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30  |   I O
Five panels, 1999
Collage, cut-and-pasted paper on wood, with objets trouvés
Each 60 x 60 cm (x max. 12 cm); 60 x 360 cm overall, when mounted.



The two capital letters in the title of the five-part wall piece IO can be understood, formally, as line and circle, and thus as today’s common abstractions for “on” and “off ”; or depending somewhat on the font, as numerals, the letter “I” read as “one,” and “O” as “zero,” with the two regarded together as the elements of a binary notation and so read as “two”; or as the digits in “ten,” if ten is taken as a base. Io can, however, also be interpreted as the Italian personal pronoun “I,” or assumed to signify the name of the daughter of the river-god Inachus, known to us from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in which the god Jupiter, having taken this Io as a lover, transformed her into a snow-white heifer, in an unsuccessful attempt to hide her from his vengeful wife, and sister, Juno. The most geologically active object in our solar system, the fourth largest of the seventy-nine-odd (and counting) moons orbiting Jupiter, the largest planet of our solar system, was named Io in her memory.


My IO consists of five wooden panels, each measuring 60 by 60 centimeters, on which found objects have been mounted. The panels themselves are covered with a collage mosaic of small rectangles cut from the “white” areas of the pages of illustrated magazines and arranged on each panel in a geometric pattern specific to its object(s) and objectives, whereby, the printing on the backs of the snippets of paper can often, just barely, be deciphered.

IO [I], collage, cut-and-pasted paper on wood, with objet trouvé, 60 x 60 cm, 1999

On the first panel, concentric circles radiate from a porcelain bell push, which is connected to a working doorbell installed behind the panel—illustrating, one might say, the dissemination of sound. The form of this bell push is reminiscent of the human female anatomy—a young, unblushing breast—and, as a “buzzer,” serves to touch off, or trigger, Io’s tale of woe.

IO [II], collage, cut-and-pasted paper on wood, with objets trouvés, 60 x 60 cm, 1999

The two porcelain wall hooks on the second panel can be understood as belonging to the bovine constitution—as budding horns, or even udders— …

IO [III], collage, cut-and-pasted paper on wood, with objets trouvés, 60 x 60 cm, 1999

… while the industrial imprint COWHIDE COVER on the baseball of the middle panel leaves little doubt that the thick, red stitches with which the ball is sewn together are to be read as scars upon the white skin, and psyche, of an unhappily transformed young woman, who had indeed become a plaything of the gods: a manifestation of the pain and disfigurement her metamorphosis engendered. The panel’s surface resembles the configuration of the relevant playing field, a baseball diamond; the diameter of the ball is in the same proportion [1:40] to the width of the entire tableau as the diameter of the volcanic satellite Io is to that of the planet Jupiter it orbits.

IO [IV], collage, cut-and-pasted paper on wood, with objets trouvés, 60 x 60 cm, 1999

The wall-mounted sanitary-porcelain ashtray on the fourth panel—held in place as it is by cap- or acorn-nut “nostrils”—might be thought to resemble a cow’s mouth, thus serving as a reminder of the inarticulate sounds with which Io struggled to make her self and story known to her grieving father. As an ashtray, it conjures the dust and tears of her travail and the humiliation of her animal state. The simple paper relief here is composed of two fields—the upper one of horizontal, and the lower of vertical stripes—suggesting a utilitarian, wet-room wall-treatment.

IO [V], collage, cut-and-pasted paper on wood, with objets trouvés, 60 x 60 cm, 1999

On the fifth and final panel, which displays ten die-sized, glazed ceramic cubes, the pattern is that of a target, the wheel of a gaming table, or, if you prefer, that of the Wheel of Time—or Fortune. Here, the arrangement of the ceramic “dice” represents the circling flight of the gadfly sent by Juno to persecute poor Io as she wandered the earth in her despair. The ten small cubes themselves stand for the hundred eyes of Io’s keeper Argus: eyes that, after his death at the hand of the messenger-god Mercury, became the eye-spots on the tail feathers of Juno’s favorite bird, the peacock, displayed when that bedizened fowl fans out his tail (in German: schlägt sein Rad, or “turns a [cart-]wheel”).


And there are letters beneath the cubes’ glazing, too—one apiece—rather than the “eyes” we find stamped on the six faces of the garden-variety dice used in games of chance: letters that, when read together in the correct order, around the outer ring, and through its center, spell out the idiomatic French expression dans le vrai—“to get something right” or “to hit the bull’s eye”—while those of the vertical row down the middle, when taken by themselves, read “A-L-E-A,” alea—in Ovid’s tongue “the die,” quintessential tool and attribute of the Aleatoric in destiny and being.

Initially, I had intended IO’s five panels to be a group of individual pieces that would combine found objects and collaged surfaces and be entitled MY TARGETS III–VII or, latterly, OBJETS TROUVÉS I–V. In addition, I was planning to give each a subtitle, and toyed, among others, with the following possibilities: for the doorbell, Bellen (“to ring” in Dutch, but “to bark” in German), or Ding-Dog (the word “thing,” in German, with a distinctly Pavlovian flavor); Dust, or perhaps Enjoying It Less, for the ashtray; Io, or It Ain’t Over, for the baseball; And Eyes, or For Eyes Only, for the hooks; and for the “dice,” either the obvious Alea, or Dans le vrai.


Only when I was almost finished working on them all, did I realize that—as words link thoughts and deeds—these panels are linked by a common and coherent narrative: a state of affairs that offers an example of the fact that it doesn’t really matter how many staringly forgettable ideas one has and then discards, as long as one is on the way to a memorable idea worth realizing. On the other hand, revealing such unripe notions here once again reminds me that, before he died, Henry James sought to burn his notebooks.