ArtworkAnalysis: Robert Rauschenberg’s Cardbird I-VII
Robert Rauschenberg is one of the most accomplished contemporaryartists that have excelled in the modern world. This American artisthas employed simplicity and unique material combination, which helabeled as ‘combines’, to develop various artworks (Chiasson).One of his pieces that I found very interesting and educating is aphotograph series titled Cardbird 1-VII. The series, which iscomprises of seven photographs of bird collages made from recycledcardboards, employs a very minimalist approach in terms of detailsand materials. This simplicity is what make the piece interesting andencourages the audience to look for deeper interpretations of thevarious images. Thus to enjoy the piece as I did, audiences shouldnot look at the imperfections of the collages as some hardly looklike birds but rather seek to understand the overall concept of thematerial used. The current essay thus looks at how this seriesattains its contemporary art objectives.
The art series was inspired by the need to work with differentmaterials. Monotony of materials, largely photography driven by newinventions in photography and printing, dominated art during thesecond half of the 20th century. Rauschenberg thus desiredto work differently with ‘material of waste and softness’(National Gallery Australia). He thus gathered waste corrugatedcardboards and used them alongside tape and pins to create a sort of“tongue-in-cheek visual joke” comprising of seven that was laterphotographed and the image printed and laminated on cardboard backing(ibid). The main idea of the piece was the interplay and combinationof materials used. All the seven images in the series have the sameidea and utilize similar materials and cover similar objects, birds.Through it, the artists shows how ordinary materials and ordinaryobjects can be converted into unique pieces of art with a little bitof imagination and creativity.
Ideally, all the images of the series have a common theme in theinterplay of the materials used. The cardboard used to make theartwork provides part of the message of the artwork. The wastecardboards had been previously used to package different but morevaluable items. As containers, they contain and control the contentsenclosed but once the contents are removed, the cardboard isdiscarded. While these cardboards can be used to restrict andcontain, they can also be used to symbolize the freedom enjoyed bybirds of the air. These containers need not to be looked at in theestablished way but can also be looked at with a different eye. Thebirds, as portrayed by Carbird II are free as they flap theirwings reminiscent of the freedom of wild birds. As such, thecardboard transforms from an object of containment to a symbol offreedom.
The abstractness ofthe piece and the concept of new materials reminded me of a piece ofI have encountered in the recent past in class, The Bride StrippedBare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) by Marcel Duchamp.The first time I looked at the image of The Large Glass, I wasmesmerized by the level of abstractness. The title of the piece hadlittle direct connection to the contents of the image. Anyone withouta keen eye for art might dismiss the pieces as meaningless.Furthermore, the Duchamp art piece contains two sections, upper andlower sections that are very well related. At first, I was tempted toseek the relationship between the Rauschenberg’s images same was asin Duchamp’s. Another connection between Rauschenberg’s approachin the Cardbird and Duchamp in The Large Glass is theuse of new materials. Duchamp used glass, wire, lead, and glue as newmaterials while Rauschenberg used pins, tape and cardboards.
It is this new way of seeing regular materials in the environmentthat Rauschenberg wanted to bring out. He said that he
wanted something other than what I could make myself and I wanted touse the surprise and the collectiveness and the generosity of findingsurprises. And if it wasn`t a surprise at first, by the time I gotthrough with it, it was. So the object itself was changed by itscontext and therefore it became a new thing (Malewitz 52).
Ideally, throughsuch comments, the author draws audience to look more into thematerial used as opposed to the artistic contents of the piece. Thiscomment only adds more to my understanding of the work which Ibelieve is to offer a new way of looking at things in ourenvironment. On the other hand, the comment detracts other possibleways of interpreting the artwork. For instance, the fact that theauthor recycled waste cardboards to create a collage, photographedit, printed the image and mounted the same on a cardboard deliversanother message. In my understanding, it portrays that when trash,such as waste cardboards, are recycled and put into good use, theycan be even more valuable than first-time-use materials (Museumblog). In this case the waste corrugated cardboard which makes thebirds is more valuable than the piece of cardboard on which the imageis mounted on.
Cardboards have become a major indicator of the modern culture ofconsumerism. Every single product purchased from supermarkets oronline is likely to be packed corrugated cardboard or cartons. Forinstance, materials used in Cardboard VI packed fragile itemswhile materials in Cardboard I packed flakes. The material isthus one of the major waste products at home and in factories. Excessproduction of these cardboards means that more trees are being cutdown to produce them. To protect these trees and the global climate,then it is important to recycle the cardboards. Ideally, for themodern society, this should be the core message derived from thepiece as a way of promoting conservation and encourage recycling ofwaste. This does not apply to cardboards only but also to othermaterials such as water, bottles, plastics, timber, and metals.
The artwork is very compelling in its own way. Given the context andthe period in which the art piece was made, Rauschenberg was intentto encourage reduction of waste and recycling through all the sevenimages of the series. In making the collage, the artist did notadhere much to other art conventions but stripped the work to thebare minimum of materials used (Museum blog). In this context and inthe given contexts provided by the artists himself, the artwork has acompelling message. Looking at the modern art scene, the message hasbeen heeded as many more artists have incorporated diverse andoftentimes recycled materials. Rauschenberg also extended his use ofdiverse materials in other of his art pieces with some even includinglive animals (Graves). All these ideas have been borrowed by othercontemporary artists.
All in all, the Rauschenberg excelled in his art. He managed topopularize the idea of artists combining different materials tocreate unique art. While photography around the time of making theartwork was concerned with perfecting photography, he drifted towardsthe bare minimum of collage and photography. Therefore, the messagecontained in the art piece can be broadly interpreted as the advocacyin diversification of art materials in the 1971 context and alsoencouragement of recycling of waste and combination of art materialsin today’s context.
Chiasson, Dan,Robert Rauschenberg’s endless combinations. 2015. Web.
Graves, Jen, RobertRauschenberg can only be associated with what`s living. 2008.Web.
Malewitz, Raymond,The practice of misuse: rugged consumerism in contemporaryAmerican
Culture,Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2014. Print.
Museum blog. (2015).Spotlight on Art: Robert Rauschenberg’s “Cardbird VI,” 1971,nd,.
National Gallery ofAustralia, Rauschenberg, 2016. Web. <http://nga.gov.au/Rauschenberg/>
The large glass,2016. Web,<http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/54149.html>