In the latest #intothedarkroom, #itchysilk writer Alessia Schiacchi explores the riveting image by Marcel Duchamp. In Étant Donnés (his last major work), the painter, sculptor, writer and chess player focuses our attention on an image awash with visual metaphorical significance.
Well known for other art works, like Fountain (1917) and Bicycle Wheel (1916) Marcel Duchamp (1887 – 1968) also worked as a photography and Étant Donnés is a photographic theatrical tableau vivant-meticulous in its creation between 1946-1966. A naked female body lies on the grass, legs open, an oil lamp in the hand-an unsettling dichotomy of the macabre and the beautiful in one image.
In 1888 Kodak started the market of automatic photographic cameras. The amatorial photography was a democratisation process. However, people started taking images of everything, compulsively. The act meant more than the subject and photography began a voyeuristic operation. So, every element is important: there is no hierarchy of attention. In this scenario Duchamp wanted to evade indifference and grab his audience’s attention. His artwork was not just an image, but something made to be looked at as a point in time.
Marcel Duchamp transformed the act of photography into an act of spying.
The image of the naked body was placed behind a door and the spectator could spy it just through the keyhole. It was an attempt to fight apathy and force the spectator to be more active. Furthermore, he places a distance between the subject, the spectator and the door, making the object more desirable.
Marcel Duchamp transformed the act of photography into an act of spying. It was a metaphor, but also an interactive performance. Duchamp worked on the image for its twenty years and now it’s placed in Philadelphia Museum of Art. What’s the meaning of the photo? There is a young naked body. The body position doesn’t hide so much. It’s just impossible to see the face and to give her a personality. She is on the grass, waterfall in the background. Then, there is an oil lamp. Nature and water are symbols of life. The human body looks lifeless, but holding something alive: the oil lamp, which is the visual centre of attention in the picture. The lamp is light, the light is life. Holding that lamp is a request for attention, the image’s request to be alive, to be significant.
Marcel Duchamp gave life to something which nearly disappeared. The image behind the door is like a negative in dark room, waiting to be developed. The eye of the voyeur is the developing liquid.