Chance has been an artistic strategy employed by artists predominately throughout the twentieth century. Marcel Duchamp is probably the most recognised proponent of the use of chance as a medium in making artwork. Duchamp’s work ‘Three Standard Stoppages’ (1913-14) is a signature application of chance as a critique of the universal sovereignty of the standard metre, achieved by dropping one metre length of string from a height of one metre and using the profile of their curve to create new variations of the “metre.” Like many other artists of this time, Duchamp had been influenced by New Physics, which presented a radical shift in how the universe (reality) is perceived and understood. Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, which proposed gravity as one of the physical properties of curves in the fabric of space and time, had recently been proven, and quantum physicists such as Werner Heisenberg stated that on an atomic scale, reality was guided by probability and statistics over the clockwork mechanism of certainty.
‘Chance Finds Us’ at Mima, Middlesborough is a loosely affiliated collective of eight artists based in the North East of England that continue to be influenced by the statistical transactions of chance. Nick Kennedy and Anne Vibeke Mou co-curated the exhibition, which also features work by Sarah Bray, Alex Charrington, Rachael Clewlow, Peter J. Evans, James Hugonin, and Richard Rigg. These artists are unified in their desire to conceptualise, and formalise, probabilistic events through a systematic application of media that includes drawing, painting, and mechanisms such as clocks and an air pump. This approach is clearly apparent in Kennedy’s ‘Timecaster’ (2014) that adapts clock mechanisms for probabilistic drawing machines utilising the random oscillations of a suspended stick of graphite to create drawings evoking natural mathematical order. Rigg’s ‘Song’ (2014) uses an air pump to fix leaves to a wire producing an ambient tone, ‘serendipitously’ resembling the 60 hertz buzz of the florescent tubes illuminating the gallery.
In using chance as a strategy, or thematic notion, there is a seeking to divine meaning from apparently random occurrences. Hugonin’s ‘Binary Rhythm IV’ (2013) appears as a field of seemingly arbitrary coloured squares, yet the painting’s meticulous manufacture demands a contemplation of its significance. Meanwhile the cloud-like surface of Vibeke Mou’s ‘Illumination’ VI (2013) graphite drawings almost produce an effect of pareidolia, the psychological phenomenon of seeing recognisable shapes in random patterns, and often associated with religious visions.
‘Chance Finds Us’ represents a group of artists using their work to investigate the philosophical opposition of chance and order. However, it is also commendable that Mima should provide a platform for these established and emerging artists to present their practice, relatively unmediated by a curator, which provides a unique connection with the public.