Totem 191

Art is more than just a visual medium; it is a conduit for ideas to affect emotions. It is also a way to read the world to expand comprehension within human experience. And so artists often create works that interconnect different symbolic meanings. This helps unlock the hidden character of the human condition. ‘Totem191’ is an example of this. Listed below are its interconnections. Enjoy.

Interconnetion #1a:

Borrowing from Marcel Duchamp’s 1919 artwork entitled L.H.O.O.Q. (Mona Lisa with a moustache), I have rebuilt this artwork, appropriating it as a parody. Which, at the time, was as a parody itself. This draws a parallel between then and now, two initiatives interconnected across time.

Interconnection #1b:

In the title, the number ‘191’ can be seen as the start of a repeating series of numbers, 1919… etc, reflecting the year Duchamp’s original artwork was created. Here, the number series acts as a symbol, poetically expressing the relentless movement forward in time. 

Interconnection #2:

The French pronunciation for L.H.O.O.Q is “elle a chaud au cul” (“she has a hot ass”). The ‘Ass’ has now been re-conceptualized as a Donkey. 

Interconnection #3a:

The word ‘Ass’ is from the Old English “assa,” which comes from a Celtic word that was based on the Latin “asinus.” Asinus is a subgenus of Equus, Equus is a genus of mammals that includes horses, asses and zebras. Here, the progression of semantics brings about an evolution of meaning, shifting the conceptual landscape. 

Interconnection #3b:

EQUUS shares a similar letter pattern to LHOOQ, as given by the doubling of the vowel – simply a playful parallel to Duchamp’s original artwork, yet functional to connect the donkey imagery on the adjoining page. Here, semantics and word forms are the impetus of this joining. 

Interconnection #4:

The seam in the paper symbolizes a boundary between ‘then and now,’ the impenetrable rift that separates us from history. However, on the ‘now’ side, the donkey demonstrates an infinite motion, exiting the frame right only to re-emerge in the frame left, on and on, alluding to an expanded sense of time, endless and repeating. This represents the very fact of art itself, a recycling of the parody repeated in time. 

Interconnection #5:

Time marches forward as each successive instant brings the next. The donkey also moves forward, implying the idea of ‘carrot-and-stick,’ an archetype synonymous with a donkey. In this case, the carrot is replaced with the Totem, not dangling but deposited on the ground, as if excreted from the arse of the ass. This apparent debasement of the Totem reflects the defacement of the Mona Lisa, a doubling in the spirit of the Dada art movement.

Interconnection #6: 

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty principle (symbols along the top edge of the art) illustrates a fundamental limit on the perfection of logical truth. To explain, in quantum mechanics, related pairs of measurements (such as position and momentum) are known as complementary variables. The ‘complementarity’ refers to the fact that position and momentum cannot be measured simultaneously despite our logical inclination that they should.

Interconnection #7:

Dada is the rejection of logic and reason, detaching itself from convention and the constraints of reality. The rejection of logic and reason is also the premise of Zen, encompassed in the word ‘Mu 無’ 

Mu means ‘no,’ ‘non, or ‘not.’ In Zen tradition, signifying that which is ‘non-conceptual,’ referring to ultimate reality, what is beyond conventional thought or intellectual distinction. 

Other Eastern spiritual traditions also tap into ‘fundamental reality’ as the unity and mutual interrelation of all things and events; called Brahman in Hinduism, Dharmakaya in Buddhism, and The Tao in Taoism. Interconnectedness abounds!

“The artist’s world is one of free creation, and this can only come from intuitions directly and immediately rising from the is-ness of things, unhampered by senses and intellect. He creates forms and sounds out of formlessness and soundlessness. To this extent, the artist’s world coincides with that of Zen.”

~ D.T. Suzuki