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Beck and his Grandfather, Al.In the late 1980s and early 90s artist  Beck Hansen made several trips to Europe to visit his grandfather, the Happenings artist Al Hansen who resided in Cologne. Since the early 1970s Beck and Al Hansen shared an informal exchange of ideas that was the catalyst for their respective engagements with images, words and sound/performance. Beck & Al Hansen: Playing With Matches is the first exhibition and publication on Beck and Al's related mixed media collages, assemblages, drawings, photographs, intermedia poems, and video documentation. Playing With Matches identifies the sources that inform the extraordinary artistic output of Beck and Al Hansen.

Before Al's premature death in 1995, he espoused a conceptual framework for a diverse range of experimental activities to be labelled "art," including the vitality of the body, its languaging and its documentation. Within this framework the creative process never ends, a finished product becomes rare. The materials employed by Beck and Al are predominantly refuse, the images, objects and sounds that most people throw away or ignore, consider too rudimentary, unsophisticated and often too insignificant for recycling. In unexpected combinations of subject matter and materials their works tread a fine line between visual art objects and art as conceptual ideas. Al fashioned or arranged junk and garbage into innumerable artworks and a limited number of "signature" figures: wave forms and stark, model towers out of burnt matches and glue, robots, an endless stream of Hershey bar wrapper Goddess Venuses, and other Venuses made entirely of cigarette butts and glue.

Exquisite collages on paper are constructed of found advertising or erotica-humourous, sexy, political or irreverent images and text-often combined with an arrangement of cast-off materials such as personal notes, old envelopes, shopping lists, empty matchbooks, German beer coasters and other detritus. Beck's collages may consist of line drawings of skulls, cryptic portraits with Latin text linking human tactile and auditory skills, hand-held calculators, found magazine illustrations, coloured feathers, shredded paper and manipulated photographs. They are elegantly crafted visual messages and shorthand travel notes from an ongoing performative voyage through the flotsam and jetsam of the late 20th century.

Like Al, Beck transforms the ordinary and often negative detritus of a commercial imagistic and consumer society, turning the detritus back in on itself for closer examination; separating and reconfiguring visual (and aural) ephemera to better re-evaluate its contrived beauty. Beck's performances are an extension of this examination-laced with myriad, overlapping references to Happenings, body art, roots blues and the jumbled voices of a generation of shattered narratives. He exacts the potential in things imperfect, impermanent or incomplete and edits economically (with two turntables and a microphone)-the audio equivalent to cut-and-paste collages in this book. Beck and Al Hansen's respective artwork remains true to the feeling that nothing is beneath their notice, or, as Henry Martin has remarked about Fluxus artists, just about everything is worth being looked at or listened to or toyed with. The simplicity of means, the occasionally crude cut-and-paste techniques and humorous one-liners as subject matter point to the complexities of primary human realities and primary levels of attention that are, after all, not simple or primary at all.

Beck & Al Hansen: Playing With Matches includes a collection of Al's rare performative texts/intermedia poems situated between sound and language, published for the first time in North America. They span a range of subjects and forms, from stream of consciousness-style remembrances of war and peace influenced by John Cage to the impact of a theatre movement known as Happenings, a type of "crazy theatre" Al co-founded in the late 1950s.


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