Frank Bramblett, Hypothetical Marriage of Monsieur Marcel Duchamp and Miss Helen Keller

Date
1982
Medium
Floor tile, silicon rubber, mirror, glass, enamel, colored chalk, and felt on panel
Credit Line
Gift of the artist, 2015
Dimensions
80 x 96 3/4 in.

"In my work I hope to allow the other senses to play a role in the visual experience. I hope to create work that encourages you to reach out with your hand and touch it because your eye is not right for it. "

—Frank Bramblett

In this work Bramblett explores how meaning is understood through the senses as well as through language. The profile at left is Helen Keller, an author, political activist, and lecturer; at right is Marcel Duchamp, the father of conceptual art. (Bramblett pressed his own paint-covered face to the surface of the broken mirror at top center.) Duchamp and Keller used language and sensory perception in very different ways. Duchamp often used puns and other inversions of letters and phrases to examine the ability—and inability—of language to convey meaning. Keller, who was blind and deaf, used touch, taste, and smell to help her communicate. 

Across the surface of this work is a poem by Keller, Analogies in Sense Perception, written backwards in braille. The passage reads, “I understand how scarlet can differ from crimson because I know that the smell of an orange is not the smell of a grape-fruit. I can also conceive that colours have shades, and guess what shades are. In smell and taste there are varieties not broad enough to be fundamental; so I call them shades.” The braille is made from slices of charcoal. Its tactile quality would seem to invite the viewer to touch the surface, yet the surface is covered in shattered mirror, which would hurt or cut the hand. Bramblett’s references to both Keller and Duchamp symbolize two modes of questioning the ways in which humans understand the world. 

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