Last week we were given an article to read: ‘The Function of the Studio’ by Daniel Buren (translated by Thomas Repensek), written in 1971. The essay asks, in basic terms, what function does the studio have for the artist and the artwork? I found this question interesting because I had never before asked it. My ‘studio’ is the sitting room, mostly. Or basically wherever I happen to be with some paints, a canvas and brushes.
The essay talks about the ‘first frame’, which is the artist’s immediate environment, and the ‘second frame’, which is the gallery space. As the essay states ‘…the museum and gallery on the one hand and the studio on the other are linked to form the foundation and edifice of the same system. To question one while leaving the other intact accomplishes nothing’ (p.51). So in other words the studio is vitally important to the artwork. The essay argues that in the studio the artwork is ‘closest to its own reality’ (p.53). Thereby removing the artwork from the studio it is removing it from its own reality.
Buren goes on to state that the place where the artwork ends up is not defined by the work. If that were the case the artwork would need to be identical to all other artworks. If, on the other hand, we are to admit the uniqueness of every work of art then it needs to be accepted that no gallery can ever adapt itself to the work.
There is an alternative, he posits, and that is if the work is to be seen elsewhere apart from the studio then either ‘the definitive place of the work must be the work itself’ (p.55). In other words the space of the museum has no relation to the space of the work. Or the artist ‘is led to conceive all possible situations of every work’ (ibid). This means that the gallery space becomes a blank frame, uniformly lit and neutralized. The artist must thus ‘banalize his own work’ (ibid).
The studio acts like a bubble. In the studio the artist experiences a flow of positive energy. It is almost like being in a hypnotic state. Perhaps for some the need to create art is cathartic? Or perhaps it is like an uncontrollable urge?
I think that what Buren is trying to say is that the artwork is in a state of constant flux, it changes depending on its location. To the artist the artwork is like a child. The artist is concerned about feedback, acts upon feedback, feedback throws up new questions about the artwork. It feels safe to have the artwork in the studio, surrounded by the things that have influenced it. It feels very scary to let it out into the outside world, bereft of its ‘things’.
This article was written in 1971 and that is over 40 years ago now. Perhaps someone needs to come along and update it. The concept of the gallery space has changed quite dramatically since then, and even the idea of the studio has too. The studio isn’t necessarily one single, well-lit space, it could be a laptop, a corner of a room, the great outdoors. We have those ‘sculptures in the expanding field‘ who carve their artwork in rock or snow where it is to be viewed. We also have artists who create their artwork straight in the gallery space. I agree with a lot of Buren’s ideas, such as the fact that I am influenced by my surroundings when I am creating an artwork and that the artwork changes when it is in a gallery. Reading it and discussing it has given me a lot of food for thought.
Buren, Daniel (trans. Thomas Repensek; 1971) ‘The Function of the Studio’