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From an Object to Situations: The Complexity of a Single Object in Dan Flavin’s Early Work 1959-1963

Jung Eun Young 1

1홍익대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This essay explores the complexity, even contradictions, of the single object motif in Dan Flavin’s early work of 1959-1963. After his seminal the diagonal of May 25, 1963 (to Constantin Brancusi) , Flavin made his art exclusively with the single medium of electric light until his death in 1996. As such, the “singleness” or “one phenomenon”, to use Donald Judd’s words, constituted the core of Flavin’s minimal installations. The seemingly detached,simple use of the readymade medium, however, belies a complex psychological mechanism which operated in the artist’s obsession with light. Focusing on the psychological dimension of Flavin’s early work, I particularly attend to his writings and personal notes as well as his collage constructions and the series entitled icons, and discuss the ways in which Flavin’s complex relation to Catholic belief affected his concentration on the ambient light. More specifically, I illuminate how the artist’s simultaneous denial of and desire for spiritual transcendence resulted in an obsessive return to a situational light in which the Catholic ritual itself was displaced and condensed. My reading of this psychological process in Flavin’s early work is indebted to Jacques Lacan’s analysis of the insistence of signifiers in the realm of the unconscious and Roman Jakobson’s explications of metaphoric and metonymic processes. Analyzing the way in which Flavin’s denial/desire was displaced and condensed, I explore how it was addressed in his early collage constructions adopting reflective objects such as crushed tin cans. The rich, unresolved complexity underlying Flavin’s denial/desire evolved toward a series of icons and culminated in the diagonal of May 25, 1963 as an event rather than an object, i.e., a situation where light itself constantly returns yet its meaning permanently delays as in a metonymic drift.

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