Vol.1 / Issue 3


Why the Hatrack is and/or is not Readymade:
with Interactive Software, Animations,
and Videos for Readers to Explore

by Rhonda Roland Shearer with Gregory Alvarez, Robert Slawinski, Vittorio Marchi and text box by Stephen Jay Gould

* Please note this essay contains 8 videos,
10 animations and 3 interactive presentations.

* Article Part IV through VI will be published in Tout-Fait, Perpetual 2005.



Click to enlarge
Illustration 1.
Marcel Duchamp, Note from the Green Box, 1934 (typographic version by Richard Hamilton, translated by George Heard Hamilton, 1960)

Duchamp states in notes written between 1911-15 (see illustration 1, showing Duchamp's Green Box Note published in 1934) that the time and date of his readymades is important "information" in addition to the "serial characteristic of the readymade."(1)

The "snapshot effect"(2) of this timing of the readymade, to which Duchamp refers in this note, makes sense when we examine Duchamp's readymades with his mathematical notes (written 1911-15 but held back for publication by Duchamp until 1967, a year before his death.)(3)

First, let us begin by "looking" at Duchamp's readymades through time. Since Duchamp claims that he "lost" most of his original readymade objects, Duchamp's 1915 hatrack, as well as his urinal, snow shovel, coatrack, bottlerack and bicycle wheel and stool, exist only in a series of varied representations given to us by Duchamp over an extended period of time.

As an example, the following time-line illustrates the sequence of appearances of Duchamp's "lost" hatrack. We see "the serial characteristic of the Readymade" just as Duchamp described in a presentation of his "Readymade" (the title he used for his hatrack in the 1941 representation, see illustrations 2A, B, C, D, E, and F below).

Click each image to enlarge
Time Line of Readymade Series of Hatracks - As Seen by Spectators
(made 1916-17
found 1960s)
(made 1918
found 1960s)
(made 1964
seen 1991)
2D Shadow in Oil Paint
Tu m'
2D Print made with Photo
2D Photo
Studio Photo
2D Shadow in Photo
Cast Shadows (detail)
3D Wood Model
Hatrack (limited edition of 8)
2D Blueprint

2000 Succession Marcel Duchamp, ARS, N.Y./ADAGP, Paris


Thus the tally of Duchamp's hatrack representations is as follows:

2 2D shadows
(one painted [1918, Tu m']; one photographed [1918, Cast Shadows])

2 2D photographic images
(one made into a print [1941, Boite-en-valise]; and one altered studio photograph [1916-17, found in 1960s]. Note both photographs are altered -- to be discussed later in this essay.

1 2D blueprint (1964)
that, one assumes, generated
1 3D wood model (1964)
(in an edition of 8)

In effect, Duchamp gives us only 6 "snapshots" in time of his Hatrack Readymade (with "all kinds of delays")(4).The limited total of information that we have, obviously, does not equal the quantity of data that we would have if we had access to the lost 3D original or if we suddenly possessed many more 2D photographs that carefully depicted the original 3D hatrack "in the round."

Indeed, with the paltry set of data that Duchamp provides, the only physical or mental construction we can make, based upon the hatrack's original form, is by fusing or averaging and filling in among the 6 representations previously listed -- 5 images in 2D and 1 model in 3D. This procedure can be done mentally via visualization, or physically via model-making, with conscious effort on the part of spectators. However, interpreting 2D depictions, mentally translating them into 3D, and then rotating and joining them (with visual filling in), is not a skill equally possessed by everyone and has, in fact, been frequently used as one measure of intelligence.(5)

Alternatively, if we do not help ourselves by consciously combining the 6 hatrack depictions, the result is an ad hoc, automatic conclusion or assumption-generated "readymade" from the unconscious mind. A single depiction -- such as the first Duchamp hatrack that we see in a photograph or a print, or the 3D Schwarz model, or any one of a combination of Duchamp's 6 particular depictions -- has served to evoke in our minds a "general idea of a Duchamp hatrack" that is surely derived from an uncertain mixture taken from among Duchamp's 6 hatrack representations and our prior experience with hatracks.

But does our present "generalization" or "knowledge" of Duchamp's hatrack hold up to testing? In other words, will the generality that we have made about Duchamp's readymades, and have long held in our minds and in our written art history -- that such readymades as the hatrack are simply store bought, unaltered, mass produced objects -- be maintained after more snapshots are added to the 6 that we have already tallied. Yet, you may challenge: how can we add more snapshots to our generality when Duchamp gives us only 6 representations and the original is lost?

Herein lies the key to Duchamp's insight, conveyed within his In the Infinitive [a.k.a. the White Box](1967) mathematical notes (1911-15). After identifying the 6 representations that Duchamp has given us as 6 distinct and separate snapshot views of his original hatrack, we have, essentially, a set of 6 "cuts" or 2D parts taken from a larger set of information, or the hatrack as a 3D whole. These 6 "cuts" are, in essence, 6 perspective views or observations. Each cut is also, itself, an "aggregate" (made of parts) of additional "cuts" or observations -- ad infinitum. In other words, to add more cuts to our set of 6 hatrack representations, we must simply repeat our previous operation. Just as we took 6 cuts (parts), beginning from our generality of Duchamp's hatrack, we must now take these 6 cuts (now themselves a set or whole) and cut each of these cuts into more cuts.

Click to enlarge
Illustration 3A, 3B
Marcel Duchamp, Note from In the Infinitive [a.k.a. the White Box], 1967
Note: labels 3A and 3B are for clarity added by author

Duchamp clearly indicates his grasp of this recursive nature of our mental operations in the White Box Notes. Several drawings illustrate two perspectives that behave as one process split into two alternating mental states. Our perspectives mechanically move back and forth between the general (a single perspective of the AGFC figure, see illustration 3A) to the particular (multiple snapshots [cuts] or perspectives of A,G,F,C in a series over time, see illustration 3B). Immediately after perspectives A,G,F and C are cut as in figure 3B, we have created a new set that functions as a generality, as in figure 3A. We then begin the cycle all over again, with more cuts of this generality, then another generality, then cuts in a series, again at finer and finer scales. Essentially, we are mentally and observationally moving back and forth between states 3A and 3B -- wholes and parts at different levels of details.

Illustrations 4A and 4B show how the schematic diagram of Duchamp's two mental operations contained in illustration 3A and 3B apply to his hatrack. Illustration 4A matches the relation of the single perspective in 3A (Here Duchamp's hatrack in particular, and prior experience of hatracks in general, are fused together), whereas illustration 4B matches the relation of a series of perspectives taken over time as in 3B (Where Duchamp's hatracks are reduced to multiple but discrete snapshots in a time-series). Illustration 4C depicts a possible series of mental steps that could occur immediately after 4B. This series illustrates how we now cut each of the 6 cuts from step 4B into more cuts, at an even finer scale of observation, ad infinitum.

click all images to enlarge
Illustration 4A.

Illustration 4B.

Illustration 4C.

As in 3A and 4A above
Step 1-whole generalization
Single perspective of set 6 Duchamp Hatracks fused with observer's prior experience


As in 3B and 4B above
Step 2
-whole cut into parts
Multiple perspectives (cuts) of 6 Duchamp Hatracks fused with observer's prior experience

As in 3A and 4A
Step 3
-Hatrack parts (cuts) now are their own whole
As in 3B and 4B
Step 4
-This new Hatrack whole is also cut into parts(finer scale
As in 3A and 4D
Step 5-This Hatrack part is now seen as one whole

AS in 3B and 4B
Step 6-
This whole hatrack part is also cut into more parts--ad infinitum


Step 4 of illustration 4C above answers the challenge previously mentioned: how do we add more cuts to our limited set of 6 representations of Duchamp's hatrack?

Click each image to enlarge
Illustration 5.
Cube seen in 2D parts
as eye moves around it
Illustration 6.
Perspective distortions of cube
in relation to fixed eye

When we actually take Duchamp's hatracks representations and add the cuts (beyond merely identifying the 6 snapshots as in step 2 in illustration 4C), we discover that every one of the 6 representations (5 in 2D and 1 in 3D) is not, as we might have expected, a single cut from the same 3D hatrack object. By way of example, see illustration #5, if we reassemble all observations (cuts) resulting from the set of all eye positions looking at this particular cube, we would be able to predict, and easily to build, a symmetrical cube object from the resulting limited set of cuts. Each cut, upon examination, fulfills our expectation of a cube's form with its 6 faces, 12 edges 8 vertices -- all we have to do is just count them to confirm. Illustration #6 depicts how the perspective distortions change according to the angle of eye's observation of the cube.

Our expectations are not fulfilled upon examining the 6 hatrack snapshots. Not only are the curvatures of the hooks different in all 6 representations, but we must conclude that even the number of hooks varies after we count them. For example, the Schwarz 3D model, (the "corrected" second version) has 6 equal length hooks, symmetrically placed as 3 on one side and 3 on the other side of the base's circular form. In contrast, the blueprint (approved and signed "okay, Marcel Duchamp") has a weird tangle of 2 long and 3 short hooks.


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