Phillip Birch and Auguste Rodin
The Hand of God
May 10 to June 14
Opening Sunday, May 10, 6 to 8
A friend was visiting my studio. At the time I was making a lot of sculptures that included the human hand. He asked if I had seen Rodin's hand sculptures. I had not. Somewhat embarrassingly I began to fall in love with Rodin's hands. Obsession may be more appropriate. I have long been searching for the pathos they posses. I began to make frequent trips to the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia. With each viewing my passion for these tortured artworks grew. I began to invest more and more of my own psychic energy within these objects. They became reliquaries for my spirit, my geist if you will. It was as if with each viewing I was contorting the sculptures with my will into further torment.
"Self-consciousness is desire." I wonder if that maxim extends to quantum reality, to the space beyond the subatomic. Perhaps desire truly is the mechanism that drives not only the metaphysical underpinnings of the world but the physical as well. Perhaps a solipsistic will-machine is all it takes to bend space/time.
Googling Rodin's Hand of the Pianist, I heard a loud crack. Startled, I spun around fearing that my kerosene heater had burst. Instead, beyond the flash of light … a portal. A hole. A space that wasn't quite there appeared in front of my eyes.
In the blur there was a voice booming, “Who are you?”, “Me?” I somewhat confusedly and meekly responded. I got over my initial bewilderment and introduced myself. It seems, still to my surprise, that the individual with whom I was speaking was Auguste Rodin; me in my studio in 2015, he in his in 1890. We both talked tentatively, still reeling from the realization of what was occurring.
Desire had ruptured the space/time continuum. A dialogue was born. We talked all night.
I plotted out for him a fundamental change which has redirected the act of creation - touchscreen devices, photos that move and machines that print in multiple dimensions. I explained that the fundamental nature of our representations had changed. That the hand has replaced the eye as the window to the soul; the simulacra into which our perceptions are tied relies on an immediate relationship between the hand and the object it touches. I talked at length about the metamorphosis of the artist/creator into the director/manager. How we had lost the humanism in our art. That we privilege the work of many over the work of one while assigning the value of the work of many to one individual. That we want our genius sparkling and perfect, but that we want this genius unsullied by labor.
He thought I was mad, of course. He said that you could have a perfect replica of any object fabricated in marble, with no talent required. He explained that art lies in the hand; the touch of the artist. That the hand that creates is the hand of God. Even if the tools have changed, there is no fundamental change in the nature of creation. Whether something is printed by machine or made with a chisel, what’s important is the act of will. He said that a figurative hand was just as important as a literal hand. The spirit of the work is what matters. If an artist reproduces superficial features, as a photograph does, and copies the lineaments of a face exactly, without reference to character, he deserves no admiration. The resemblance which he ought to obtain is that of the soul. To Rodin, the genius need not only use his eyes and hands, but his intelligence as well.
This exhibition comes from our conversation. The portal allowed us to pass our work back and forth. I am still considering what he has said and what the hand of creation means. My thoughts have turned to Camille Claudel and Rodin's other assistants and how he would sign his name to their work. How does his hand of God rely on others? Is touch a mere linguistic and metaphoric turn? Would there still be a Rodin if not for them? Have I had an impact on him? Did these hand sculptures with their marks and pathos exist before my desire was expressed to Rodin? Was his work altered in some fundamental way that I am no longer able to remember because the timeline has been fundamentally altered by my own intervention? Did I create the objects that became the object of my obsession. A Grandfather Paradox of my own creation?