Authority and the Artist, with irony as safety belt

Authority and the Artist, with irony as safety belt

The noise of time, by Julian Barnes
Vintage, 2016

I read the book twice; at first reading I could not hear the voice of the author, otherwise clear and solemn. The narration is in third person going through the life of the composer Dmitri Shostakovich. It is a fictional biography where while the facts may be deriving from research, the thoughts can belong either to the hero or to the narrator; the latter as most probable. It is a difficult book to enter. It seems fragmented and the time and place give away the drama. Yet, we don’t realize the volume of the drama unless we read through to the end. The noise of time talks about two themes: the artist in front of the authority, and irony in the life and work of the artist. For those who go through life as artists, or see artistic expression as an essential human trait, these are painful matters and unsolvable. Barnes has a remarkable sensitivity for the fate of artists, expressed often along the way; here, he turns the knife in the wound, masterly.

Life was the cat that dragged the parrot downstairs by its tail; his head banged against every step. J.B.

Wherever there is a monopoly established for art matters, the same motif is repeated. The monopoly draws a line of rules and separates those included from the excluded. And whenever there is state control to art matters there is artists’ persecution. Physical bodies may not be imprisoned (when not) but emotional worlds are destroyed, identities are annihilated, intellectual dreams are crushed. Totalitarianism disguised as a liberal state’s policy is in many aspects worse than totalitarian regimes. Because here any sense of solidarity is evaporated onto a surface of freedom. The artist is alone in front, or within, the ‘creative industry’ and guilty towards everyone and everything. ‘Independent committees’ follow similar patterns. There are keywords to be checked, like ‘political’, ‘dialogue’, ‘message’, etc., and a style to be detected as (currently) ‘innovative’, ‘interactive’ and most of all uplifting (and consequently successful in societal terms). Authority knows how to entrench what is acceptable and present it as the boundary-breaking art of today.

Khrennikov had an average ear for music, but perfect pitch when it came to power. J.B.

The three times that the authority talks to the artist, position him towards his work and his colleagues whether he likes it or not.

First, the artist is a victim. Tortured in real, living his precarious life (some stop or are stopped here).
Then he is a traitor. This is the phase when solidarity is dangerous because the artist may lose the crumbs that the authority feeds him. So, either he does not speak up for his colleagues (and his ideas), either he denounces them (even with some guilt).
In the end, he is an accomplice, and still a pawn (pawn-king, pawn-horse, …). This last phase is combined with the authority’s honours and tangible benefits (stardom, professorships, chairmanships, and financial comforts).

If the intention of the author was to defend Shostakovich and even more his music, he does give thumbs up on his wish to have his music be heard when the noise of time will have been drowned. We, are grateful that it does. For, music (and art for that matters) has a value in itself. No matter what authorities want us to believe, that it must reflect socio-political issues and relevant ideas (always to a certain direction of course). Music made on these prerequisites is mainly marches and guerrilla songs, or the non-poetical song of the authority. Shostakovich’s music was accused by the authority as ‘non-political and confusing’, addressed to the bourgeoisie and to the intellectual elite.

Then irony comes in, as the means for preserving one’s self and what you love, a disguise used ‘to smuggle things past the wrong ears’.  Irony is when you say something meaning something else; those who can listen understand. And in the same time, you save your life and you protect whatever precious. It is a way of cheating preserved for poetry and the arts, and for a specific kind of intellect. Not for the kind that grows close to authority. But, ‘there are limits to irony’. In which what you do in the end becomes what you are. The defendable joke becomes a degraded identity. Either way, in the end, you lose.

He wrote music for the ears that could hear. And he knew, therefore, that all true definitions of art are circular, and all untrue definitions of art ascribe to it a specific function. J.B.

P.S. We may have more to it if we transpose the story to present time (take it as an irony); check the art world, the creative industry, the authority full of itself as it is.

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The art market as comfort food

The art market as comfort food

Imagine, you set off to become an artist. You do your studies one way or the other and then get to work to do your x hours of practice, the given minimum standard for achieving a basic level of professionalism on anything. There you are, an artist, and like all those before you, your fellows ancestors, you work to find the something more, the beyond, that special area that includes the divine as part or head of the total. Whether the divine element is placed in the work or on you, as the observer/ creator ‘above all’, it makes no difference. The truth, God in a sense, is the quest.

The thought is not about religions nor of God-fearing people or dubious beliefs about our positioning towards the unknown. However, don’t we all do that; take parts in the question of the existence or not of God? Atheists, agnostics, materialists, believers or non-believers worldwide have looked for and some made a decision about the something more than what our eyes see and any relative authority.

For some professional fields, this quest is homonym or runs parallel to the object of the profession, even if only in periods. Whoever does a research in unknown paths or strives to break limits has already positioned themselves toward this question. It happens even in fields that would not come first to mind, where the boundary breaking strive is expressed as competition.

Think of the free divers and the most known among them, the pioneer Jacques Mayol. In the filming of his story and the rivalry with Enzo Maiorca, in Luc Besson’s Big Blue (1988), he as co-screenwriter narrates his own death: fished out from the depths of the sea; a heroic end for the visionary of Homo Delphinus (Homo Delphinus: The Dolphin Within Man). Here, art acts as buffer of reality; the film takes over the implicit feel of failure and gives it back in haunting aesthetics. Mayol’s underlying suggestion was real though. Competition won, fame secured, yet something screamed of failure. Mayol committed suicide at older age being depressed, feeling alone and not understood and most of all having not found the something more down in the deep.

Make a list of people that have touched the extreme, or should I say the edge of the probable, be it scientists, astronauts, athletes, thinkers or artists, and have fallen in depression after their achievements; or shortened their lives. And then balance it with the other list, of those that have relativized successes and failures and by decision have turned to the comfort of predictable returns.

Indeed, this is a story of compromise. For, how can you indefinitely live within a quest for God? Call it infinity too, the beyond, or that thing that justifies our existence; you dissolve in it or you touch it for a moment and then you retreat. To let yourself dissolve in it translates to slipping into insanity, giving away your individual identity, losing contact with the daily life. To let go of the quest and carry on in a normality, means that you accept the compromise; with full awareness of it. That calls for comfort food; a huge amount of it. In the arts, comfort food is to be found in the market; it is called the art market.

Along the way, we come across judgments about successful artists for or against them, that bluntly suggest that there are people that become artists with sole aim to get to this success. It is true that a specific ambition, a good pitch, and the way to go with people of power has a lot to do with an artist’s success, yet the first and most weighs on work. Much more work than any other professional field demands for it is work done in solitude, in no social status what so ever, and mostly often in poverty. To say that any individual sets off to become an artist with only goal to become rich and famous is as absurd as wanting to become an astronaut so that you can send a Skype message to your local radio station.

Further on, satisfaction brought by the acknowledgement of your peers and then maybe of an audience, may be a useful filling to your practice and a soother of your social self, but in the end it is irrelevant. The purpose of art is to make visible those links that cannot be seen or explained in any other way. If that cannot be acknowledged and embraced as what it is, then the market takes the lead and uses art as a commodity.

And this is what happened: the art world annihilated itself by wanting to be part of the trivial.

And this is what we have now: the arts have fallen under a ‘creative industry’ scheme, which feeds the market and the careers built within and around it.

 

The artist is alive

The artist is alive

‘To stay alive – a method’ 
Documentary film by Erik Lieshout, Arno Hagers, Reinier van Brummelen
Netherlands, 2016

Some things are so outspoken that any commentary becomes superfluous. Some people too. Suicidal actions even more, they spread an intractable distress like a blast. Here, in the film ‘To stay alive – a method’, the blast expands in slow motion and through a painful serenity. Based on Houellebecq’s essay ‘To stay alive’ (Rester vivant, 1991), revolving on the idea of suffering as the source of poetry, the film is a visualization of the essay in free synthesis. The order of the text is reshuffled, some parts are repeated, the narrations of the four characters interlace with the reading done by Iggy Pop. The narrations are subjective, the reading sounds objective; this is what you should do, because ‘a dead poet does not write’: First, suffering; To articulate; Strike where it counts.

The film focuses on clinical depression plus other sufferings of the psyche, by presenting the life stories that inspired the essay. However, Houellebecq’s text applies to all poets, and artists of course. And we the spectators/ readers, we must keep in mind that depression and the rest do not necessarily lead to poetry (mostly not).

Creation is not a cheerful action. As for poets, there is nothing pleasant in not belonging but still having to wear the armor of normality. This applies to those with an institution certificate as much to those who will never be officially diagnosed (with more variations possible, as those that are diagnosed but prefer to live with their condition than abolishing it together with poetry).

“Most people come to terms with life, or else they die. You are living suicides.”

“Structure is the sole means of escaping suicide.”

“Emotion abolishes the causal chain.”

“Life has become administrative and medical” says Vincent to his guest, Iggy Pop. Vincent, played by Houellebecq himself, is a sculptor who has had success, now living alone in his parental house. He is busy with an artwork hidden from the eyes of the world; his guest gets to see it, we don’t, and there is no comment made on it. This reference to Balzac’s short story ‘The Unknown Masterpiece‘ (Le Chef-d’œuvre inconnu, 1831), links the essay’s text to this basic read for artists. Whether it is a sign of awe or a joke it doesn’t matter.

What matters is that Houellebecq’s essay is a passionate text that can well serve people on the verge of burning. It entails a sense of truth that saves lives. This sense of truth is also the reason why his writings are exceptional in the whole meaning of the word. Sometimes they seem incomplete, arrhythmical, shapeless as form, and unpleasant, appalling, unacceptable as point of view. They are indeed the opposite of creative writing products and of political correctness. They are outside of what is expected from an intellectual; not left, not right, and more on the defensive. Perhaps you must have a feel for poetry to appreciate these writings, a kind of hunch that there is something to it behind the words as such. I think that it’s a call to be awake as in front of a work of art; this is the real interactiveness, buttons and effects can not do the trick.

Iggy Pop reads beautifully, his voice coming from equal depth as the words he reads; and yet, with a sense of humor. When sitting together with Michel Houellebecq, they don’t try to keep up appearances of anything successful, or anything at all. To me, this is the only point I recognize the ‘feelgood’ tag of the film, otherwise be prepared to look at the other side. The film is beautiful and there is poetry recited.

P.S. An unedited translation of the essay into English can be read here: TO STAY ALIVE (translation Richard Davis), 1999

Notes on the Symposium/ Residency ‘Dysfunctionalities in contemporary art II

Notes on the Symposium/ Residency ‘Dysfunctionalities in contemporary art II

Limassol – Cyprus
30 November to 4 December 2016
organised by the Cyprus Chamber of Fine Arts (E.KA.TE.)
with the support of Cultural Services of Cyprus Ministry of Education and Culture, the Department of Fine Arts of the Cyprus University of Technology (CUT) and the International Association of Arts (IAA).

The symposium was as inconclusive as art itself is, a fact that I consider a great success.

During the five days of the event, we immersed into an array of meals interrupted by lectures and workshops. We ate and talked, then listened and acted/reacted; then ate and talked again. Whatever was the plan at the beginning, or our proposal if you wish, passed through the sieve of the exchanged thoughts and the physical presence of each one of us. What came out as result is a version of the initial thought plus a momentum.

My proposal in brief was this: The blog post as prose – a workshop for performing documentary texts.
Abstract: The workshop is based on texts published on the blog ‘artB-the status of artists’ which is part of the artistic practice of the author. The aim is to exercise association and empathy to the artists’ status. Both professionals in the field (visual artists, performers) and amateurs (general audience) will be asked to read/ perform a blog post as a monologue; the participants convey the text in variable expressions, according to their position towards the artists and their practice.  The read outs/ performances will be registered on video and/or sound recording equipment. The result will be presented online through the blog.

The symposium part of the gathering served me as a loose workshop. It allowed me to study the brain waves of my interlocutors, rather than present my idea or explain what I would want from them. When the time came to execute the idea, we were sufficiently aligned so to have the work done in a few hours.

In the meantime, and in-between it all, I filmed with my handy-cam (a little Sony wonder); on came the sea front of Limassol, the square where we mostly gathered, the museum (Lanitis Centre), the workshop of Katerina Neofytidou at the Limassol Centre of Letters and Arts, and more. I also used separately the other miniscule machine, my sound recorder; on here I captured the sound of the bars at the old centre (our room was right above them), the silence in the museum, and of course the read-outs.

The initial editing was done sitting on the bed of our room, on a laptop/ notebook, using MovieMaker. I reached an acceptable result at 2 a.m., right on time when the bars turned the music off and everyone could eventually sleep. The three videos were presented the next day at the basement of Iroon Monument, in a hasty last gathering. We, K_Van, MJ, and I, had to run right after to catch the bus to the airport of Larnaca. Later, back home, I slightly re-edited the videos to their published form.

Though there has been no conclusion, let me note this (underlying?) thought:

All what passes the gates to society is functional. There is no use in looking for dysfunctionality in successful art.

Yet, why to look for anything dysfunctional, in art for that matters? Would it be because functionality presupposes an acknowledgement of rules and beliefs, even as a reaction to them? Or, other way around, because society aborts whatever can not be assimilated in its structures? Isn’t the dysfunctional the only possible free field for the intellect?

I left the symposium with new thoughts, and gratitude for this ultra temporary intellectual spread.

P.S. This post is another view of the symposium, by K_Van.

Ordering books and combing the sea waves

Ordering books and combing the sea waves

This happened.

I was trying to order the books I had recently read; at first only mentally, as the physical order did not seem so imminent. Or was it a matter of difficulty in combining the idea of order with any kind of action? Order in action holds a sense of compromise, an aroma of conservatism, a swamping in conformity. Nevertheless, sometimes the rigidness of all that can be a safety net for the high flyers or an air bag for the perpetuate thrill seekers, if you wish.

Still, the idea of ordering my books did not even pass the mental phase; it rather provoked a self-annihilating categorization. Like trying ordering the sea waves according to those that reach the shore – the accomplished ones – those that vanish before the end, and those that seem to turn back to the main sea-mass without achieving anything individually.

Combing the sea waves is the picture I see when thinking of ordering books. Less importantly, this is also the urge I get (to comb it) when looking at the sea; even more when the capacity for getting any pleasure of it is dimmed down (the idea itself that the sea is a panacea oppresses me; certainties of any kind look like whirlpools; conclusions point to rooms without windows, etc.).

But, back to order and ordering books: If you can comb the sea waves even mentally, it is worth trying ordering your books.

p.s. All objects of awe, just to name music, writings, and the sea, cause the sharpest pain in periods of sinking.

p.s. 2 Please, don’t send me algorithms (poetry is always welcome)… (but can it categorize?).

 

‘From Lausanne To Beijing’ 9th International Fiber Art Biennale

‘From Lausanne To Beijing’ 9th International Fiber Art Biennale

While I was drafting in my mind posts about historians who love to tell stories, and families who loved printing books, and poets who were actually earning money, all somewhere in the far past, the message from the organizers of the 9th International Fiber Art Biennale ‘From Lausanne To Beijing’ arrived. My submission has been honoured; four works belonging to the series ‘continents’ will be part of this fantastic exhibition. This is part of the announcement:

“221 excellent artworks (104 from China and 117 from overseas), which make approx 23% of the entire entry, are juried in for display at the upcoming Exhibition. (入选作品221件(中国104件,国外117件),总入选率约为23%)”

It is the third time that I participate with my textile works in this biennale. The first time, in 2012, I took the trip too, to Nantong, some hundred kilometers from Shanghai. It was a bliss to see the exhibition, but also to be treated with real honour and abundant hospitality. Of course meeting so many artists busy with textile was also a mind opener. This time the exhibition will take place in Shenzhen, a dreamtime modern city. It is close to Hong Kong; does this make the trip easier, I wonder. Anyhow, I am tempted to go, but then I need to find a sponsor very soon.

In the meantime, I will pack and send the works within the coming days. Updates will be coming here and on Atelier Kapnos fb page.

fiber_shenzen_2016

 

 

 

The layers of a master thesis

To say that two subjects overlap, when you think about – or in – art is not slightly close to what is really happening. The same goes for writing. And then comes academic writing with the dispassionate voice, the precise language, and the rigorous documentation. The overlapping subjects, the layers, for example of a master thesis must be laid out in the light and left there to dry. Nothing must show affection, though you are advised to choose a theme that intrigues you, at the least. (no footnotes here)

So, here I am: before sorting out my notes for the SAR conference, or the Flusser symposium, I threw myself into this new set of layers, my master thesis. My theme (no title yet) includes research about a woman whose only voice left is her friends’ book, and a note in the similar album belonging to her sister. She is the daughter, wife, and friend, of historical figures, these being artists, writers, publishers, etc. Clues: she was Dutch, from Haarlem, lived from 1846 to 1930.

Starting from the Leiden University Library, which preserves her album amicorum, I then started looking in archives, first in the online ones in order to see what is there. Some of them, like the RKD (Netherlands Institute for Art History), provide download and print options; as example, look at this image of a painting by Anna Veegens. Others, like the Leiden Archive (Erfgoed Leiden en Omstreken), provide a detailed online inventory, which you can then physically access without complicated procedures. There, I found a photograph of my ‘Dora’, which I still have to double-check, as it is not sure it is really her picture. Yesterday, I found online her signature, on the wedding act of her daughter (in 1906). Further, I have planned a visit to the Haarlem archive, next week Tuesday. Today, I continue writing, and in the same time looking for, or requesting information. The thrill is growing.

In the meantime, I did appreciate a lot the keynote speech of Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes, at the SAR conference, and her thoughts about the ‘humility of the footnote’ in opposition to the ‘posturing’ of the footnote; this, among many other interesting thoughts and statements. It was a full and exciting speech this one. (footnote: illustration 2)

The forum, about ‘writing and the art school’, somehow focused on master thesis writing by art students, was equally interesting. I appreciated the simplicity of their conversation language, and the sense of inclusiveness in their approach to academic writing. Now, I go exercise my ‘voices’. (footnote: illustration 1)

[for the period of writing about the thesis, I am thinking of making the blog reach more private, by limiting authomatic publishing to my fb atelier page only]

Forum: Writing and the Art School, with Kate Briggs and Daniela Cascella
Illustration 1: ‘Forum: Writing and the Art School’ with Kate Briggs and Daniela Cascella

 

Artists' (Academic) 'Writings in Academic, Artistic and Societal Force Fields' by Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes
Illustration 2: ‘Artists’ (Academic) ‘Writings in Academic, Artistic and Societal Force Fields’ by Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes