Using 3D Modeling and Animation to See Apolinère Enameled with the Mind

by Rhonda Roland Shearer
with 3D modeling and animation by Gregory Alvarez

* The complete version of this article will be available online by April 15, 2003.



Marcel Duchamp frequently commented in interviews that he “hated the retina” and was only interested in the “beauty of the gray matter,” experienced in chess. [1] What does Duchamp mean?

Chess offers two players a set of three-dimensional physical pieces (pawns through King). Constrained with pre-set rules, each of the two players select and execute sequential moves among their own pieces, both independent of and in considerations of their opponents’ combination of selections and moves. The traces from the two chess players’ selections and moves of chess pieces, in effect, generates a structure in time and space. (see Figs 1a, b, c, and d)

In real time, a spectator can look at the game’s structure or at its later notational form that historically records the moves. Whether it is read in live action or in notational form, the chess spectator and the chess player both “see” patterns and meaning with their mind’s eye. The “retina” that Duchamp refers to records physical movements empty of meaning. Only the mind discerns the patterns, strategies and leaps of creativity that lie forever inaccessible to the retina. The mind even transcends the law of physics that predetermines events to move lock-step and running "forward" only in a linear sequence of time. As if immortal, when considered in the mind chess patterns live nimbly outside these strict time restrictions.

For example, with only the lens of chess notation, the mind can see a game played thousand of years ago as if it were alive and played today. This same capacity for transcendence over physical events and time also allows the mind to imagine and to make fairly accurate predictions of future events almost like a crystal ball. So, how then can Duchamp’s belief--the superiority of using the mind instead of the retina in chess and in art --allow us to see anew his work, Apolinère Enameled? [2] (Fig. 2, Apolinère Enameled, original version, 1916-17)




[1] Pierre Cabanne, Dialogue with Marcel Duchamp (New York: Da Capo Press, 1987).

[2] The fact of the whether or not Apolinère Enameled was an original “ready-made” Sapolin paint sign or custom-made by Duchamp himself, was first discussed in my paper “Marcel Duchamp's Impossible Bed and Other "Not" Readymade Objects: A Possible Route of Influence” (1997-8, Part I and Part II), and the “Marcel Duchamp: A readymade case for collecting objects of our cultural heritage along with works of art.” Tout-Fait: The Marcel Duchamp Studies Online Journal, Vol. 1, issue 3 (December 2000): Collection