ALEA IACTA EST. The die has been cast.

Ronja Friedrichs

The die is cast. The art ist then carries out a task. The die is again cast. The artist again acts accordingly. A picture develops, layer for layer, until the artist decides thatitis time to stop.

Bears Witness 2015, Öl, Vinyl und Sprühlack auf Leinwand, 140 x 140 cm

Ted Green prescribed this formal approach for his series entitled „Dice Paintings“. Al though the principle may sound simple, the results are overwhelming. For example, in the case of “Bears Witness” (2015), the viewer is confronted with an all-over structure that covers a surface of roughly two square meters that challenges even the most vivid imagination. Dark, intense colors contrast with bright, luminous surfaces. With its serrated lines and symmetrical structure, the painting exudes strength and vigor. The energyis so intense that the picture seems about to burst any minute.

The artist achieves this effect by assigning a complex system of formal principles to the numerals of a simple playing die. For each artwork, Ted Green develops specific “multiple choice tables”, which al low for as many as six different options per design element, to be decided by a throw of the die. Each option corresponds to one or more numerals on the die, ranging from the select ion of color to the choice of a particular stroke of the brush or the form to be used. The artistic process is thus subject to the capriciousness of a random toss of a die.

Chance becomes a designer while the die provides the fuel and the resulting numeral determines the specific details.

All in – the art ist as ingenious gambler

One look at art history tells us that Green is in good company with his focus on chance. Since the not ion of the artist as an archetypal genius has begun to crumble, alternative and experimental methods of presentation have arisen. Randomness was particularly welcome in conceptual art and in constructivism. It was Marcel Duchamp who proclaimed the principle of chance in „3 Standard Stoppages“ (1913 – 1914). He dropped three one-meter long threads from a defdefined height and then fixed the ensuing form for eternity. The result was a work of art made from rules as well as coincidence – one that cannot be reproduced. Several other artists such as John Cage, Jean Arp, Gerhard von Graevenitz or François Morellet made similar use of chance in their work. Peter Lacroix, in particular, deserves mentioning. As does Green, Lacroix created his paintings in the 1960s and 70s after throwing dice. Chance as sumes a defining function for all of these artists, and yet it subjects itself to a system of rules that the artists define. While Marcel Duchamp chose pieces of thread, Jean Arp’s prefer red material was scraps of paper and Green’s choice is a complex set of multiple choice tables. We 4 see that Green is by no means the first artist to embrace the principle of chance. Thus, the appeal of his work lies less in the originality of technique than in his handling thereof.

Green noticed that a strict application of his method—absolute dependence on the capriciousness of chance – might deliver undesirable results. After all, chance can be treacherous. Therefore, he took to countering this treachery by limiting chance. Green seldom has an idea of what the painting will look like when he starts his work. It is the throw of the die that determines what happens next. As the painting develops, he, too, develops a not ion of the completed work. When he senses that the next throw of the die may destroy his work, he intervenes and makes conscious decisions regarding the next steps or reduces the options of the table in order to reduce the probability of possibly impacting any painting instructions. This is what distinguishes him from his conceptual art colleagues. Employing his intuition and aesthetic judgement, Green is constantly part of the creative process. His goal is not to produce art that is completely the product of chance, instead the works must always be „aesthetically successful“, to quote the artist. The element of chance is thus a means of blending order with non-order, thereby defying the purely mechanical process of picture generat ion. In this way, tension develops between the rigid systematics of image formation and the dynamic, agile impression of the final painting.

The role that Green assumes differ s fundamentally from the expectations one normally has towards an artist. Ted Green is neither a genius from whose imaginat ion the artwork or iginates, nor does he passively hand the reins over to fate or chance. Ted Green, the artist, is a gambler more than anything else.

A game is a system of binding rules, within the scope of which the player shave a certain freedom of act ion. Luck is of ten the decisive factor. But no matter which cards are dealt or how the dice fall, whether or not a player can take advantage of his situation depends on his experience, intuition and skill.

By defining his own rules of picture format ion, Green introduces a new dimension to his art-work. As art ist, he works within the rules and limitations that he defines. As gambler, he knows when he can rely on chance and when he has to flout it because the stakes are too high. Indeed, the game itself becomes as tantalizing as the result, the emergence of the artwork as meaningful as the final product. It is the formativeprocess that document s Green’s unique understanding of his role as an artist who merges coincidence, intuition and emotionin his work, thereby introducing a remarkabletension to the painting process itself. The apparent incongruity of coincidence and control, order and non-order constitutes the essential, formative element in his work.

Absorbs 2009 Öl, Acry und Lackfarbe, 230 x 200 cm

Black and white is no proof

When the ar tist has decided that his work is finished, the “game” of the painting process comesto an end. In this phase, the viewer takes over and initiates her own process. Green does not intend his art to refer to identifiable objects. On the contrary, herightly classifies his paintings as non-representational. Unlike with abstract painting, he does not strive to omit certain features in favor of a representation of the essential. Instead, he wishes to reduce painting to its fundamental properties. Painting is, after all, nothing more than the application of paint onto a sur face. By refusing associat ion, i.e. by not assigning meaning to his artwork, he delegates the responsibility of interpretation to the viewer, who finds her self confronted with a complex question in the form of a painting. The large-format painting „Absorbs“ (2009) is a typical example. Symmetrically aligned along the center axis, it reminds us of the popular inkblot pictures that are used in Rorschach tests. Green’s configuration is, however, much more elaborate and convoluted. The black and white contrast that distinguishes the center of the painting develops a pull effect while the upper half is dominated by shades of red and the lower half by cold, blue tones. A struggle between the elements fire and water seems to be unfurling in the raucous confusion of jagged lines, street ar t associations and circular color splotches.

The viewer may make out animal images or a gasmask in the center of the painting. As with the Ror schach test, there is no one cor rect answer. On the contrary, there are as many correct interpretations as there are viewers. The picture resembles a puzzle that wants to be solved. The ar tist provides one mere clue in the work’s title, which is, however, as misleading as it is irrelevant. Like most of Green’s titles, „Absorbs“ is random and stems from a clue in a crossword puzzle. The titles can be considered a wink of the eye on the part of the artist and thereby an attempt to interfere with the viewer’s decoding effort. The title of the exhibit can be under stood in the same vein: „Black and white is no proof“.1) Green’s work is far more colorful than the title would have us believe; it is a swan song to the notion of a generally valid truth in favor of pluralistic cosmopolitanism.

Transcending borders!

It is not surprising then that Green does not stop at the limits that the genre normally prescribes. Al though they are two-dimensional, the paintings of the Rorschach series display considerable depth due to the numerous layers that constitute them. Indeed, Ted Green adopts aliteral understanding of the concept of layering and employs his formal principle in threedimensional installations as well. Intricate paper ins tal lat ions breach the limits of painting, no longer creating a virtual space, but rather marking the one that actually exists. In this way, Green’s symmetrically composed Rorschach images of the last decade find their appropriate and effective extens ion.

1) The artist chose this title, which is quoted from the song ent it led „Geburt einer Nat ion (One Vision)“ by the industrial band Laibach.