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Break it

Museum Link:

Source Link:

Date Minted: December 11, 2019

Artist Description: The game has become boring, break the wall to continue.

CohentheWriter’s Commentary:

Break it is self-aware enough to reference antique landscape art and OS interfaces and abstract principles simultaneously, that’s clear. Break it is self-aware enough to adequately and creatively discuss obsolescence in art, that too. In fact, it’s brilliant at doing so. The central question though, which must be asked of any piece dealing in such themes, is whether it’s self-aware enough to know that it will, one day, be obsolete too?

That’s a question only the artist, Gary Cartlidge, can answer, which makes it best pondered later, once we’ve finished ingesting the piece before us. Because, for the time being, Break it, isn’t just obsolete, it’s vital, an imaginative and effective meditation on Crypto Art’s forceful destruction of the old ways. And indeed, those old ways look pathetic by comparison. 

Cartlidge notes of his own work that it’s “Abstract, sometimes minimal, sometimes maximalism, depends on what a piece demands of it.” Looking through his works, that lack of singular rhythm or style is evident, and adds to the artist’s mystique, a mastery ala Picasso, artisan of many forms, granddaddy of every technique. In Break it, Cartlidge seems to be having a dialogue with himself, with the very idea of minimalism, and the omnipresent pull towards maximalism. In the end, he can’t seem to choose between them, includes both.

The initial posture of Break it is exceedingly minimalist, especially by Crypto Art standards. In Break its’ starting position at the beginning of its short loop, a white background is punctuated by a peach-colored rectangle, the suggestion of a museum frame. Within is housed a dark, moody, heavily-green, well-composed-but-ultimately-blasé landscape painting: grass, dark sky, faraway mountains; some mid-American mesa maybe. That image only dominates the screen for a moment, too quickly to really be appreciated or cared for. Six abstract cubes suddenly appear atop the landscape —three being the same tan-color as the frame, the other three are black on one face, electric pink on the other— and slowly move towards the landscape’s edges. The peach cubes join in with the frame, popping out of it like boils or zits or tumors, while the black cubes glom onto the edge of the image as a whole. Here begins phase 2 of the piece, as a generic OS command prompt, literally pulled from Window 10, flashes on the screen and says “Break the walls to continue.” Who is that prompt for? Us the observers? Or Cartlidge the artist? We are unable to respond, of course, and responding to our silence, the ensuing command reads “No?” Guess not. Finally, the OS responds with “Goodbye.” The Command Prompt disappears. And then the cubes do. Then the landscape does. The frame. All of it. Until we’re left with only a blank white screen. The end of art...or at least the end of this art.

Obsolescence, then, comes from an unwillingness, or an inability, to adapt. In consequence, they’re the same thing. The landscape, static throughout this piece, seems a relic of another time, not unimportant or unimpressive in its own —or even our own— era, but now, at the point at which technology and sensibility have far moved past it, nothing more than a relic, a curiosity, or —realistically— as window dressing in some septuagenarian living room.  Cartlidge seems to take great pains not to show any outward disdain for the art style itself, or the artist, but merely in the circumstances around the piece. The cubes that appear from within it are futuristic, and by emerging atop the old piece, they suggest the lack of responsibility the landscape artist had in their own eventual obsolescence, and that may be a circumstance universal to older art movements and those holding tightly to them.

Cartlidge takes on the role of the Computer OS here, an outside influence that blatantly opines on the obsolescence taking place. The OS gives the theoretical artist of the landscape piece —or the observer of it— an opportunity, even an ample one, to move past this era of art, thus “Breaking the walls” if they want to continue. Within the piece, the answer is made for us. Negatory. And the OS responds by condemning the art to the trash heap, to invisibility and thus death. 

This is simply the way of things, but a way exacerbated by the Crypto Art movement, itself a reflection of a terrifyingly-fast moving technology. Crypto Artists are under the same pressures as yesteryear’s artists to innovate and adapt, but on a much quicker timeline. Herein, artistic movements are birthed and killed off before most can even get their bearings within them. Imagine the stress this places upon artists, to be continually perceptive of and responsive to the changing whims of the moment. It’s a lot to ask for any artist, working in whatever medium, with whatever talent. Cartlidge is rather prolific himself, however, with over 115 works listed on SuperRare, an objectively enormous output. Whether that speed comes at the cost of quality is not for any given critic to decide; it is a reality that the artist must come to terms with on their own. 

Summarily, Cartlidge does not even bother reckoning with these larger questions in Break it. That’s probably smart, as moving further into the realm of philosophy might very well cut Break it off at the knees. Really, Break it is a firmly-planted foot discussing a singular issue: the inability of some artists to adapt, and the subsequent fate that will become them: obsolescence in their own right. Commenting on such a thing does not necessarily keep Cartlidge from that same fate, but it certainly suggests that he’s aware of the possibility. And at a certain point, it’s the awareness that’ll save you. If not your art, then at least your soul. 

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