The materials that comprise the contemporary environment cannot simply be divided into two categories – those that are beneficial and those that are harmful. Steiner / Lenzlinger demonstrate that quantity must be factored into such accountings.
The materials that comprise the contemporary environment cannot simply be divided into two categories – those that are beneficial and those that are harmful. Steiner / Lenzlinger demonstrate that quantity must be factored into such accountings. Even extremely toxic chemicals can usually be tolerated in small quantities, while even the most desirable products can be lethal in large doses. In addition, there are specific positive and negative effects from each level of concentration. In addition, living entities may evolve to withstand dangerous concentrations. The artists describe such a complicated scenario as it applies to the medium that distinguishes their installations – salt. “All living things depend on salt to exist. Yet in concentrated form salt is both deadly and a preservative. The salinization of the earth as a result of intensive agriculture has had fatal consequences, not only in Israel. In the future, people will be reliant on plants that flourish even in high concentrations of salt.”50
Clarifying the fuzzy distinctions between good salt conditions and bad salt conditions carries urgent pragmatic implications, since feeding escalating human populations is demanding accelerated growth in agricultural products. Steiner/Lenzlinger observe, “The next generation of indoor plants is growing from pure fertilizer. They don’t need foamed clay, no glass wool, no coconut fiber, no wet jelly and not even earth or light. But they need an orphan home.”51
The quantity issue, as it relates to salt, is given material form in Steiner / Lenzlinger’s sumptuous installations. They explain, “The crystallization of artificial fertilizer is an important component in most of the installations. Coral-like figures, stalactites, needles, spherical growths and furry crusts all form from a watery solution, depending on the situation and the climate. The shape of these figures grows and develops throughout the entire duration of the exhibition. Afterwards they are gathered together and can be dissolved in water to create the starting point for a new story. There are crystals that can remember up to fifteen different exhibitions! The more often they grow the more intelligent, beautiful and precious they become.”52
a. Crystallizations provide one example whereby ‘quantity’ an aesthetic element, is also used as a means for conveying a theme. Discuss The Office by Steiner/Lenzlinger in terms of visual splendor, material abundance, and the environmental dangers they convey.
b. Consider how the following artists utilize large quantities of some material to communicate the theme of a work of art: Schneemann’s Meat Joy; Beuys’s Honey Pump; Chin’s Fundred Dollar Bill Project; Yun’s Constellation; Eke’s Shields; Jeremijenko’s One Tree(s); Reyes’s Pistols Into Spades.
c. Compare Steiner / Lenzlinger’s depiction of abundance with Severin Roesen’s 19th century painting of abundance entitled Nature’s Bounty. What aspects of their The Office’s theme could only have been conveyed as an installation, and not through the medium of painting?
d. Steiner / Lenzlinger assign a special role to ‘chance’ in art. They adopt an ecological metaphor to explain their decision to relinquish control by including self-generating crystallization within their art process, “In the rain forest of the brain, the bio-diversity of thoughts proliferates and the intellect’s short-circuits whirr in your eyes. Needless to say, as time goes by the circuits get tired and nervous; there are burn-outs and failures. But chance creates the most sparkling ideas.”53
The role of chance in art became formalized by John Cage, musician, theorist, and artist who is well-known for his 1952 composition 4’33”. Musicians are present at the concert, but they make no sounds for the four minutes and thirty-three seconds of the composition. The ‘musical’ experience is supplied by the chance occurrence of sounds in the auditorium.
Consider the role of chance in Haacke’s Condensation Cube; Kaprow’s Easy; Eduado Kac’s Biotopes; or Saraceno’s Girasol. What components are determined by chance in The Office and in one of these works of art? How does chance factor into the interpretation of these works of art?