pierre Arman (1928-2005), "Arman", was an American artist born in France. In his work - sculptures, prints, assemblages and paintings - he used everyday objects, embedding some in clear plastic. In this respect, he explored ideas pioneered by Marcel Duchamp, which naturally attracted Kurt's attention. In 1969, Kurt went to New York to meet with Arman; he interviewed him, brought him a gift (the result of which is shown above), and talked about working on a book together. Below is the transcript of the recording of Kurt's interview, a description written by Kurt of the gift he brought, and a slip of yellow paper describing, briefly, the contemplated book project.
Transcript of session with Arman as recorded on tape May 5, 1969
The abbreviation v.M. will be used for Kurt von Meier and A. for Arman. The very beginning part of the tape is very abrupt and garbled and therefore will be omitted.
v.M. takes off his shoes
A: "Yes, in an animated (garbled)... object changed to quantity, as we call object."
v.M.: "Object changed to quality....What?"
A: "Not many years ago an object was more any kind of manufactured, that means anything made by hand, manufactured by hand. It was done for purpose of keeping repaired; father would give to son and so forth. Now the transformation of nineteenth century industry and mass production has been to take away that sign of identity. No more entity. No handmade clock, no hand carved bowl or hand turned bowl. No handmade table that the father make and give to the son and give to the son, etc. It’s kind of injected process; 10,000 bowls, 1,000 tables, 2,000 cows, and all that. They just become extensions. And we use them like this. They are no longer objects. They become more human. In that case they become like our nails or our hair. When they are too long, we cut them off. We don't keep, or repair anything anymore. When they last too long we cut them off and throw them away. They become the hair, nails, and beard of our civilization."
v.M.: "That's waste, we just throw it away."
A.: "Yes and no. Another side. We destroy the ecology completely, almost completely." (garbled)
v.M.: "Destroys his(man's) primitive ecological balance."
A.: "Yes, completely."
v.M.: "So that now it’s…"
A.: "So it’s sort of artificial ecology, then. Production, consumation, destruction and it's kind of phony, phony."
v.M.: "The electric light staged an artificial ecology. Artificial sunlight. Fucked-up a lot of people."
A: "And, when I was thinking about what I called the base, the minimal condition, (mathematical proposition) necessary for new liaison, it was in consideration of all that's real in the new environment. Because environment (garbled). We are still naive to what kind of environment we have. Conditions, due to environment, given to cosmology.
I was thinking when you showed me that paper on church; that's very open and non-specific definition in any kind of church. When I was very young I read a book Mary May [by Prosper Mérimée], who is not considered a very good author. The book he wrote I like is the Chronicle of the Reign of King Charles IX. I found as an example, the end of book when the Captain dies. He is wounded he is in this kind of hospital. One of the very important tasks is to find out if he wants a priest to see before he dies. And what kind of priest. He was a captain, living a primitive life among the raging war. He didn't have any faith. At the moment to die the Catholic priest came and asked him if he wanted to hear the last rites. He said "No, thank-you. I haven't believed up until now. I have not known your definition of God. I will not betray death by being afraid of the infinite, accepting to deal with you now.” At this moment the Catholic priest left. The head of the hospital came and offered to help as the priest had done. The captain replied that “he must be consistent with himself, and that repenting was a quite an easy temptation. Because at the moment I would accept this.” This is very important.
One of the powers of the human being, the transcendental powers, it’s to escape, really, that’s very stupid, and it’s a part of the social memory; the time. To escape time, time doesn't exist.
v.M.: "The power to escape the concept of time?!
A.: "Just the concept that we call as a social language, as a social communication. Because you know we have basically three memories.”
Kurt's notes on the gift he brought to Arman
Gave to Arman 6 caps of mescaline, each from a different West Coast source, hence each a different color, ranging from white through light yellow, light green with indigo spots, robin's egg blue, purple, red, plus a yellow tab. These he will embed in a block of resin (?) to form a piece of sculpture (see photo above). I have placed in storage one each of the same mescaline. When Arman's sculpture is completed, I will take, on successive days, the caps in the same order as they can be read from the piece of sculpture--or in some order that suggests itself. Just how this order will be derived must wait until the sculpture is seen--or must it? For example, if the caps are set in a vertical line, they could be read downward or upward, i.e., like the letters on this page or like the lines in a hexagram of the I Ching.
The sequence, and the logic of relationship between the two "systems," one in the block of resin, the other inside my own head, could as well be determined by an "outside" or third basis selected at random or random in nature. The interesting question becomes, "Who is the artist, Arman, me, or say John Cage or Geroge Brecht or the Rand Corporation (if its book, 1,000,000 Random Digits and 100,000 GaussianDeviates is used)? And what, precisely, is the work of art? Not, surely, the block of resin, no matter who contemplates or eventually owns it. Is the work the total configuration of resin, head and digits? It may even be convincing (it is certainly possible) to regard the block of resin, the digits and the book--Arman himself and the entire Rand Corporation, that is to say--as projections of my own mind, necessary to fulfill their limited but related finctions in the creation of this work of art: the sequence of psychedelic states of consciousness inside my own head. But of course the same reasoning permits Rand and me to be thought of as projections and extensions of Arman's esthetic consciousness, together,even, with all the visions and other experiences I might have under the influence of the mescaline and with all the war-related research of Rand. Similarly, Arman and I could be thought of as merely acting out some implications of the grand cosmic chaos according to RAND"S EXEMPLARY MANIFESTATION.