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Introduction

This event is supported by the European cultural Season, organized during the French Presidency of the European Union (July 1st – Dec. 31st, 2008)
Strasbourg Ville de culture  Communauté urbaine de Strasbourg  Saison culturelle européenne  Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication  Musées de France  Museum - Musées  Dernières nouvelles d'Alsace  France 3 - Alsace

© 2008 - Les Musées de la Ville de Strasbourg

 


[5] THE LANGUAGE OBJECT

The simplification of objects in nature in the India ink drawings led Arp to «unify their essence in fluid ovals», symbolizing, according to him, «the metamorphosis and the evolution of bodies». Felt to be the quintessential form of life, the oval symbolizes the cosmic, biological and human origin of life – by allusion to the sun, the cell and the navel. The oval – already encountered in the reliefs of the subsection «according to the laws of chance» – initiates a process of growth and metamorphosis : converting itself into secondary forms which, while differentiating themselves, all participate in the absolute of generic form. If this mechanism can be approached using Goethe’s thought as a guideline, who considers metamorphosis a principal of organic nature, it is also possible to envisage it in its literal and mythical sense: several classical works, amongst which, Ovid’s Metamorphosis, exposed man’s transformation into animals, plants, water and objects. Finally, the idea that everything transforms itself into everything is to be put in relation with the surrealist notion of metamorphosis – Arp recognized that surrealism «perhaps accentuated the associative side» of his work.
Indeed, the oval’s metamorphosis gives rise to forms evoking nature (birds, leaves), man (mouth, mustache) or again the object world (tie, egg cup). These three categories are unstable, since Arp enjoys hybridizing them – a bottle and a navel become a «navel bottle» or giving one or the other qualities – objects are humanized, man is «reified». Humor dominates, but Arp’s critical head remains in the clouds. By the equivalence he establishes between man, nature and objects, he tries to warn us that man is not «the measure of all things», no longer the central figure of action he thought he was since the Renaissance.

All of these forms constitute the «language-object» that Arp sets in place as early as 1920: he published seven in lithographic form in 1923 in an issue of the magazine Merz, called Arpades; ten more in the form of wood engravings with the title Elements in 1950 and finally in 1957, he publishes the Arpadienne Encyclopedia which inventories and describes the most common objects of his language for the magazine XXe Siecle. It seems appropriate to include these documents as reference material to present the reliefs and sculptures: yet another important aspect of the «language-object», its decisive role in the shift from relief to sculpture.