LC: ACG - Office of Vice President for European & Regional Engagement
CM: Dove Bradshaw's Contingency work began in 1984, before the changing work of Sigmar Polke as Thomas McEvilley wrote in Dove Bradshaw: Nature Change and Indeterminacy. Bradshaw wrote about the Contingency works: "The aesthetic and the chance / contingency aspect of the Contingency works are equally engaging. If the materials and the concept are both beautiful, whatever the result of change and chance that too will be beautiful even when the surface may go through what some may view as a 'beast' stage. The interaction between the materials and the atmosphere is similar to the Japanese notion that every aspect of a work of art plays an equal part - the stretcher maker, the canvas weaver, the paint manufacturer, as well as the painter." Bradshaw sees the work when it changes as a metamorphosis as occurs with everything in the natural world. The strategy underlying these works was treated in Thomas McEvilley's 2003 monograph on Bradshaw: "A basic image in Taoism is water's ability to wear away stone - a foundational point of Bradshaw's Indeterminacy, Negative Ion and Waterstone works. "Nothing under heaven is softer or more yielding than water," says Lao Tzu, "but when it attacks things hard and resistant there is not one of them that can prevail." (LXXVIII) A modern text on Taoist art observes that everything is characterized by perpetual motion because everything is seeking to return to the Tao. "...There seems a dualism in yang and yin, yet the Tao Tê Ching says they 'produce oneness' and in the Taoist painting tradition this was called 'i-hua'; that is one-painting or painting the oneness."
Indeterminacy, long overlooked by the traditional assertion of control over materials, is at the heart of Bradshaw's works. For her it is virtually an inescapable frame of reference. By enlisting the unpredictability of life forces she first embraced indeterminacy in her work in a 1969 installation introducing a pair of mourning doves to bicycle wheels and floor mounted targets. Her equally early infusion of scientific exploration is now broadly embraced in the Weathering and Art / Science movements before they were named. In this vein she made pioneering works with unstable materials such as acetone, mercury and sulfur. Atmospheric conditions serve as catalysts which slowly capture transient chemical metamorphoses in silver, marble and pyrite. In other works Bradshaw plots the gradual erosion of salt and stone with water as the transformative agent. Salt, Half Heard, is included in the Missing Peace: Artists & the Dalai Lama which has been touring from America, Europe and Asia from 2006 to 2010. Over time the salt will grow miniature fractal forests and other sculptural recrystallizations. Time is one of Bradshaw's most frequently used materials and one of her key subjects.
John Cage talked with Thomas McEvilley about the Contingency works in 1993 for Dove Bradshaw Works 1969-1993 published by Sandra Gering Gallery New York. "Dove Bradshaw works with our changing conception of time and space, which we have assumed for a long time, are two different things. She's involved, as we are in our lives, because of art, with an almost scientific procedure, so that she can experiment in such a way as to prove something. And she can subject us to the results of her experiments which can open us to the life we are living..."
Jan Castro of Sculpture Magazine wrote about the Contingency work: "Three large paintings in the show revealed how dramatically this acid can create expressive landscapes. Contingency Pour takes Pollock's drip painting technique to the next level; the liver of sulfur not only makes marks on the silver, it also continues to interact. The resulting interplay of three amoebic forms emerging on sepia to pale white shapes is charged and evocative."
Here's a recent review of this body of work: "But some conceptual art embraces depth and works on a number of levels - including the visual! Dove Bradshaw's work does it for this show. Her two miniature pieces in her series Contingency Jet, made of silver, liver of sulfur, and beeswax applied to paper, are both compelling abstracts, rich in detail. But Bradshaw, a major innovator herself in artistic techniques for the past 35 years, is not content merely to present intriguing forms that repay even microscopic examination. No; we are also witnessing a chemical reaction in flagrante, a progressive devouring of the silver by the sulphur, leaving a residue of flakey white micro-crystals that form into tiny knobs. The artwork is changing, albeit very slowly, before our eyes, altering its shape, its composition, its texture (does it have an expiration date?) So Bradshaw has framed a slow dynamism, which for now looks like the silhouette of a water bear (tardigrade). It's an intriguing looking piece, backed by an exciting concept." [Joel Simpson, M Magazine, New York, January 2009]