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Auto-destructive art is a term invented by the artist Gustav Metzger in the early 1960s and put into circulation by his article "Machine, Auto-Creative and Auto-Destructive Art" in the summer 1962 issue of the journal Ark. From 1959, he had made work by spraying acid onto sheets of nylon as a protest against nuclear weapons. In his Acid on Nylon Paintings this procedure produced rapidly changing shapes as the nylon disintegrated before being totally consumed by the hydrochloric acid. Metzger produced many other works that were simultaneously auto-destructive and auto-creative, such as his Liquid Crystal Light Projections that necessitate the destruction of an existing form for the creation of a new form.
In 1966, Metzger and others organised the Destruction in Art Symposium in London, followed by another in New York in 1968. The Symposium brought together many artists engaged in destruction in their work and was accompanied by public demonstrations including the burning of Skoob Towers by John Latham. These were towers of books (skoob is books in reverse) and Latham's intention was to demonstrate directly his opinion that Western culture was burned out.
In 1960, the Swiss artist Jean Tinguely made the first of his self-destructive machine sculptures, Homage à New York, which battered itself to pieces in the Sculpture Garden of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Pete Townshend of The Who would later relate destroying his guitar on stage to auto-destructive art. Band member Keith Moon dramatically followed suit by placing explosives into his drums (at some points nearly blowing himself to pieces).
Japanese Noise/Performance Art band the Hanatarash would create entire performances out of destroying their sets with power tools and other non-musical instruments, and the sound produced being the focus, essentially producing 'art' based on complete destruction.
- Amazing Journey: The Story of The Who
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