Shaping Duration: Bergson and Modern Sculpture

The European Legacy 16 (7):899 - 918 (2011)
Abstract
In this article, I consider the relevance of Bergson's theory of durée for an understanding of sculpture by focusing on the work of three canonical artists in the history of twentieth-century modernism: the French Cubist Raymond Duchamp-Villon, the Italian Futurist Umberto Boccioni, and the London-based Vorticist Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. While these sculptors produced widely divergent aesthetic forms, I argue that they all endorsed Bergson's notion of durée as a spontaneous process of qualitative differentiation. These artists reconfigured their medium in terms of Bergson's process philosophy, whether in the guise of an artists? generative imagination (Duchamp-Villon), representations of the human body as a living center of indetermination (Boccioni), or the act of direct carving as an intuitive response to a sculptor's chosen material (Gaudier-Brzeska). These Bergsonian paradigms enable us to reassess Jack Burnham's evaluation of Bergson's impact in his seminal text Beyond Modern Sculpture: The Effects of Science and Technology on the Sculpture of this Century (1968). Finally, by drawing on recent discussions of cybernetic and new media art, I will highlight the limitations of Burnham's categorical dismissal of Bergsonism as an outmoded metaphysics, irrelevant to newer conceptions of ?sculpture as system.?
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