‘There are few artists who recognise the true enduring beauty of staticity.’ These are the words of Joaquin Marselle, taken from the introduction to their book, Staticity and the Nature of Beauty. What is staticity? Marselle defines this as a kind of composite of stillness and sameness, a quality which he ascribed to certain artistic works, including his own. These works have continued to be divisive in terms of their artistic merit since their creation throughout the 1960s and into the 1990s when Marselle died, and yet, alongside his theoretical works, they also spawned a small artistic movement, the Staticists, who will today (the day Marselle was born) celebrate his life.
If you ask a staticist the reason that their work is often so maligned in the popular imagination, they will usually refer to Staticity, the theoretical work which forms the foundation of their movement. In the book, Marselle theorises that there are two main approaches to the appreciation of beauty: change and staticity. The former category, which he leaves more loosely defined, generally covers an appreciation of variance and eclecticism, and of art which implies or uses non-cyclical movement; in short a way of appreciating art which ‘accedes to the buffeting flow of time,’ and requires new content and input to remain interesting and beautiful. This is the kind of artistic appreciation which ‘delights in the novel but does not settle upon it.’ Staticists argue that most people instinctively understand this form of appreciation, but have trouble when it comes to staticity.
Frustratingly, staticity is one of those wooly concepts which has come to mean several different things to various different people, and has even entered the lexicon of late to refer to anything with staying power, anything un-ephemeral, able to maintain poignance and meaning across generations. Yet to Marselle it clearly meant more than this, and it was a concept he linked closely with his own work. His most famous works were hundreds of identical paintings, each of the view outside his window, unchanging despite the season when he painted them. ‘Every day, after my coffee and after I have performed my ablutions, I sit down for three hours and paint. And every time I am transported to that day, fifteen years ago, when everything was complete, was perfect, and that is what I paint.’ There are slight changes in the image across its many thousand iterations (56% of which will be displayed en masse today at the Buentoilliçan Gallery for the Appreciation of Modern Art), which Marselle allegedly never had before him whilst he painted, but they are so infinitesimal that they are generally unnoticeable (and thought to be entirely accidental).
Marselle’s parents were part of a travelling band who went from city to city, and as a result had a very uprooted childhood in which change was an all-powerful constant. Marselle could never make friends without quick disappointment as they left once again, but they found great solace in the lessons they received from their auntie about the nature of stars and the moon, the way in which they appeared to be ever changing position, but were actually following a complex and forever-repeating route through the sky. Alongside the regular waystones that line the roads between the Seven Cities, the stars were a point of fascination and hope for Marselle, who hated being dragged across the countryside but could do nothing about it.
Eventually, Marselle broke away from that way of life and settled in the City, where they worked several jobs before becoming an artist. One day he realised he was perfectly at peace, perfectly happy with his life. He realised that he wasn’t trying to go somewhere, he wasn’t planning his next career move, and he loved it. Whenever he could he spent his day in that way, trying to prolong that period of bliss for as long as possible. It was only to spread word of this allegedly joyful experience that Marselle ever did anything differently. Writing his book, for example, did not fit in with his ‘perfect day,’ nor did attending any of the meetings where he expounded his beliefs to the artists who gathered around him, yet he wanted to pass on the joy he felt to others, to ensure that it was not just he who could enjoy staticity.
Even to the some of the Staticsts the concept has something of an alien, obsessive quality to it. Few are able to derive quite the same pleasure from the repetitive works that they produce, which are often displayed next to each other, intended to keep the attention on one work for as long as possible, to maintain the contemplative, almost meditative state which Marselle claimed was the central element of staticity. In recent years a revision of these teachings has taken place, with more emphasis being placed upon ancient monuments and stone works; objects with some sense of permanence and abjuration of change, even as the world about them changes constantly in response to new systems. Yedyff Sranley, a Staticist well regarded within their group and the general artistic community as a whole, recently created a set of ‘static systems’ which adapt to external input in order to stay the same. There is, for example, a bowl which appears half full with water but through a subtle mechanism can never be filled.
Despite the recent innovations within the Staticist movement, there is still a recognition of the great debt owed to Marselle, and accordingly he will be remembered by the Staticist by their following of the seventy three steps (all meticulously laid out within Staticity) that the artist would carry out in the course of his day, to ensure it remained perfect and static, true to that one perfect day when they realised they had made it, they were where they wanted to be.
Other festivals happening today:
- The Festival of Dastardly Oration
- Granite Worktops 50% off at Trim Jane’s House of Specialities Day
- The Festival of the Squeak