Saturday, January 31, 2009

What is it?

Sometime while I was in college, I heard the design doctrine of Form following Function. I didn't take it as a precept that designers should follow, but rather as a Truth about the world: that form WOULD follow function, even in cases where bad designers didn't insure that that was the case. If you can imagine, for example, a bottle opener with the outward appearance of half a pound of sliced Virginia ham; my question would be, can it in fact open a bottle? If so, then it must have an opening with the proper dimensions to grip the bottle cap. It must have the structure of a simple second class lever. These attributes might be disguised, but can't be hidden completely if the tool is actually going to be effective in opening a bottle. If these attributes are missing, it might just be the makings of a good sandwich. What follows from this belief is really pretty profound and has shaped my worldview in fundamental ways. In the Art World for example, many artists believe that they can control the meaning of their work after they have made it. They feel that they can explain, to those whom they take to be the duller viewers, what the artwork means by use of a text they hang next to the work. I believe that a work of art means only what is built into it. Hanging the "explanatory text" is like trying to convince someone that they can open a bottle with a half-pound of sliced ham.

An extension of this Truth is that if we consider the form of a thing, we should be able to intuit its function. It's the basic underlying tenet upon which I've built my pedagogical theory as a Professor of Painting. But it has also led me to a series of interesting puzzles and some pretty distinctive behavior, especially when I travel. While other people might rush to see the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal in a strange land, I always seek out second hand stores. If I see a thing that intrigues me, I'll buy it and then try to figure out what it is. Mostly I've had a series of stunning successes that do nothing but strengthen my belief in My Truth. Recently however, I've run into a brick wall.

I bought the object shown below at a second hand store in Essen several months back. Since then I've played with it, drawn it, dreamed of it, turned it in every direction and considered every possible configuration between the two parts. I still have no idea what it is. When I despaired, I started asking locals. Surely they would know. It must have something to do with that particularly German Kult of the Ordner... or it's a surface for slicing cheese for Raclett?

Nein. No one can help me. No one has seen anything like it. Lots of ideas and suggestions, but no convincing explanation. So now I turn to my readers. Has anyone seen one of these before? Do you know what it is, or do you have a suggestion that might help me? I've tried to photograph it in a way that would show each of its significant details, including the slight bevel at the edges of the long thin opening in the larger flat piece. You can even see details that suggest it might be handmade in the slight raggedness of the cut. But I'll be happy to take and post further photos or to answer questions about this object if there are any. I suggest we carry out the dialog using the "Comments" section of the blog posting, so all questions and answers will be public. The reader with the first correct answer will win an original gouache painting on paper by me, Chris Terry. I'll be the only judge of what constitutes a correct answer and my decision will be final. In the event that there is more than one person who contributes to a correct answer, we'll... Well, we'll work it out somehow.

Let the contest begin.


Tyler Vance said...

How much movement is there when it is joined?

Pat said...

You could lean a framed print or photo up against it for display. Or a book?
Also, regarding the statement"I believe that a work of art means only what is built into it" -- I agree that artists' statements outside their works of art are extraneous, but I also believe that an artist's biography and non-art actions (which are extraneous to the art) can help the audience/art consumer interpret the artwork.

Christopher T. Terry said...

Movement question: lots. The slot in piece one is twice as wide as it needs to be to let piece two slide through it. So the connection is very loose. The metal hardware piece pivots 360 degrees around the base of piece two.

Pat's comments: yes, display is a good thought. Books fall over immediately though. Maybe a picture, but wouldn't we expect groove or something for the base of the print to slide into? The natural angle where the two pieces fit together with stability is quite steep, so things fall over too easily. I can't rule out print/photo display yet, but I'm not convinced either.

And you are certainly right about written stuff enhancing our appreciation of a work of art. I tend toward gross overstatement and exaggeration. I try to see it as a positive quality, but sometimes it goes too far.

Rebecca H said...

how large are the two pieces?

Christopher T. Terry said...

Size, a very good question. Piece 1 is 24.5 cm by 18.5 cm. About 0.4 cm thick. So, 9 and a half inches by 7 and a quarter. Piece 2 is 22.5 x 14cm or 8 and three quarters by 5 and a half inches. Both pieces are a light plywood, not varnished or anything, but sanded to a very smooth finish.


Charlie H said...

When you configure it as in picture #2, and then stand it on the two ends, so it resembles an "A," could a mouse use the metal bar as a tie rack?

Christopher T. Terry said...

Mouse Tie Rack: at first I thought this was a silly prank, played by some mean spirited Internet hooligan who hides behind the anonymity of a generic "handle." But I was mistaken. I've placed a bid on the item below and I'll test out the potential of my mystery object for proper short term storage of rodent haberdashery.

Rebecca H said...

This has me really stumped.

- a mini easel?
- a sifter for flour or sugar?
- a pastry crust shaper?
- a clattery musical instrument?
- a cutting board with a guard?
- a measuring device?
- a torture device?
- a pan scraper?

nothing seems to quite fit.

- a woodworking project gone awry?
- a piece of a lager entity?

Or maybe it is a rodent sized tie rack?

I'll keep thinking about it, it would be much more fun if I had it handy to play with though...

Rebecca H said...

hey, maybe it's some kind of punch, or something to assist in making bows?

Charlie H said...

Could you give us that link again? It doesn't work for me.

Christopher T. Terry said...

I'm having trouble keeping up with the comments. First, the link isn't showing up as "live" for me either, but if I cut and paste it into a browser, it works. Here's the link again:

Of Rebecca's comments, I'm beginning to think "a woodworking project gone awry" is the best bet. The other suggestions are possible, but not convincing... My hope was that a reader would recognize this object. It seems as though that isn't going to happen. But keep up your good work; we may get it yet.

Em said...

Honestly, I've been thinking about this for a good week. It has "haunted" me a bit as well. You posed a tough question with a good incentive. But Shawn nor I can give a solid guess. Although, my guts keep leaning toward kitchen item of some sort. Just put in there and see if it ever seems handy. I think a followup would be appreciated if you do ever find out.

You Ly said...