Jorge Oteiza’s reflections on the paradigm of the “law of changes”, a conceptual tool created by the sculptor to systemise the cyclical evolution of the languages of art, are one of his most important contributions to theory. They comprise an essential element in understanding his aesthetic thinking in all its complexity and in placing his works in the context of art in general. Oteiza gathered his thoughts in a book entitled Ley de los cambios (which translates precisely as “law of changes”), which was published in 1990 and has been out-of-print for some time. The Oteiza Museum has now published a critical edition of this work, introduced and annotated by Fernando Golvano, a lecturer in Aesthetics and the Theory of Art at the University of the Basque Country.
Starting with Propósito experimental [“Experimental Purpose”] (1957), Oteiza intensified his analyses, seeking to define a “law of changes” that governs artistic creation and expression, including its developmental and concluding stages. He held that this “law” would allow the investigation of new languages in a logical framework in which experiences attained and not yet attained could be evaluated. The two essays on which this theory is based are Ideología y técnica para una ley de los cambios en el arte [“Ideology & technique for a law of changes in art”] (1964) and El arte como escuela política de tomas de conciencia [“Art as a political school for awareness”] (1965). They were first published in Ejercicios espirituales en un túnel [“Spiritual exercises in a tunnel”] (1965-1983) and later compiled by artist Daniel under the title Ley de los cambios. As such they were published in 1990, in an edition accompanied by a graphic portfolio printed with diagrams and a selection of texts.
This critical edition, publishwith the co-operation of Fundación Kutxa, recovers those essays, and adds an introductory study on the origins of this major theoretical construct, which was formed as a unique framework with the intention of laying down rules. In his study, Golvano looks in depth at the readings and texts of Oteiza going back to the 1930s, to chart his theoretical background up to the time when he drew up this conceptual tool in the 1960s. From his earliest days, Oteiza concerned himself with the search for a law governing the evolution of artistic expression and aesthetic knowledge, and to that end he took on board models and theories from authors such as Hegel, Wölfflin, Croce, Torres García, Ortega and Spengler, reworking them into his own constellation of ideas and a true metaphysics of art and of the role of the artist. This volume also examines the theoretical development of his law in the 1960s, when he gave his own slant to the Marxist dialectic that he discovered in reading Mao, Bettelheim and others. There are also commentaries on some texts and new outlines concerning the theory which, in a fragmentary fashion, he continued to develop until the late 1990s. This critical study also sets out the current interest of Oteiza’s contribution and its most problematic aspects, e.g. those concerned with the scientistic sublimation of his purposes, which showed up in both the abuse of axioms and notions borrowed from other sciences and his insistence in defining a tool for total analysis that could be applied to all areas of artistic and cultural creation.
In his reflections Oteiza found it surprising that no-one had already drawn up a law that, in his own words, “covers the experimental side of art, a law that limits, governs and conditions the process of changes in the artist”. For that reason, “based on his desire to intertwine art and science, he set out to give scientific shape to his aesthetic and artistic intuitions in such a way as not just to create a specific tool that could justify his own experimental investigations and their corollary in terms of conclusions, but also to make it universal and all-embracing. It is precisely in this systemic, regulatory ambition that some of its most important paradoxes and limitations lie”, points out Fernando Golvano, who maintains that this reflection “was coherent with his emptying of expression and his abandonment of sculpture in 1959 to deploy poetic, intellectual, political actions and move from art to life. He felt that this new theoretical and practical action, which showed certain similarities with the modern experience of Dutch neoplasticism and with avant garde constructivists, would help to find outlets from the existential labyrinth and at the same time would involve him with his social and historical context in a different way”.
Fernando Golvano lectures in Aesthetics and Theory of Art at the Department of Philosophy of Values and Social Anthropology of the University of the Basque Country. He has conducted research and published works on the artistic vanguards of the 1960s and 1970s, on the poetry and politics of memory, on the links between art and democracy and on the philosophy of Cornelius Castoriadis. He writes as an art critic for the journals Exitexpress and Exitbook, and is an independent curator of contemporary art. His curatorial projects include Vicente Ameztoy, Donostia, 2000; Constelación Gaur, Vitoria-Gasteiz, 2004; Disidencias otras, Donostia, 2004; Anamnesis, Valencia, 2007; Oteiza: memoria y apropiaciones, Pamplona, 2008; Laboratorios 70, Sala Rekalde, Bilbao, 2009; San Sebastián. De lo sagrado y lo profano, sala Kubo-Kutxa, Donostia, 2011; and Amable Arias. Dar forma al caos y al azar, KM Kulturunea, Donostia, 2013.