At the beginning of the 50s, while he was living in Paris, Robert Breer produces a painting influenced by geometrical abstraction. Most influenced by Neoplasticism defined by Mondrian and Theo Van Doesburg, he participates beside Pol Burry, Tinguely or Soto in the exhibition Le Mouvement co-curated by Denise René and Victor Vasarely. Without however, merging with the ambitions of Kinetic Art, while the plastic rigor marked by the formal and chromatic purity was contracted by the Néo-avant-garde lead by Pier Manzoni, Tinguely and Yves Klein, Breer escapes : the line is punched, the color dissolves, the film surmounts the painting, the plane is an elastic surface on which the forms move and runaway. To him deviance is a kind of swing: from geometry towards sliding aesthetics. The breakaway is beyond the specificities of mediums as shown in his first film group Forms Phases I, II and IV (1952). As Laura Hoptman explains "The search for rationality in the midst of chaos embodied by postwar neo-plastic abstraction was, from the beginning, anathema to Breer's antic spirit, and his compositions of the fifties consisted of shapes that knocked up against one another rather than fit together.? Corners are smoothed; lines are more flexible and slightly curved. "The severity, the sharp opticality, the obdurate thing ness of paintings by Max Bill, Ellsworth Kelly, François Morellet, and Victor Vasarely, all of whom showed their work in Paris during the decade of the fifties, are missing in Breer's pictures which are neither static nor vibrating but rather in something like arrested movement."
Using an old Bolex 16mm, Breer shoots Form Phases from collages and paintings. In an interview by Yann Beauvais he retraces the process. At the time, he says, it seemed strange to him to produce "absolute" paintings one after another and every week. To understand the process which led from the virgin canvas to the pictorial and terminal absolute, he drew on transparent plastic sheets the evolution of the project, making them flicker in order sequence like a flip-book. He experimented for the first time with the phenomenon of retinal perception, on which animation films are based. He filmed the series, image by image, breaking with the rules of Neoplasicism, injecting breaks and incoherencies. Unstable painting with mutant plastic forms, the screen was transformed into a canvas on which the painting goes beyond the limits of its own support. Now before cinema, cinema was already there. Instead of considering the result as the terminal image and refusing the outcome, Breer preferred evaporation, choosing a deployment not only of the painting on the cinematic ribbon but also its extension and its phenomenological openness.
During an interview which took place at the time of Pat's Birthday in 1962, a kind of home-movie made in collaboration with Claes Oldenburg and shoot during the his wife Pat's birthday, Breer explaines that his film was built on the notion of ?equivalents», that is to say, a biplane equals a hotdog or battleship equals pie equals hat equals ice cream equals sailboat equals pants on a hanger and Christ on cross and hamburger and so on. "One thing begets another" is not only the visual pun which allowed Méliès to transform a local train into a hearse, but it is also this aesthetic of the displacement which in Form Phase is a transformation of a shape as another one appears.
The cross interest of Breer for movement at first, and consequently for cinema, manifests itself in the various pre-film objects which he revisited in the middle of the 60s. The optical games of Now You See it (thaumatrope - 1996) or Homage to John Cage (mutoscope -1963) liven up through movement. Now to animate something it is to give life by way of a flux.
Meanwhile Breer's interest in movement turns essentially towards jerking or slowness, discontinuity or fate rather than fluidity. As shapes emerge they engender one another through collage and plastic match. They endure and generate the moment of their eruption and of their disappearance. Movement becomes a tool to joke and amaze, cinema is a machine to produce a metamorphoses.
Breer's Rugs are formless and crawling sculptures covered with plastic and activated by motors. Floats are minimal kinetic sculptures, shown for the first time in Osaka with E.A.T (Experiments in Art and Technology) in 1970. Using this principle they slide slowly in silence and in random fashion. In action these animated objects pursue the intention of the film but on the ground; it is about a graphic and temporal deployment of painting, but this time on a horizontal surface. The forms are in movement, the trajectories are hazardous, the surface evaporates through distention, and the plan is rethought in a temporal perspective. Against the illusion and in complicity with the notions of "unwinding" and "fluidity", Breer creates a dysfunctional system by editing his films very or too fast and through the ultra-slow and risky trajectories of his sculptures. So now instead of considering the movement and trajectories as the only criterion of geometry and speed, should we perhaps consider revising the visual continuum and envisage another time: the link between art (the cinema) and life ?
Heir of Dadaism, multidisciplined and a prolific artist, Robert Breer introduces the cinema into collage and mechanics into sculpture, instilling life and accident in his forms, offering them their own autonomy. Robert Breer was born in 1926 in the United States, sculptor, film-maker, draftsman and painter, at present he lives and works near New York.
With the kind participation of gb Agency