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The Laws of Chance

lksmith's picture

            Little pieces of paper fall down and scatter across the floor. Pictures and memories are torn apart and delicately released to find their own path. Each ripped up chunk by itself is meaningless, its story hidden beyond the incomplete edges. Once all the small fragments come together on the ground they become something new, though not in the traditional way. Once the pile is formed, they are merely an abstract mess of torn papers, waiting for someone to come along and see them as something more.

            This is the process that the Dada artist Hans Arp used in his Collage Arranged According to the Laws of Chance as mentioned in Chapter 5 of Mary Flanagan’s Critical Play. Flanagan said that “In his automatic processes, Arp would draw, rip the drawings into pieces, allow the pieces to fall where they may, and affix them where they lay as a memento of the operation.” In both of my excursions into the city of Philadelphia, this quote was represented in various ways that gave both the experience and the quote greater significance for me.

            My most recent trip into the city was filled with fragments and pieces. Isaiah Zagar’s mosaics that fill South Street, although artistically designed and carefully placed, are a representation of the laws of chance that governed Arp’s work. Each and every piece came from a different place and has its own history. Although, they did not fall freely onto the mosaics, each one did find its own way to Zagar. In a sense, their places within his mosaics are how they commemorate their respective journeys. They lay on the walls of South Street as mementos of everything that happened from the moment of their creation to the moment they were placed on the wall, mementos of the actions of the laws of chance.  

            On a larger scale, the mosaics themselves are also representations of Arp’s laws of chance. They are scattered all across South Street, reaching out over many of the buildings, extending down even the smallest alleyways. The locations of the mosaics are completely dependent on where Zagar was allowed to put them. All the time more and more of them sprout up on random walls throughout that portion of the city. As they continue to fall into place, the city takes them in and the laws of chance transform the city little by little.

            To extend this idea even farther, Isaiah Zagar himself is another one of the countless little pieces that fell into Philadelphia. As are all the other people that inhabit the city and venture into its streets. Everything and everyone has fallen into the same place. When I escaped into the city I became a part of that, another piece thrown into the mix, adding to the chaos. Arp let each piece fall so that it may follow the natural order of the world and break free from the artist’s ego. No one could design what the city of Philadelphia has become, like Arp’s Collage Arranged According to the Laws of Chance, everything falls where it is meant to fall.

            This idea became clear to me the first time I ventured into the city and my group and I became a few of the many torn pieces in Arp’s work. We never had a plan or knew where we were or where we would end up. We let the city pick us up and drop us down on its streets ready for wherever we may land. As we traveled through different parts of the city we captured every moment in pictures to preserve them, as Arp did with the pieces that he released. The end result of this was by no means a masterpiece, we could not put our experience up on a gallery wall or add it to the endless statues that fill parts of Philadelphia. The goal was to play and let chance decide our experience.

            Hans Arp believed that art should be made by the subconscious and governed by nature and the laws of chance. The will of the artist was something to be completely removed from the process thus making the piece entirely independent. In my recent experiences, the city of Philadelphia can be seen in much the same way as Arp’s work. Many small pieces all fall together according to the laws of chance and the will of nature. Everything within the city, down to the small pieces of broken plates in the mosaics of Isaiah Zagar fit this description and hold the same significance. All the little pieces fall slowly down and become the abstract mess of torn papers they were meant to be.  


pialikesowls's picture

Liane started out with a

Liane started out with a vivid image in the reader's mind, then connects it to Flanagan's writing. She starts small then starts to zoom out with every paragraph, talking about Isaiah Zagar's mosaics from different perspectives. She talked about how she was a mosaic, Zagar was a mosaic, and even that the mosaic was a mosaic. She references the Dada artist Hans Arp a lot, since he took pieces of paper and tore them, letting them drop wherever they wanted to. Her ideas flow well together, and there's clear organization.

Samantha Plate's picture

Lianne begins the essay with

Lianne begins the essay with an image that is very easy to see in the mind's eye. She then connects it back to the research she did about Hans Arp after reading Mary flanagan's work. She uses the floating paper as an extended metaphor throughout the essay and compares her trips to the city to the practice of letting things fall as they may. She finds the law of chance in many of her city experiences getting broader with each paragraph she writes. The paragraphs flow well together, they are short but not choppy. All of her ideas fit together just like the pieces of paper she talks about.