Walker Art Center

    1. Chance, or chance operation, has been a method used by artists since the early twentieth century, reflecting a persistent desire and effort to undermine and critique the notion of authorship. The actual method of chance operation can be almost anything that does not allow the user to have full control. Darts or dice, for instance, may be used to produce certain results. Some of the early examples of chance operation include Dada poetry by writers such as Louis Aragon, Tristan Tzara, and Paul Éluard. Intrigued by the subconscious, the Dadaists believed that any text can generate meanings and associations even if it is created through a random process. In his “Dada Manifesto on Feeble & Bitter Love,” Tzara gave instructions on how to make a Dada poem: cutting up a newspaper article into words with a pair of scissors, putting them in a bag and shaking them, and then taking the words out one by one to make a poem. He asserts: “The poem will be like you. And here you are a writer, infinitely original and endowed with a sensibility that is charming though beyond the understanding of the vulgar.”[1] It was in the figure of John CAGE that chance operation found arguably its most powerful and effective advocate.

    2. By the mid-1980s Huang Yong Ping was thinking about chance and its potentially powerful role in art making. He created a series of roulette wheels, inscribed with increasingly complex systems, from trigrams to a very Dadaist compilation of seemingly random, meaningless textual snippets, which he utilized to make a group of seemingly disconnected images and objects. The small Wheel (1985) gave birth to Four Paintings Created according to Random Instructions (1985), while Large Turntable with Four Wheels (1987) generated Itchy on the Front, Numb on the Back (1987) and Manuscript Goes through the Wall (1987). Other works from this period were created by being abandoned to uncontrollable forces: Kitchen (1987), an “oil” painting made by splatters on a canvas tacked on a wall of the artist’s kitchen; Dust (1987), a roll of paper stretched out in his studio to collect whatever footprints and other dusty residue might land on it. In a rejoinder to Cage’s use of I CHING perhaps, Huang has employed the ancient method of augury throughout his work. The House of Oracles (1989–1992), one of the artist’s benchmark works, is an elaboration of the book’s extraordinary divinational potential.

    [1] Tristan Tzara, “Manifesto on Feeble Love and Bitter Love,” trans. Ralph Manheim, in The Dada Painters and Poets: An Anthology, ed. Robert Motherwell (New York: Wittenborn, Schultz, 1951), 92.

    Concepts, Influences & Motifs
    House of Oracles
    Cage, John
    Rubens's Lion Bites Rubens's Horse