The other day while reading Walter Benjamin I came across this phrase:
We are bored when we don’t know what we are waiting for. That we do know, or think we know, is nearly always the expression of our superficiality or inattention. Boredom is the threshold of great deeds –Now it would be important to know: What is the dialectical antithesis to boredom?
This made me think immediately on Tu m’ (1918), the last painting by Marcel Duchamp (French / American, 1918 – 1968), one of the biggest icons to emerge from the Dadaist / Surrealist movement:
Tu m’; image taken from the Yale art gallery
The title has been said to be a shortening of the French “tu m’ennuies” or the more vulgar “tu m’emmerdes”; usually translated as “you bore me” (though other possibilities have been suggested too). This title may well express his feelings towards painting; an idea strengthened by the fact that this was his last work.
Some of his “greatest hits” are depicted here, namely his “readymades” (everyday objects transformed into art), which makes you wonder if he was also bored of those. Besides the color swatches, a representation of a readymade in itself, the shadows of his famous bicycle wheel (Bicycle Wheel, 1913) and the coat rack (Trap, 1917) can be seen here. These are the original readymades found in the painting:
Bicycle Wheel, Image taken from the MOMA website (this is a newer version, as the original is now lost)
Trap, Image taken from toutfait.com, an excellent site on M. Duchamp
Even though there are plenty of paintings that depict boredom in many different ways, what I find interesting on this particular one is that it goes one step further: What bores the artist is that which has defined him for a long time. Granted, you could argue that painting was only one of the many facets of Duchamp’s work, but then again, the silhouettes of the readymades makes me think that he is expressing boredom in a broader sense. And this in turn reminds me of Oscar Wilde (from “The Picture of Dorian Gray”):
“The only horrible thing in the world is ennui, Dorian. That is the one sin for which there is no forgiveness”