During the 1970s I made a number of Observation Sculptures. They all consist of a simple process of describing what I could observe in my perceptual field at a given time. They take different forms: from lists on paper displayed on walls to hand-printed lists on upright wooden planks leaning against a wall. Many of them are texts, to be read within a book or chapbook format. I’ve included one of the Observation Sculptures in the Antibodies section. Here are other examples:
Observation Sculpture 211271
On Tuesday 21st December, at 8.45pm, the following objects were found to be situated on a kitchen table, as a result of the combined energies of numerous professional, recreational and domestic activities:
one box of Bassett’s Jellybabies
a white ceramic sugar bowl
a wooden pepper mill
a fawn make-up bag
a glass salt-cellar
a brown paper bag containing two apples
one copy of Art and Artists
one copy of Intentio Recta*
a bottle of Sainsbury’s Vin Rose
one Venus Drawing Pencil, grade B
two toilet rolls
one stainless steel teapot
one ceramic teapot stand
two circular tablemats and one rectangular tablemat
one almost empty roll of surgical tape
one folder containing various pieces of paper
a pair of scissors
a green slip of paper and a paperclip
a letter from my mother-in-law
a 1972 calendar
a letter to a friend in an envelope
a blue, cream, yellow and black tablecloth lay over the wooden surface of the table
At 8.55pm I lifted the teapot from the table.
[* Intentio Recta is the title of a text from this period, click here to read it.]
And another is titled, Prayer:
Now I see
deadleaves paint nails cactus folder
clock chain plaster cobwebs envelope
wallpaper painted over white dirt window
hair hooks lightbulb typewriter bowl
radio dust string drawings chair
butterfly sunlight across the floor elms
tablemat cracks tincan water stones
notebook rusty marks stains table
writingpaper notepaper typingpaper graphpaper
linedpaper blankpaper floorboards glass
wood book damp patches pen rubbishbin
Some of the Observation Sculptures are gathered together under the title, Hunter’s Log. The title is used again in 1974 for a text accompanying two working exhibitions in Canada. Here are a few entries:
One day in November, 1970
11.32am Two gulls
A person outside the door
11.36 The order – is it fortuitous, arbitrary, accidental, random, logical, considered, determined, uh?
11.37 Door shuts – door opens – fan whines down
11.39 In the mind is there any distinction at all between fact and fiction? Is there a hierarchy?
11.42 Lorry rattling past – I say lorry, but was it? I can’t see it, I can only hear it. The inconstancy of IT. (Why is it we’re more ready to accept what we see as real and believable than what we hear?) Sound is a clue. I wade into the chaos and bring out a thrashing idea which dies in the air and becomes a corpus classification.
11.45 Door closes
Seagull from tower to tower, smoke in the opposite direction
11.47 Why time it?
11.50 Smoke from right to left ascending diagonally
Diary of a clockwatcher? A man clutching at time and what about those gaps in his life – the empty vacant spaces?
11.52 Pencil – pressure-proofed – black glossy hard cracked woodgrain pitted conical graphite
Two specks of dust hair
11.54 Actions filling the spaces
Decision to include date
Carry on marking time
12.30pm The Hunter’s Log
I feel like I’m a hunter stalking Trueblue Self, OX, Original Face, Coyote, Buddha Nature, Great Spirit, Little Spirit
3.00 Sitting, having completed preparations for activities tomorrow
Gen-jo, the koans of daily life: washing up, pouring tea, sweeping, dusting, cleaning, wiping dry, cooking, sleeping, making love, reading, pissing, listening to music, shitting. All of these are koans, gates to paradise, paradise in themselves. Task: to enter paradise (by realising I’m there) with everyone else
4.55 Smash the cup! Smash the saucer! Break away from your koan, don’t let it be your prison or prisoner. Put a stone in the tea!
In the next example narratives from the mass media (maybe radio or TV) creep into the observations, a counterpoint to the humdrum objects and events.
4.40pm Fox, music, violin
….and he said…is the first…take care of these people…
4.42 ….I thought I told you to take care of them…and we told him…we are…He said…No, I mean kill them…
4.43 Pile of books, yellow, blue, red, green, thin pale green, blue, blue, big speckled blue, open notebook, newspaper
….I was a little stunned. He said, come around to this side. Get on line…
Dog sighs, head to the door, draught ruffled his coat
4.46 ….Get on line and we’ll fire into them. The people screamed and…
Gas hissing, bin piled full
4.49 ….yelled and I guess they tried to get up too. They died…
Tumbleweed, piano, kids voices
….They were pretty well shot up, messed up…
Heads, photograph, dominant grain
4.52 Heads were separate
….heads were shot off…
Burn down the mission, songs
4.55 ….screamed. There were people in it. Then there was a shout…sweep…
Photograph five figures white parallelogram
Country music, yackety-yak
….there were a few kids…
Two are like haiku:
1.44pm Smoke, smoke, smoke, smoke
Midday Shoe, half a shoe, ashtray, pole, curtain
And then a stream of questionings:
A change of emphasis. Description as darshana, a path to enlightenment. Also questioning, a stream of questions as statements or statements as questions. To whom are they directed? To myself? To others, who one day may read this? To others as a sublimation of my desire to talk to myself? To the Great Spirit? To all the Buddhas?
Are there thoughts behind all the words we speak? Is it possible for us to have thoughts and then to gain a mode of expression for them? Can there be a thoughtless thought or a wordless thought? And where does logic come in? If I say, “Up is down”, am I still thinking? Am I thinking in an entirely different way to when I say “Up is up”? What if I’m in Australia, on the phone to someone in England?
Who thinks? Lichtenberg: “There is a thought.” Who is it who presumes authorship or ownership of a thought? Can anyone justifiably claim ownership of a thought? Is a thought a function of a relationship? Or is a relationship a function of thought?
Is a book less of a book when it is shut? And more of a book when it is open? When it is read more than when it is unread? Can it be unread? Is unread a state of not-being? Or an absence?
The chair is over there. Is there a chair? Is a chair a creak to which my head turns and my eyes encounter? What kind of thing is a chair? A sound we make with our mouths? A name? The chair that I sit in is quite different to the chair that I thought of sitting in, or to the one that I now think of getting up from. There is no single chair, but many chairs, in one.
As I was reading about Buffalo Cow Woman’s gift of the Sacred Pipe to the Sioux, a moth, which had somehow got itself caught in a spider’s web, landed on my book. Some of the web still clung to its body and it had difficulty moving about. I carefully removed most of the sticky substance, even a piece stuck to one foot, which I pulled off while the moth pulled its leg towards its body. I was pleased to see wings whirring and in the air again. Nice to be able to help one’s relatives, however many times removed.