Norman Dilworth developed his concept of “generation” experimenting with (unites of) lines and volumes that move into space where they diverge and connect. Crucial for their expressiveness is the way in which his sculptural objects move and develop through several systems of spatial axes at the same time (or successively) outward from one point. Dilworth's works on display at the exhibition “Pier + Ocean” in 1980 (alongside paintings by François Morellet) were both determined as successive developments of a line. In five line segments, the three-dimensional work lying on the floor, shows Dilworth's approach as described above. The work develops from a process of cutting and joining segments. The measure of the first beam and the way it is cut determines all further ones. The process therefore produces the work, which, twisting its shape, appears to grow in one direction. The second work, a wall object is a line as well. It tapers and alternately bends as a consequence of a similar way of cutting. With only one exception - the development stays within the plane of the wall. Two Morellet paintings were installed next to Dilworth's works: 10 and 20 randomly placed lines within a square of each 140 x 140 cm. Morellet's system is based on a regular numbering of grids within the plane. It allows a random series of numbers from a telephone book to dictate the placement of the lines. For example, the starting and ending points of each line are determined by the two final figures of two successive telephone numbers.
The fascinating dialogue between these two artists within “Ocean + Piers” - visible in the installation view - is constituted by their contrasting attitude towards the principle of chance. Morellet lets chance be chance - his basic grids are there just to provide randomness with an optimal space to show itself; chance determines the resulting image as much as possible. Dilworth does not use chance at all, but his works strongly suggest that chance played an important role. This has to do with one of the core aspects of the generation concept: Dilworth makes systematic choices in how to link units, one may say: how to let units of a work grow and develop out of each other. The result gives the impression of chance, because there are many possibilities that Dilworth did not use - although he could use them in a work that would constitute another member of the same family of works - of the same generation. Exactly that constitutes the double meaning of the concept of generation: each work is generated as one possible realisation of the sculptural genes within the abstract rule or the concrete unit that is used; and a series of works in which these genes are differently realised throughout, is also a generation in the true sense of the word.
Since its first appearance in 1978, the generation concept brought inspiration and, in a natural way, variation to Dilworth's body of work. As we saw, he could put the concept and its possibilities to a test within 'Pier+ Ocean' in 1980. Two years later, he showed at Galerie Swart in Amsterdam and the photos documenting the presentation tell it all: here sculptures were branching, crawling, spiraling in all directions through the exhibition space - small generations growing off the walls like crystal formations. The photos clarify once again the crucial change from the conventional spatial grid in three dimensions created by earlier sculptures, to the multidimensional space that is created by the generation works. After 1982 only a few of Dilworth's sculptures or wall-pieces, are centered symmetrically; instead, they explore space in all directions ad libitum. Take for example the metaphor that characterises constructivism as the tradition of how to compose a work of art - from that perspective we could say that Dilworth's compositions are like the improvisational cadenzas of a sonata or a concerto: not lacking expository structure, but the player makes up the rules as he plays and improvises his moves through the musical material. To resume another metaphor: Dilworth's generations are more like active speech than systematic language, and their liveliness elicits a broad range of associations that have to do with creativity in a natural, organic sense.
Once the development in Dilworth's work had led to the first sculptures based on the Generations concept, an immense range of possibilities opened up.
He had found the artistic concept that would give him inspiration for years to come; the concept of “generating works” not only proved itself a source rich in systematic possibilities, it also entails aspects of meaning that in a very natural way determine both organic and evolutionary aspects of variation and transformation in both each individual work and in series or families of works.
Cees de Boer, 1980