Julian Sanchez header image 2

photos by Lara Shipley

Implied Animation

June 1st, 2005 · 12 Comments

I finally got around to checking out the new MoMA this weekend, though I only made it about halfway through before closing time and blisters forced me out. Among the pieces I remember finding especially intriguing was Horses Running Endlessly by Gabriel Orozco. The piece is a quadruple-sized chessboard that uses four colors (black, white, and two intermediate shades of brown) for both squares and the knight pieces scattered about the board.

What fascinated me about it was the way the piece presents differently to someone who plays a lot of chess. Imagine looking at a painting with text in English (or some other language you speak)—you automatically exctract meaning from it. A literate person pretty much can’t help but see the text as a series of words they know. If it’s a language you don’t know, you still see a “text”, but maybe only interpret it as a series of unintelligible sounds. If it’s a non-Roman alphabet (Arabic, say) you may see only shapes—maybe still seeing them as language, though maybe not.

Well, I don’t play chess that often anymore, but I used to play a fair amount, and I suspect anyone else of whom that’s true can identify with what I found myself doing while looking at Horses Running Endlessly. I found I wasn’t seeing a static piece, but one in shifting motion—or anyway, charged up with palpable potential energy—as I started automatically churning through the paths each knight could travel, noting those that ended in a capture or left a piece open to capture. Orozco’s exploiting this automatic move-inference mechanism to create (for the chess players in the audience, at least) a piece that’s dynamic, almost in motion.

Maybe a simliar trick could be deployed for other similar habits of mind. In Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, there’s a binary-code virus that only affects programmers. What about a design that wouldn’t even necessarlily strike a casual observer as representing ones and zeroes (could just be a pattern of circular and straight shapes) but would jump out as a message to someone who spent a lot of time working in binary? Rebus-style messages for math geeks? A series of statements in predicate logic where the impact of the piece comes from the viewer’s epiphanic recognition of a missing step or an invalid inference that has some broader significance in the total context of the work?

Addendum: Speaking of math geek rebuses, if you do want to pick up a math nerd, try telling them:

You’re acute.gif (2.718) (3.141)

Tags: Art & Culture



12 responses so far ↓

  • 1 fling93 // Jun 1, 2005 at 4:28 pm

    And on a similar note, a friend of a friend has a t-shirt that says:

    1f u c4n r34d th1s u r34lly n33d t0 g37 l41d

  • 2 Gabriel Mihalache // Jun 1, 2005 at 4:28 pm

    The file name of the picture of the angle gives it all away… try renaming it for increased difficulty! 🙂

  • 3 Luke // Jun 1, 2005 at 4:35 pm

    You’re a cutie pie?

    Fucking, I feel like slamming my balls in a car door just for figuring that out.

  • 4 Kevin B. O'Reilly // Jun 1, 2005 at 5:27 pm

    You’re acute angle e pi? 😎 I guess if she’s super skinny and angular-like.

  • 5 Lane // Jun 1, 2005 at 10:34 pm

    What have you done to Ms. Pac-Man?

  • 6 Rachel // Jun 3, 2005 at 2:50 pm

    I think the dynamism of the piece is helped significantly by how the knights are facing all different directions – it eases the eye into seeing more chaotic movement around the board. It would look (well, *feel*) quite different if they were all facing the center line, even though the possible moves for each piece wouldn’t change.

  • 7 Kriston Capps // Jun 3, 2005 at 6:05 pm

    It’s a shame nothing so interesting made it into Orozco’s Directions show at the Hirshhorn last year.

  • 8 tom // Jun 5, 2005 at 12:38 pm

    Interesting post, Julian. The analogue to what you describe that immediately comes to mind is the stereogram phenomenon, aka magic eye puzzles. Seems like the crucial distinction to all of these might be that they affect an unconscious process that, when it finds a pattern, raises it to the level of conscious thought. The tricky part is probably finding processes that take long enough for your brain to chug through that it’s easy to notice the time lag between perception and recognition.

  • 9 Joseph Weisenthal // Jun 7, 2005 at 2:34 pm

    I’ve had this exact thought before…not related to this particular piece of art but in chess positions in general, and how they speak differently to someone who knows chess than to the casual observer.

    Along the same vein, I am fascinated by the linguistics of the chess opening. When for example, as black, I am playing a Sicilian Najdorf-Variation, and white responds along classical theory, it is the chessic equivalent of a “nice to meet you” conversation at a cocktail party. We are communicating to each other our history, what/where we’ve studied, what kind of personalities we each have, etc. just in a few pushes of the wood.

    Thanks for the interesting post. I still haven’t made it to the new MOMA, but now I have a reason to get over there.

    P.S., I extended this offer to Volokh, but was declined–perhaps we need a Teaser Vs. Sanchez online chess-match. Two games, one with both colors. Or how about a libertarian bloggers chess tournament. I think Pejman Yousefzadeh is fond of the game and I’m sure that Tyler Cowen would pretend to know something about it!

  • 10 Anton Sherwood // Jun 8, 2005 at 12:54 am

    The angle eπ is effectively the same as the angle (e-2)π, which is acute. So eπ could be the label of the diagram, adding a touch of neatness.

  • 11 Jon H // Jun 15, 2005 at 1:04 am

    That artwork could be used as the idea of a nifty screensaver. Do it in 3D, move the pieces around, rotate the board.

  • 12 Steve // Jun 16, 2005 at 10:46 am

    Julian, your bit about extracting meaning from text in a piece of artwork reminds me of Xu Bing, a Chinese artist whose work is fabulously cool but pretty much entirely inaccessible to me, a non-Chinese reader, on any but the surface and conceptual levels. I can’t feel the -dissonance- caused by his “Book of the Sky” (in which he lovingly crafted some beautiful scrollwork on which were inscribed thousands of nonsense Chinese characters). There was a show of his work at the Sackler a few years back which was incredible but terribly frustrating.