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Mambo Manifesto Poster by Reg Mombassa 1994

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(See "Links") Historically, the term Multiple was coined in the 1960’s.” to describe an artwork that was neither a print nor an editioned cast sculpture but was still intended to be produced in a large number of copies.” The term might also be applied to of a range of ephemeral yet powerful visual and textual productions which were prolifically generated by the strong counter-culture of the time. The concept of the Multiple applies where artists make reproducible work that is saleable, collectable and accessible whilst retaining an artistic ambition. Multiples are a neat way of playing with ideas about the tensions generated between originality/ uniqueness/reputation, signature and style, and mass-production, availability and low cost. The creation of artists’ Multiples, before they were so named, has a history throughout the 20th Century and often subversion was a key point of their making. Around 1913 Marcel Duchamp bought various utilitarian objects from a hardware shop, placed them in an art gallery, gave them playful titles and said they were art. So we have had to give them the attention we give to art, as opposed to all the other bicycle wheels and snow-shovels in the world. Coming after Duchamp’s “ready mades” a notable list includes Manzoni’s cans of Artist’s Shit and Warhol’s screenprints. Both have used or referred to the ultimate consumer multiple - the tin can - and both demonstrate an intriguing slipperiness in the relationship between form, content, intent and subsequent market value of art. Around 1967 Robert Rauschenberg showed an object/sculpture titled Monogram, which featured a stuffed goat with a tyre round its neck standing on a factory pallet, its face covered in lots of paint. It is a one-off, but in the highest tension with the banal mass produced with which we live. For Joseph Beuys, Multiples were important to a more clearly optimistic and even utopian overlap of art and life. They ‘represented a vehicle for communication- a means of disseminating his ideas far beyond his own range’ . His near 600 multiples between 1965 and 1985 included found objects, audiotapes and films, many resulting from his work as a teacher. But, like, times have changed. If the borders between high art and top-end commercial productions
are ever more porous, poor us - the Multiple as a critical boundary-challenger is in trouble. Looming alongside on a parallel track is “the collectable”, Franklin Mint commemorative plaques, or prints and “hand-finished ” paintings from the $4billion Thomas Kinkade Christmas Cottage Idyll empire. Is buying a Damien Hirst spin or spot painting entirely different? Ironising the one or the other of these made possible, at the time, the “jokey post constructionist ashtrays” of Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas – “The Birds” in their shop in south London . The shelf life of that strategy was limited precisely because of the postmodern environment which suggested it in the first place. Continuing within this environment is the über-cool example of Mambo surfwear. Definitely on the shop side of the high/low divide in terms of item-cost, its encouragement of an extended sense of jokeyness and cultural reference put it, until recent management change, more on the gallery side. Anna Johnson, in the first essay for their 1994 survey-catalogue underlines the debt to surrealism via Monty Python. Then she makes the interesting comment: “In deference to Breton it must be said that upon matters of mass production and patent, MAMBO diverges from the hard-core Surrealist path and favours instead the ready-mades of Duchamp.” For us, the choice to use the Multiple form by a practising artist requires a continuing critical edge. According to the British Council’s accompanying literature to their Multiplication :a touring Exhibition of 62 multiples by 46 artists, 2002 onwards, many Multiples are “commissioned works produced by third parties, whilst others are by artists who work solely with the concept of the Multiple. In either case, the challenge to the artist is in finding ways of realising an idea that can be repeated time and again. Part of the creative challenge comes in researching new methods and sourcing new materials, leading to some unlikely collaborations between artist and fabricators.
For example Dan Hays’ Lenticular was sourced in Japan and uses some 20 plus lenses to create an illusionistic animal cage. Langlands and Bell have employed the latest Russian laser cutting techniques to create the conundrum of an etched map of airline routes of the world, diamond etched inside a crystal cube.” If Multiples are to be worth their making, they have many pitfalls to avoid: not just being in-jokes, yet more bits of art about art, shopping bags about shopping, or money-making off-cuts of conceptual already-mades. Back in 1919, Stepanova produced Gaust Chaba, a book of 8 poems and 6 collages printed on newspaper pages. Nearly a hundred years later, the challenge is to find where and how such criticality can now take place.