Catherine Richards, Method and Apparatus for Finding Love
Method and Apparatus for Finding Love (2000-)
Catherine Richards, Method and Apparatus for Finding Love (2000-)
In collaboration with Martin Snelgrove
Courtesy of the artist

Marcel Duchamp, The Large Glass
Marcel Duchamp, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (1915-1923)
Marcel Duchamp, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) / La mariée mise à nue par ses célibataires, même (Le Grand Verre) 1915-1923
Oil, varnish, lead wire, lead foil, mirror silvering, and dust on two glass panels (cracked), each mounted between two glass pannels, with five glass strips, aluminum foil, and a wood and steel frame, 277.5 x 175.8 cm overall, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Bequest of Katherine S. Dreier, as intalled by the artist at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Courtesy of Marcel Duchamp Estate / © SODRAC (2007)
Catherine Richards
Born in Ottawa in 1950
Lives and works in Ottawa (Ontario)

To be shown, the work Method and Apparatus for Finding Love (2000-) must be concealed. It must be hidden away from prying eyes, because it is a patent application; its content, comprised of a text and images about love, must be kept secret. Its subject, love, by definition an intimate exchange between two persons, is revealed only through an intricate game of dissimulation, revelation and demonstration, means by which men and women express this feeling. We must get quite close to the display before its opaque glass becomes transparent, allowing us to view a patent application. In a display case, the application seems inaccessible and distant; no longer an everyday text, it is a protected document. In fact, our access to it is only partial, for like its subject, it must be at once cleverly revealed and hidden, much in the way that a patent signifies ownership of an idea or an invention that merits protection. On the walls, linear drawings recall the works of the Masters; Lady with an Ermine by Leonardo da Vinci (1483-1490) and Saint Sebastian by Rubens (1615) are among the best known of these. And, as we more carefully inspect them, we notice that technological elements have been superimposed on the drawings: earrings, nose studs, nipple clips, etc.

A quote on the wall accompanies the enlarged copies of the drawings:

“The Drawings are objected to because they contain offensive pictures and/or material. Specifically Figures 1, 5, 11, 12, 13 are considered to contain such material and are therefore requested to be deleted.” (1)

Method and Apparatus for Finding Love is a reflection of the artist’s continuing examination of the relationship between physics (electromagnetism), emotions, and digital communication technology. But the work of art itself is a text – a conceptual work if ever there was one. It is a patent application describing a method and device to find love, to be manufactured using electronic and digital components. As a patent application, the text must rigorously describe the equipment and technical processes involved, yet it dwells on a painstaking description of the human mechanics and psychological backdrop to love and a microanalysis of the winding path that desire takes through exhibition and deception, display and concealment. A very strange patent application indeed, and one that cites Marcel Duchamp and his Large Glass, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (La mariée mise à nue par ses célibataires, même) (1915-1923) as prior art. It is a sort of treatise on the art of loving and contains references to Shakespeare, Chaucer and Ovide – we should also add Stendhal to this list – with respect to the unreliability of intermediaries in amorous negotiations. It is a remarkable, one-of-a-kind text that is both complex and intriguing.

This discourse on the art of love, under the auspices of a patent application, nevertheless presents an in-depth analysis of this art. The passage meticulously describing the risk of deceit that accompanies any overt method is a literary jewel. The following is just one of many excerpts I could have chosen:

“Another difficulty [of overt methods] is one inherent in all overt methods: people rarely know what they want, or they deceive themselves. The flaw here is that courting is seen as a form of shopping, in which the wise shopper works from a list, and conscious mediation in producing the list increases motivation to self-deception. There is a body of philosophy that holds that self deceit can be neutralized by the program ‘know thyself’, although no embodiment of this program is known. Its ultimate goal, if feasible, is purification or elimination of desire: this would reduce the market for our device. We do not believe that this is likely to be a serious problem given the antiquity of the program and the paucity of the results.” (2)

The work underscores the profound loneliness that exists in our media-driven societies dedicated, ironically, to communication and information. And if this irony is denouncing anything, it is not so much the way that technology is changing our lives, but rather the danger that the “private ownership of the means of production” represents in this domain. It may be an old-fashioned expression, but it speaks volumes. In this instance, it suggests that a person’s fate may be decided by a few individuals able to harness it for their own profit. Suffice to say that this text is, in a certain sense, a caricature of ourselves, revealing the extent to which we are threatened by the privatisation of human intimacy (love) as is already the case in the gene patenting of genetically modified species. The patent becomes one more territory both invested in and investigated by the artist, as were the curiosity cabinets in Virtual Body (1993) and a Faraday cage in Curiosity Cabinet at the End of the Millennium (1995). The patent provides Richards with an “extraordinary opportunity to entwine both science and art as agents of desire.” (3) While science is regarded as the paradigm of the rationality and objectivity in knowledge, art has always been associated with eroticism or, as Nietzsche put it, sensuality. With this text, Richards draws us along slippery, unfamiliar ground, where technology and desire intertwine in a discourse on the embodiment of science and technology.

J.G. © FDL 2007

(1) Correspondence sent by the patent examiner to the artist (2006).
(2) Catherine Richards and Dr W. Martin Snelgrove, Method and Apparatus for Finding Love. United States Patent Publication: Provisional Application n° 60/330, 566, filed on Oct. 25, 2001, p. 18.
(3) Catherine Richards, “Method and Apparatus for Finding Love 2000- Artist Statement: A Patent” in Catherine Richards (personal Web Site): http://www.catherinerichards.ca/artwork/patent_statement.html
Work on display

Method and Apparatus for Finding Love (2000-)

In collaboration with Martin Snelgrove
Copy of the patent application in a vitrine, glass, and electronic circuits, sensors, line drawings from paintings by Masters (Bronzino, da Vinci, da Vignola, Michelangelo, Rubens) transferred to paper, quote from the patent examiner
Collection of the artist


Catherine Richards is a professor in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Ottawa. She studied English literature and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from York University in 1971 and a B.A. in Visual Arts from the University of Ottawa in 1980. In 1991, together with Nell Tenhaaf, she organised the Virtual Seminar on the Bioapparatus at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Alberta, one of the first public art events in Canada to examine virtual realities and the interfaces between technology and the human body. This innovative project in art and new technology earned her the 1992 Corel Prize from the Canadian Conference of the Arts. In 1993, she won the Petro-Canada Award in Media Arts from the Canada Council for the Arts for her outstanding use of new technologies in media arts and, more specifically, for Spectral Bodies (1991). That same year, her interactive work Virtual Body was presented at the Antwerp ’93 Festival in Belgium. The Canadian Centre for the Visual Arts, affiliated with the National Gallery of Canada, awarded her a fellowship in 1993-1994, and in 1994-1995, her Charged Hearts (1997) project was partially funded through the Gallery’s Claudia De Hueck Fellowship in Art and Science. Also in 1995, her Curiosity Cabinet at the End of the Millennium was commissioned for the exhibition Self Determination/Body Politic at the Gemeentemuseum in Arnhem, the Netherlands. Her most recent works, I was scared to death/I could have died of joy (2000), Shroud/Chrysalis (2000), and Method and Apparatus for Finding Love (2000) are an extension of her exploration into the links between the body, emotion, and new technology. Her work was also shown in 2004 at the Biennale of Sydney, Australia.

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Daniel Langlois Foundation