My second interaction for the John Cage exhibition continued with the I Ching-driven picture-making process that I detailed in my earlier blog: “Playing games to make pictures”.

It was a quiet, chilly afternoon, which meant that my interaction visitors were inclined to settle in for while, throwing coins, plotting hexagrams and drawing around stones, from anything between half an hour to one and a half hours. The comment that was uttered most regularly was ” this is really hypnotic”.

The key idea behind Cage’s approach is devising of a set of rules for making a piece and following them through to end of the rule set (eg 50 throws of the I Ching coins) or where a natural endpoint seems to arise (eg there are sufficient marks on the paper). My interaction provided the initial parameters for creating an image – it was then up to individuals to add their own components. This is where it gets interesting – working within a very narrow set of parameters, each individual’s own set of additional rules resulted in a unique and personal piece of work. Examples included:

  • following a sequence of colours and using a single stone which is rotated a quarter turn each time

  • blocking-in colours and differentiating overlaps

  • drawing each contour twice, shifting the second one to the right

  • only drawing round contours which appear within the boundaries of the chosen cell; then drawing in cell boundaries to make enclosed shapes

  • drawing contours which only appear outside the chosen cell, leaving the cell blank; then emphasising the empty space by colouring in the overspill (annoted with the hexagram name – in Chinese)

  • highlighting the most central grid axis within each contour

Aside from visitors who wanted to engage with the process of making pictures, there were a number of people who just wanted to chat about their responses to the work on show. A common issue with encountering Cage’s images was the need to look for meaning, and failing to find it, leading to bafflement and frustration. The human brain seems to be wired up to seek connections and subtext. With Cage’s work, you can either decide to attach your own interpretation to the marks or just revel in the playfulness of devising a game and going with the flow – be it exuberant or meditative.

Posted by Ryan Coleman on Tuesday 31 May 2011