Keeping Our Ring Fingers Crossed in Los Angeles
Tate: Necessarily So

You Know the Drill

Chris at escapegrace points, and having pointed writes:

The Tate Modern has begun a series of Tate Tracks, compositions by contemporary musicians upon reflection of a particular piece of Tate art. The first release is The Chemical Brothers inspired by Sir Jacob Epstein's Torso in Metal from "The Rock Drill" (1913-1914 and pictured above).

The Chemical Brothers track thrums menacingly, if somewhat predictably.  It is particularly effective, for those with a high-speed connection, if you play it while viewing the sculpture in "slideshow" mode.  A low bandwidth version, sans slideshow, is accessible here.  I look forward to future installments featuring music triggered by the likes of Kline, Twombly, Warhol's Brillo boxes, and (yummy!) Man Ray.

The original Rock Drill is no more, but was a major major hit with the High Moderns.  Donald Kuspit discusses its history and the origins of the Tate Torso at length in his ongoing Critical History of 20th-Century Art:

The Rock Drill 1913-1915 A perverse Cubo-Futurist mixture of the organic and mechanical, like Duchamp-Villon’s horse -- all the more so because of the phallic, aggressive, American-made pneumatic drill that was initially part of Epstein’s sculpture -- it was a daring avant-garde innovation for its time.  As Richard Cork writes, 'Epstein was almost alone in proposing that a machine could play a legitimate part in a work of art,' although he was not so extreme as to call a machine a work of art, as Duchamp did.  Epstein’s work 'seemed like a bold sculptural expression of the Vorticists’ theoretical insistence on "the point of maximum energy",' but he did not join the aggressive Vorticist group, although Wyndham Lewis, one of its leaders, praised the robot-like sculpture for its 'dream-like strangeness.' . . .

But in 1916 The Rock Drill changed -- it lost its drill and legs, and one arm, and became a crippled robot.  Re-exhibited as Torso in Metal from 'The Rock Drill', it looked 'melancholy and defenceless,' as Cork says.  Plaster had changed to metal, but the figure remains 'pitifully vulnerable' -- unexpectedly human.  It is no longer an invincible, ruthless, predatory creature -- a kind of grotesque humanoid insect.  It has been castrated, and turned into a hollow shell of its former belligerent self. Epstein has stripped the figure of its weapon, as it were, changing it from a strong to a weak figure.  Also, brilliantly, he has a turned a whole figure into a fragment, suggesting that, however ominously masked, its spirit was broken. . . .

With Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound was also impressed with the original Rock Drill -- Hugh Kenner gives it plenty of play in The Pound Era -- to the extent that it lies beneath numbers 85 to 95 of The Cantos, written during the initial years of Pound's post-war commitment to St. Elizabeth's Hospital and published in 1956 as Section: Rock-Drill, 85-95 de los cantares.  Josh Corey considered that sequence as he was blogging his way ambitiously through The Cantos in the summer of 2004; like Gunga Din, Mr. Corey is a better man than I am when it comes to venturing across forbidding terrain. 

Incidentals and Extras:

  • While we are on the subject of Pound, see also Jonathan Mayhew's skeptical assessment of Pound's much-vaunted skills as a translator.
  • Pound has turned up on this weblog in several contexts, including stout service as inspiration for a double dactyl back in the autumn of ought-four.
  • Is it just me, or did the design staff of the George Lucas Imaginative Hegemony Sphere, like, tooootally rip off The Rock Drill when they came up with these guys?

NOT the Rock Drill

  • And for extra, Pound-free, painting-meets-poetry-meets-all-other-aesthetics credit, be sure to read Kasey Mohammad's splendid musings on Michael Sweerts' 1661 allegorical painting, Clothing the Naked, which concludes with this:

What surprises me much more than the undecidability of such questions is the untroubled confidence with which generations of commentators pronounce their decisions.  Poetry is problematic enough, but as overdetermined, aporetic, and equivocal as language may be, it has nothing on visual images.  At least words can pretend to bear or provide definitive glosses.  With pictures ... well, all I can think of is the famous scene at the end of Queen Christina, the close-up of Garbo's face, where it seems that the deepest, most profound thoughts and emotions imaginable surround it like a halo -- but when asked by adoring moviegoers how she had attained to such a sublime range of expression, she explained that she simply put on the blankest look she could possibly muster.



Wow - those alien fighters are total ripoffs (although with no progeny to be seen fortunately). Thanks for giving the Tate Tracks and Epstein the attention they deserved.

Steven Burda, MBA

Good read, Thanks!

Steven Burda, MBA

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