May 29, 2015

Life in a Box: Marcel Duchamp’s Life as an Exiled Immigrant

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Marcel Duchamp in 1968 with his work Bicycle Wheel. Photograph: Getty

Marcel Duchamp in 1968 with his work Bicycle Wheel. Photograph: Getty

So now that you have some insight into what The Duchamp Syndrome is (see our Hub article “A Multitude of Voices: PlayCo Intern Mateus Ciucci Responds to The Duchamp Syndrome”), let’s look at how Marcel Duchamp’s life as an immigrant impacted his artwork.

French artist Marcel Duchamp spearheaded the American dada movement and used everyday objects to create his art. Duchamp was an immigrant, an exile, a foreigner. He was a geo-political exile from Europe during both World Wars and from the United States during the First World War, fearing foreign enlistment.

Scholar T.J Demos argues in his book The Exiles of Marcel Duchamp that Duchamp’s artwork clearly reflects a state of homelessness and exile. His exiled condition is characterized by a tension between forced displacement and an unhinging of the subject from legal and national borders, resulting in the opportunities for both artistic and subjective freedom. Duchamp’s designs spatially mark the condition of homelessness by making the spaces physically inhospitable and perceptually foreign. This sense of dislocation—from geographical situation, national identity, and

Duchamp's Mona Lisa with a moustache

Duchamp’s Mona Lisa with a moustache

cultural conventions—deeply informs the mobile objects and disjunctive spaces of Duchamp’s readymades and experimental exhibition installations. Duchamp coined the term “readymade” to describe mass-produced everyday objects taken out of their usual context and promoted to the status of artwork. Who decides that these everyday objects are actually pieces of art? The artists themselves, of course. Duchamp also incorporated his humor into his work and conceptual art, using his subversive humor, rife with sexual innuendos, and quick wit, informing conceptual art.

Later as Duchamp immigrated to America, he created miniature copies of selections of his works and stored them in a meticulously constructed container with expanding wings. This allowed him to carry around his life’s work in a traveling box. He described his Boîte-en-valise (Box in a Valise) as a “portable museum”.

Duchamp's boite-en-valise, box in a suitcase

Duchamp’s boite-en-valise, box in a suitcase

Duchamp’s life as a traveler informed his art throughout his life. The Duchamp Syndrome, PlayCo’s current co-production with Mexico’s Por Piedad Teatro, highlights many of the key elements of Duchamp himself and his life as an immigrant artist. Antonio Vega brings to life a character filled with Duchamp’s qualities of recognizing his exile and displacement, using his imagination to transform his world, while trying to find humor in it all.

Author: buzzadmin
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