harvest gym matts

Academic Textabation: Bending citations—I try to ACT in the gap

Bending citations—I try to ACT in the gap[i]
A tangential response to Brandon Joseph’s The Gap and the Frame* about Robert Rauschenberg

I pass a dumpster and register its contents, sheet upon sheet of gymnasium wrestling floor matts. There is an awkward moment when everything I have internalized as appropriate behavior to conform to citations of race, education, gender, age and affluence—the infrastructure of my identity—is called into question as I am precariously teetering, one leg in, one out, yanking these five by six foot planar foam matts from a dumpster to use for fabricating art. Breaching the social protocols of what it “means” to be a white highly educated semi-affluent aging woman requires a tremendous amount of emotional energy. The cognitive dissonance of resisting conventional frames is damn exhausting. More often than not, I cave to conform to my “identity” and leave viable supplies untouched, art pieces unrealized. Harvesting from the urban waste stream is not a new move in art for these found objects are embedded in the works of Rauschenberg, Johns, Schwitters and Duchamp. So I bend only the infrastructure of my own constituted identity not any art practices. Rauschenberg bent the frame of the modernist art canon with his combines, and then fell back into normative practices with only subtle tweaks to it with his impotent silkscreens.

What does my dumpster diving and Rauschenberg’s impotent silkscreens have to do with Brandon Joseph’s essay on Rauschenberg, The Gap and the Frame*? Tangentially, I suppose they just points to the confoundedness of citational bending and the inherent drive to subsume difference into the normative, individually or collectively. Then again it could just be lively prose getting in my way again. However, Joseph’s essay does hinges on the claim that Rauschenberg’s breach of paintings’ planar surface into three-dimensional space with the embedding of mundane objects went largely unexamined because of its departure from the norm and the way in which even Rauschenberg minimized his own moves. The argument is developed around critical quotations that show the historical reticence to regard Rauschenberg’s bending and blurring of the citations that distinguish painting from sculpture and art from life. And implicit to Joseph’s stance is the notion that Rauschenberg’s disregarded spatial and material plays are what makes him a pivotal art figure.

Relative to my larger research direction this article is proving useful in refining my definition of the term seminal artist. I have been defining the seminal visual artists as those who are prolific in production, persistent in practice (lifelong) and known in the art world. Yet, something has seemed lacking in my definition. In Joseph’s essay, Rauschenberg is noted for the way he stood at in the gap, the turn, between modernism and minimalism. As I read this article, along with research on gender construction and troubling, the weak link in my definition became apparent—the phrase known in the art world. This verbiage is far too broad to pinpoint the artists to which I am referring. For the maestros of disciplinary conventions do not rivet my curiosity, instead my research gravitates toward those who bend the frames of their contemporary domains—in materiality, form, process, subject matter or theme—which results in subsequent changes to conventions. These practices that cross, alter or disregard the regulatory fictions of disciplinary conventions correlate with psychological research into creativity when creativity is defined as actions that consequently result in paradigm shifts. Studies of this kind of creativity link a series of features/events in creative individuals with the diminishment of adherence to convention—specifically in terms of promoting nonhierarchical impulse/thinking/praxis. [ii] This diminishment is believed to increase the likelihood of a person’s adaption or disregard of practices as they react to situational chaffing.

Yet, convention like metal when initially bent wants to snap back, it is only after extended or extreme bending that the bend is normalized and holds. How is it that some artists can stand in the bend, act in the gap, without snapping back?


What frames in your primary domain unsettle you when you witness them being altered? What disruptions are you most likely to reframe to normatize versus ignore? Say in a student? Peer? What frameworks in your domain chaff you? Do you see ways these frames might be adapted? Do you lean toward being master of your field or do you experience chaffing within the current conventions that makes you desire bending?

[i] Branden W. Joseph, “The Gap and the Frame *,” October 117 (2006): 45, doi:10.1162/octo.2006.117.1.44.

[ii] Features associated with scientists and artists involved in paradigm shifts by psychological researchers of creativity are developmental adversity, personality tendencies associated with less deference, impulsive, anti-social-dominant/hostile, neurological function linked to loose sensory gating, and situational chaffing. Bibliography is available upon request (its long).


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