Glenn Mott came to the Fred Jones Art Museum to do a site-specific poetry reading and lecture on the Rauschenberg exhibit - "The Lotus Series".This was Rauschenberg's last work, but as Mott told us, its origins go back to the photographs taken in China in the early 80's. Mott told us about the Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange (ROCI), "focused primarily on developing countries, in which paintings, sculpture, and videos were created and exhibited from Chile to the Soviet Union, countries in which artists and the public were isolated not only from the American art, but from their own artistic traditions due to the political situation." (Mott)
The ROCI projects became "a social force and conduit for new ideas" and the exhibition had an enormous effect on all Chinese artists of that generation.
Mott said in his lecture: "The thing for me about any work of art is to avoid the cleverness of seeing what is not there, so I can focus on what is. It’s actually very hard to do because we are trained with a critical impulse preventing us from what I will call the long gaze; that is, purposeful looking. We are probably biologically hard wired to fill in the gaps and find stories, and to flatter ourselves with powers of comprehension. The advantage I think we have with Rauschenberg is that it is already hard to read into his work because it’s so: surface. Surface made us modern with the focus on process and materials, resisting absorption in the lyrical and representational, whether in the visual arts, the compositional technology of jazz, or exploding certain hackneyed language structures in poetry. Rauschenberg throws his militant gaze back to us, and seems to see us looking. As John Cage wrote, in his seminal early work titled On Rauschenberg '. . . there is at least the possibility of looking anywhere, not just where someone arranged you should. You are then free to deal with your freedom just as the artist dealt with his, not in the same way but, nevertheless, originally.' "
I think you can look at a picture or a painting and yes, sometimes your first instinct is to see something that is not there, to find hidden meanings. It is important to see the art in its truest, most naked form, to let it speak to you rather than go searching for what it is trying to say. But what Mott is saying about Rauschenberg's work is what you see is what you get. Your gaze... your freedom... your appreciation of what Rauschenberg saw as beautiful, as meaningful.
"What I find in the literature is that the persistent question about Rauschenberg’s work has historically been one of interpretation; that is, the critical anxiety involved how to ascribe meaning to the surface, and how or why he choose certain images at the exclusion of others," Mott said.
Rauschenberg thought all objects carried beauty, and this is what he used in his art - ordinary, every day items. Because as he said, we are surrounded by these things all day long, and if we saw them as ugly, we would be miserable people.
According to Mott, "The most difficult person to surprise will generally be oneself. Acumen and self-knowledge bind our social lives, preparing us for what is expected. We are, if we have a modicum of sanity, socialized—necessarily so—but we are also profoundly interior. Our rapport with art, as with people, is likely to be a refinement of existing habituations. One thing I find wonderfully ebullient about Rauschenberg is this: where many artists and poets need to invent systematic limitations in order to produce work that will surprise and subvert the habitual act of self-editing, or just to deceive the speakeasy of life’s official emotions, Rauschenberg was for "'Yes.' 'No' excludes. I’m for inclusion"."
Raushcenberg saw the beauty in everything around him and he captured that beauty, framed it, and made the world see it differently.
You can see the video of his entire lecture and readings on the MAE Poetry Series website.
You can see Mott's Lotus flash poem below, or by clicking on the link... it won't have the exact same effect on you as it did at the reading, but you get the idea! Lotus Animations Mott