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Pol Bury : Instants donns

Espace Fondation EDF

6, rue Rcamier 75007 Paris
April 28 - August 23, 2015
Published at Hyperallergic as Kinetic Sculpture that Moves at a Snail-like Pace

Pol Bury in front of his work 4087 cylindres rectiles (1972) Centre Pompidou, MNAM/CCI
I particularly admire Pol Burys (19222005) shimmering kinetic work when he puts technology
in the service of European slowness. At Espace Fondation EDF, curator Daniel Marchesseau and
Velma Bury, the artists wife, have assembled an exceptional historic presentation (free to the
public) of Burys decelerate and whimsical art. The poetic movements that Bury assigned to his
stirring sculptures and wall pieces are repeatedly gradual and/or periodical. There is an
imperceptible quivering action in some of them that does not immediately register with most
viewers. This user unfriendly aspect represents Burys unique pursuit of a dynamism in art that
was initiated by the Cubo-Futurists and intensified by Naum Gabo, Anton Pevsner, Lszl
Moholy-Nagy, Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack and then Nicolas Schffer and Takis, et al. Like Bury,
they were concerned with opening up the static three-dimensional sculptural form to a fourth
dimension of time and motion that provokes in the psyche a temporary de-materialization of the
art object.

Such wooly and wiggy things went on in the search for a total art back in the 1960s, as developed
out of spectator participation, beginning with Op Art: that hard-edge geometrical movement
largely inspired by various optical experiments of Marcel Duchamp. Jesus-Rafael Soto, Bridget
Riley, the GRAV group, Yayoi Kusama, Carlos Cruz-Diez, Yaacov Agam, Marian Zazeela and
Victor Vasarely (among others) are key Op references here. Op Art implied the kinetic in that it
called attention to the spectators individual, constructive and changing perceptions, and thus
called upon the attitude of the spectator to transfer the creative act increasingly upon herself. But
Kinetic Art also played an important part in pioneering the unambiguous use of optical movement
and in fashioning links between science, technology and art relating to the notion of the
Simply stated, the term kinetic means the study of the relationship between moving bodies. Hence
the term Kinetic Art is usually used to describe either three-dimensional mobiles or constructions
that move in either foreordained or unplanned ways. With Op Art (which is kinetic in that Op
situations employ optical illusion that effect an appearance of motion) and Kinetic Art (both
conceptual descendants of the shifting perceptions initiated in 20th century painting with
Impressionism, Cubism and Futurism), the artwork under consideration is no longer merely a
categorical system but increasingly an invocation to raucous perception. Thus the element of
personal choice and physical motion by the beholder is emphasized, resulting in a decline in the
art objects sequestered, fetishistic standing as an objet d'art.
This trend is very well exemplified by the work of the Belgium Pol Bury and makes him useful in
considering subject/object polarity in terms of artistic experience. That is the theoretical premise,
at least, in which I will briefly consider this show.
Given the period-piece nature of the exhibition, I found it stylistically engaging albeit retro in
look. It recalled for me my ideas of the early Paris 60s and the shinny futuristic space age
designs of Paco Rabanne that also involved the use of moving metallic discs.

Installation view of Pol Bury : Instants donns, photo Joseph Nechvatal

Sphre avec deux plans sur un cube (1975) Acier inoxydable, aimant, 40 x 20 x 20 cm
Collection prive Courtesy Galerie Patrick Derom, Bruxelles
In truth, Burys rather clunky looking sculptures are far more interesting to experience than look
at (particularly in reproduction), as their escargot-like pace of movement lends a cool Zenish
atmosphere to a room. Slow, seemingly random, trembling movements of individual parts of a
group of forms are leisurely tickled by purring hidden motors. Particularly funny and gratifying is
his erection series where small wooden rod-forms every-so-often twitch a bit upwards and then
pathetically wilt back down, such as in the huge 4087 cylindres rectiles (1972) and the
smaller, earlier Rrectile (1964).

4087 cylindres rectiles (1972) 250 x 710 x 45 cm Oeuvre en 3 dimensions, installation mixte
Cylindres articuls, chne verni sur panneaux de bois, moteurs Centre Pompidou, MNAM/CCI,

Installation view of 4087 cylindres rectiles (1972) 250 x 710 x 45 cm Oeuvre en 3 dimensions,
installation mixte Cylindres articuls, chne verni sur panneaux de bois, moteurs Centre
Pompidou, MNAM/CCI, Paris, photo Joseph Nechvatal

Rrectile (1964) Bois & moteur, Collection prive, photo Joseph Nechvatal

Plans mobiles (circa 1953) 110 x 150 cm, Tiges de fer et panneaux masonite peints,
Collection prive

Multiplans (1957) 117 x 65.5 x 16.2 cm, 10 lames mtalliques et fond Isorel, peint lhuile en
bleu, bleu ple, jaune, orange, rouge, vert, cadre et caisse mtal noir, courrole, moteur
Collection Letaillieur

Installation view of Pol Bury, photo by Joseph Nechvatal

25 oeufs sur un plateau (1970) laiton poli, moteur, aimants, 50 x 50 x 20 cm Collection

A sense of hypnotic connection between the human psyche and the surrounding environment is a
fair description of the alert experience of sharing a room with these pieces. At times one senses a
breeze in the room that does not exist. I think it is appropriate to think of his work as a means of
transforming static perspective vision into luminous motion study.

2270 points blanc sur un losange Entit (1965) Relief tactile, moteur, bois, nylon et acrylique,
Muse de Grenoble, photo Joseph Nechvatal

1815 et 2185 points blanc (1967) Relief tactile, moteur, bois, nylon et acrylique, Collection
du MAC VAL, Muse dArt contemporian du Val-de-Marne, photo Joseph Nechvatal
Also granting an unsettling effect with regard to the spectators ocular aptitude are Burys wiggly
hairy wall pieces, such as 2270 points blanc sur un losange Entit (1965) and 1815 et 2185
points blanc (1967). They consist of a textured wooden picture plane with protruding bunches of
grass/hair-like tendrils, again powered by a veiled motor. Their unexpected and irregular slow
motion gives them an element of dilated time where surprise and chance seem to emerge. That
quality seems to me to be a legacy of the Surrealists. Whimsical humor and delight permeates the
works gentle visual poetry, which makes Bury a key figure in the middle of the art-tech
intellectual narration a narration that increasingly defines artistic achievement outside market
considerations/manipulations in the beginning of the 21st century.
His plucky musical instruments, like 17 cordes horizontales et cylinders (1973) and 12 et 13
cordes vertcales et leur cylinder (1973) create an unexpected minimal music through the
grinding, scraping, rattling of the hidden mechanism. This mechanical murmur, along with the
plucking of the strings, creates a tiny eccentric symphony of impromptu notes and noise.

17 cordes horizontales et cylinders (1973) Bois, 125 x 49 x 18,5 cm Collection Sylvie


12 et 13 cordes verticales et leur cylinder (1973) Bois et nylon, 141 x 50 x 25 cm Collection

Sylvie Baltazart-Eon 20- 17 cordes horizontales et cylindres, 1973, Bois, 125 x 49 x 18,5 cm
Collection Sylvie Baltazart-Eon

43 lments se faisant face (1968), Collection prive, Courtesy Galerie Patrick Derom,
Bruxelles, photo by Joseph Nechvatal

Also on view are a number of fountains and models where Bury incorporated water as an
additional ingredient of movement in his sculpture. The movement that he assigned to these
sculptures was also rather slow, often not immediately registering with the viewer.
Generally, Burys work is not as technically sophisticated or flashy as Nicolas Schffers, (who
also had an enlightening retrospective at Espace Fondation EDF a few years ago) for example,
Schffers CYSP 1 (1956), a work considered the first cybernetic sculpture in art history made
with electronic computations developed by the Philips Company. CYSP 1 is set on a base
mounted on four rollers, which contains the mechanism and the electronic brain. Photoelectric
cells and a microphone built into the sculpture catch all the variations in the fields of color, light
intensity and sound intensity. All these changes occasion reactions on the part of the sculpture.

Colored lights bounce off revolving polished metal towers - casting ever-changing lights and
shadows onto huge wall-screens and into our eyes. Oh la la! Party room!
By contrast, Burys polished metal pieces, like Grand cube miroir avec demi-sphres (1970),
have only a bit of this heavy metal razzle dazzle. Generally speaking, his slower, more modest,
post-Surrealist displays of technological prowess protect the work from falling into the special
effects category of spectacle that sometimes swallows up Schffers grander projects.

Grand cube miroir avec demi-sphres (1970) private collection, photo Joseph Nechvatal
The perverse dreaminess of Surrealist taste detected in his work is traceable to young Burys first
influence, meeting Ren Magritte, who inspired him to start painting in Surrealist style. But Bury
then abandoned painting in 1952 after encountering the sculpture of Alexander Calder. Calders
mobiles, in particular, made a powerful impression, one that we can see in Burys first kinetic
pieces from the 1950s: weathervane-like sculptures that were inter-activated by viewer-

participants. In 1955 this interactive work led him to being asked to participate in the historical
exhibition Le Movement that was organized in Paris by Denise Ren and Pontus Hulten.
Thereafter, Bury dropped interactivity for the motorized and chose to live permanently in Paris
with significant time spent in the United States between 1966 and 1971, particularly in Manhattan
and Berkeley.
Bury has said Speed limits space, slowness increases it. Hense perhaps one central benefit of
this show of eighty works might be in its allowing us to better position Bury in a certain art-tech
artist-engineer intellectual geography - one that is far from evident or exhausted.

Joseph Nechvatal