Warhol’s Unbounded Merge

Through out the readings for this week, I found a particular fascinating feature of parallel principles:  “unbounded Merge”. Chomsky uses the term to describe the “unifying operation for rule-governed combinatoriality”. Andy Warhol experimented about Campbell’s Soup Can for almost a year, and released a thirty-two flavored Campbell soup can painting.   His soup cans do not seek to be pictures about something, but the picture of a real object: they choose purely to affirm the object. This unlimited recursion is widely recognized as an essential cognitive capacity that unites language, memory, and all other forms of symbolic cognition and expression (Martin, 2014). Warhol hand-painted all flavored Campbell soup cans, which is a consumables that can be seen everywhere and purchased by anyone. A real object now is transferred into a fine art work. Warhol used repetition and enlargement highlighted the recursion. As Heiner Bastian describes, “Warhol’s repletion of the motif can no doubt also be seen as the meta-level of an illustration of consumer-goods advertising, a kind of unbiased litany for the optical formulas of everyday myths that have lost their appeal.”

Warhol, compare to other post-modern artists like Roy Lichtenstein, is always looking for new popular items to practice in his art model. Pinker and Jackendoff sum up an accepted view in linguistics: “Recursion consists of embedding a constituent in a constituent of the same type, for example a relative clause inside a relative clause.” Similar to this theory, Warhol tried to practice Do-It-Yourself series, Cartoon, and Coco-Cola bottle before he adopted silk-screen technology.The subject can be varied, but the “grammar” of his painting was consistent.He was trying to use clear hand-painted painting to enlarge and mirror popular icons in mass media.

Warhol-campbells_soup_cans_moma-19641 "Big Campbell's Soup Can with Can OpenerSecurity guards stand near Coca-Cola [4] Large Coca-Cola by Andy Warhol during a preview of Sotheby's Impressionist & Modern Art auction in New YorkHeiner Bastian describes that Warhol’s Coco-Cola as an anti-metaphorical style. He emphasized this was an important step Warhol had taken in the direction of new painting. He said, “In winter 1960, he depicted a Coca-Cola bottle. The utter isolation of the much-enlarged object and its alien lack of compromise which can only be seen as futurist, puts this motif in a class of its own. ” However, meaning-making is not only a lexicon, which can isolated as something “new”, but it can only happen through communally Encyclopedia, which based on cultural contexts, dialogic relations to other works and genres, and situated knowledge of the members of a meaning community who create and receive the symbolic expressions (Irvine). Peirce also highlighted the ongoing development nature of meaning system in his semiosis model. I think we can understand Warhol’s style as an ongoing dialogic model. He was not trying to make a clear statement to isolate himself to the past, but he’s trying to bring new lexicons he noticed in mass media into this open-ended, unlimited sequences and network of meaning-making system.

Martin Irvine, “Remix and the Dialogic Engine of Culture: A Model for Generative Combinatoriality” , The Routledge Companion to Remix Studies, ed. Eduardo Navas, et al. (New York: Routledge, 2014), 15-42.

Warhol, A., Bastian, H., Varnedoe, K., Neue Nationalgalerie (Germany), & Tate Modern (Gallery). (2002). Andy Warhol: Retrospective. London: Tate Pub.