toutfait : voisins du zero, 2003
This essay proposes an interpretation of Duchamp´s Monte Carlo Bond, the 1924 lithography created and reproduced thirty times with the purpose of collecting funds that would allow Duchamp to experiment with a mathematical system with which to win slowly but surely over the Monte Carlo bank in the game of roulette. Often mentioned in passing, the Monte Carlo Bond is usually discussed as a financial document, but to my knowledge no serious attempt has been made to interpret this particular work and recognize its significance within Duchamp´s oeuvre. In my interpretation, this work is of great importance for its symbolic and psychological implications, in addition to its meaning as a financial operation.
Most importantly, Duchamp´s foamy head –as it appears in the photograph placed over the roulette— has been repeatedly identified as a faun-like or demoniac figure, but a more overt connection has not been sufficiently recognized. Rather than see the lathered protuberances as ‘horns’, these can be more readily identified (through their form: not pointed as a devil´s, but curved back) with Mercury´s winged attributes. Once one sees Duchamp in the guise of Mercury, or Hermes, the meaning of the work takes a new turn and opens fresh alleys for interpretation.
After introducing the main elements contained in the image itself and briefly summarizing some of the ways that this image has been described, the first part of the paper focuses on Duchamp´s self-representation as Mercury (whether this was a conscious choice or not on the artist´s part) and its implications. On the one hand, Mercury/Hermes is commonly associated with financial activities; on the other, the presence of foam (aphros) as the material that gives Duchamp the appearance of Mercury becomes an essential iconographic component. Taking into account the signatures of Rrose Sélavy and Marcel Duchamp, as they appear in the Monte Carlo Bond, the theme of duality and its eventual resolution in hermaphroditism (Hermes + Aphrodite) is explored. This androgynous combination may be interpreted as the mythological ‘correction’ obtained through the conjunction of Mercury´s communicative capacity (exemplified in the movement of the roulette) with the perfection of potential success in the ‘figure’ of gambling, which is indirectly represented through Aphrodite´s attributes (love, beauty, sexual passion), of two human entities in conflict: Rrose Sélavy, the ‘widow’ whose signature appears beneath the black diamond, and Marcel Duchamp, the ‘bachelor’ who signs as “administrator” under the red one. In this particular case, where the hermetic image of Duchamp is placed on the strategic axis of the roulette, the roulette´s circular movement has the ability to fuse opposites into one, and the Monte Carlo Bond literally becomes the tie or ‘bond’ between two conflicting entities.
The second part of the paper is dedicated to the significance of the mysterious and recurring text in the Bond´s background: moustiques domestiques demi-stock. When considered next to nearly identical phrases used by Duchamp on other occasions, as for example three years later on one of the discs of Anemic Cinema, where the complete phrase appears as “on demande des moustiques domestiques [demi-stock] pour la cure d´azote sur la côte d´azur,” the text acquires a new meaning, and may be interpreted in relation to the alchemical substance Azoth (a vital substance with the power to bond the three basic alchemical elements together: mercury, sulphur, and salt) and to the French Riviera as ‘airy’ and therapeutic location –concepts which may both be transferred to the Bond itself, where opposites meet and dissolve one another.
Simultaneously, I explore the relation between this work and Duchamp´s near-to-contemporary works, such as The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even. The Monte Carlo Bond thus reveals itself as an essential piece for understanding the next and enigmatic step in Duchamp´s process after his supposed abandonment of art.