have you seen the rhinos in southampton? they are a group of 42 rhinos painted by artists, sponsored by companies from denplan to southampton solent university, placed around southampton city centre. each one brightly coloured and inviting, yet we come close and we are dissuaded from really engaging by a sign. each one is placed on a concrete plinth exclaiming ‘this rhino is a work of art’. suddenly, we mustn’t touch, or climb or physically engage with the beasts, despite their comfy looking backs and their cuddleable countenances. we are conditioned to apply a reverie to these objects because they are ‘art’. thankfully, many are ignoring this proclamation, and i have seen hoardes of giggling children mount their steeds and gallop off into their imaginations, rebellious parents snapping enthusiastically.
but it started me thinking about art and what it is, and how we consider it – conceptually, aesthetically, ponderously, reverentially.
a favourite piece that deals with this, is kosuth’s ‘one and three chairs’ (1965). the constant in the piece is the plan – one chair, one photograph (life size) of the chair and one large print wall hung definition of the word ‘chair’. it should be of the chair that is in the space anyway, with the piece developed specifically around that chair – photo to the left, def to the right.
kosuth said of the piece:
“I used common, functional objects – such as a chair – and to the left of the object would be a full-scale photograph of it and to the right of the object would be a photostat of a definition of the object from the dictionary. Everything you saw when you looked at the object had to be the same that you saw in the photograph, so each time the work was exhibited the new installation necessitated a new photograph. I liked that the work itself was something other than simply what you saw. By changing the location, the object, the photograph and still having it remain the same work was very interesting. It meant you could have an art work which was that idea of an art work, and its formal components weren’t important.” Joseph Kosuth, April 7, 1970:
in a conflation of my responses to these two things, i have made a small piece of work for the artists’ vending machine at unit11studios, called ‘kosuth’s rhino’. it comprises a small model rhino, a picture of the rhino, and a definition of ‘rhinoceros’
“It meant you could have an art work which was that idea of an art work, and its formal components weren’t important.”
so, in my mind, the southampton rhinos remain an art work, however their audience interacts with them. the rhino rodeo riders become a formal component of the work, the experience becomes a part of the work, the laughter becomes a part of the work, the reverential looker becomes a part of the work. indeed, these rhinos are works of art.
nb. the artists’ vending machine, from which you may purchase small contemporary works of art, including ‘kosuth’s rhino’ by sarah filmer, for just £5, will be sited at unit11studios as part of the southampton open studios trail, aug 17th, 18th and 24th. click here for further details: https://unit11studios.wordpress.com/2013/08/05/southampton-open-studios-trail-2013/