The authority of the button

The authority of the button

 

Introduction no 1

Being, or not, a person who doesn’t like to be told what to do is of no importance; we all succumbed at some point to the button. Being aware, or not, of when the delirium started is of no importance either. At present, the button is triumphing.

The authority of the button in practice: you do when you press it. Yet, this authority goes beyond the physical action on to the power exercised on thought and will of each one of us.

The following text was a brief comment, expressed rather as a question, that was published in a closed wiki last year (2016) as assignment in the course ‘Media Philosophy’.  It refers to text as this was the subject of the study; but the visual and the arts are in the same stream.

The comment: the authority of the button

[…] in text-related technologies, we can take as example the structure of the digital text with its multilevel linking; all with the use of the button and the necessary user’s action of clicking.

The button is a technological device that entails simultaneously the option (free choice) and the command (authoritarian behavior). In these two contradictory traits, the first lays the foundation for the second to establish itself. A technology with innate capacity for organizing power and authority seems the only option in a democratic society; seemingly, the authority is diffused to the people that use this technology.

The use of the imperative form, either friendly as in “join, share, like, etc.” or service oriented as  in “listen now, download now, go there now, etc.”, and of course more directly commanding as in “buy now”, would not be accepted otherwise; not in politics, nor in social life. Instead, because of being essential to the structure of the specific technology, and through its material carrier, the button, the command has been accepted as normal. In its turn, the authoritarian behavior exercised on individual level, shifts the limits of acceptable authority that can be imposed centrally.

The question arises: is the authoritarian tendency innate to humans so that the central power contains it as much as the technology that they produce?

Introduction no 2

The button has been a peculiar element of modern times. It has been the focus of awe and of mockery since the moment that its use left the industrial terrain and spread in to everyday life. Between Chaplin’s uncontrollable machines in his movie Modern Times (1936) and The Matrix (Wachowski brothers, 1999), buttons became an accessory in the hands of literally everyone.

One push further, the statement ‘Never send a human to do a machine’s job’ (The Matrix) moved from the sphere of the joke to the common belief.

P.S. 1 I had a hard time in the Univ when omitting the conclusion/closure bit, faithful to the inconclusiveness of art. Cause, apart from believing in this as the only possible free area, I considered all my writings as being part of my artistic practice (no conclusions, only open space). That is why this blog post has two introductions; one to start and one to finish, with the question in the middle.

P.S. 2 The front image is a detail from a textile work of mine titled ‘The memory of a nebula’; embroidery with some padded parts.

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‘Do not press’ – acrylic on canvas, 1998

 

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documenta 14: this is not a love song

documenta 14: this is not a love song

No, not; this is not a love song.*

This is a multifaceted complaint/ protest in the name of the daunted, the taunted, the abused, the displaced, the endangered, the forgotten, the ignored, the misunderstood, the damaged, the unjustified, etc.

It is a sample of ideas and narrations of the named alternative view on world, life, and history; and a push to the opposition towards the forefront. The exhibition is an illustration of those ideas and narrations with the use of art, music notation, historical craft, archival pieces, etc; an approach that gives a turn-of-the-century feel to the show. But even that is inversed, as there is no look to the future and no suggestion. The statement of documenta 14 is that protest is a solution in itself.

Where this could be satisfactory for many, the presentation comes out as an ambiguous endeavor; pointing fingers to the proved guilty of history (e.g. nazis and current politicians) yet staying aloof from the bickering of whether there are politics to discuss about, or only budgets and budget-holders.

There is also a constant reference to Greece in a mixture of apologetic and criticizing spirit. For those who have no personal experience of the Greek history and society, it is a riddle with multiple interpretations of which none is correct. There is cruelty in this and harm, I find. The EMST exhibition in the Fridericianum could had better been avoided; though here I am the biased one, suffering from suffocation throughout.

Cruelty and harm come from the seemingly important but unexplained exhibits, like this one, set on a table behind glass in the Neue Galerie: a publication made in 1946 by C.A. Doxiadis and titled The sacrifices of Greece in the Second World War. The open spread shows a graph (right) and explanation (left) in four languages – Greek, French, English, and Russian – of the ‘Rise in mortality during the occupation [by the nazis]’. Only the black part on the graph says Η ΠΕΙΝΑ, meaning ‘the hunger’, while the explanation on the left says in all four languages ‘violent and accidental deaths’. One would expect that this is the point of the exhibit; missed by everyone non Greek speaking.

 

Right in the next room there is a wall size exhibit called ‘Real Nazis’ (by Piotr Uklanski):

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This venue of documenta 14, the Neue Galerie, is full of trauma, guilt, authority, and the positioning of art in this and all what it has to deal with, after all. Yet one must be aware of the faint distinction between what is real and what is fake, or just an assumption. Art is not a documented suggestion nor a proven hypothesis; no matter that words like ‘epistemology’ or ‘typology’ have entered its vocabulary.

In a more empirical set-up and more pleasant to walk about is the KulturBahnhof and its decommissioned tunnel. The works shown have an element of transition, naturally, and a widely meant use of fabric and other tangible mediums. The work ‘Drawing a line through landscape’ by Nikhil Chopra, includes paintings made during a walking travel from Greece to Kassel and a nomad tent with a video.

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Rolling down the railroad towards the Neue Neue Galerie we come across a stretched canvas with the word ΧΑΙΡΕΤΕ on it, meaning ‘Hello’ in a somehow formal way. At the background, a low volume rebetika music is playing. The work, titled ‘The Welcoming Gate’ by Zafos Zagoraris, is a highly emotional one. Yet, you still need to read the story.

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The Neue Neue Galerie shows newer newer works; it is thus more noisy and flashy than the other venues. The neighborhood is interesting as choice, as usually this is the kind of area to see the art in its making. The disparity between the documenta audience and the junkies-drunkards-homeless plus the local inhabitants could have been thought of as part of the set-up.

Tip: the Turkish restaurant on the same street uphill is all you’ll need after the art visit!

Epilogue
documenta 14, as a show based on history and stories, can provoke many thoughts and produce just as many stories. It can also produce critic; which is a positive thing.

It can also be considered a point 0, as to the fact that it is a show that could have as subtitle ‘In the mind of the curator’. The exhibits have not much meaning in themselves; they serve the ideas of the curator. The exhibits live in a pre-determined context and  are selected as a suitable illustration of it. When speaking of democracy and self-determination, the exhibits do not enjoy either. The deriving question is ‘Is a (good) curator good for art?’ The question can be asked also in plural.

It is also a point 0, as to the fact that the evils are exposed and the unsaid is said as greatly or as clumsily as it was possible. Statement clear; time for action and change.

As for the working-title ‘Learning from Greece’: How about inert colonialist tendencies? After all, Greece and the Greeks allow themselves to be prey to the ΞΕΝΟΙ (foreigners/strangers/visitors), offering them the illusion of being superior. However, touching raw history is even in this set-up a no-go.

*Yes, from the song ‘This is not a love song’ by Public Image Ltd, 1983.

P.S. 1 A last article about documenta 14 may appear on this blog about the Pubic Programs, an experiment directed by Paul B. Preciado.

P.S. 2 There are two previous articles on this blog about documenta 14; short ones: ‘Textiles in documenta 14’ and ‘documenta 14 -Kassel: in a Yes and a No’.

Photos below: In documenta Halle, Posters of performances of Iannis Xenakis in Athens in 1980’s (top), and a music score by Jani Christou (down).

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Textiles in documenta 14

Textiles in documenta 14

It is all about the story. That is the story of documenta 14. Textile is there in this frame just like all the other exhibits. The focus points immigration-democracy-disparity must be present even when talking about reindeers or indigo dye. The work is not what you see; the story is. In this sense, textile works have taken an equal place next to the other works of art: that of incidences of non-importance as such, but rather means of illustration of the general concept.

Further, the included textile works are a sample of the tolerable:
naïve with a story of meaning, high aesthetics with a story of meaning (hanged up high as well), size related with a story of meaning (size is imposing no matter what it is for the rest), memorabilia. The latter is covered in the case of textiles through the show of costumes or ordinary clothes, exhibited amongst other objects and photos. Memorabilia carry anyway a tamed sentimentalism, always attached to a story and within the agreed contextual history. Within the frame of documenta, all that is translated into conceptual folklore (because folklore as such is related to colonialism and that is not tolerable).

If you don’t understand, it is because the show is for those who recognise the structure, exhaustively repeated from one contemporary show to the next. As general rule, this is to be kept: a work can be anything as long as it is not what it is. In short, there is no work, there is only a concept containing variables (variable: a symbol that can represent different values).

P.S. 1 It goes further to the notion of art as social science or any science, and the accomplished move of institutionalisation of art (fitting in the programmes of government-fed or otherwise-fed bodies like museums and academic institutions).

P.S. 2 Putting aside how limiting that is, it is debatable whether documenta 14 is on this side or the other (because it does take sides). And, yes, there is such a thing as ‘over-institutionalisation’; this comes from a very interesting piece of writing: “‘Over-institutionalisation’ might therefore suggest that of all the countless individual activities that contribute, day by day, to this contemporary art world, the typical and predominant kind is shaped, whether we know it or not, by those policy goals based on standards, access, and the national interest. On the other hand, however, there are different kinds of activity, based on different values and interests.” By Michael Ascroft, ‘Contemporary art and over-institutionalisation’, Un Magazine 6.1, online: http://unprojects.org.au/magazine/issues/issue-6-1/contemporary-art-and-over-institutionalisation/

 

Lower photos: Right, Quipu gut by Cecilia Vicuna; Left, Fundi (meaning ‘uprising’ ) by Aboukabar Fofana.

Top photos: Historia by Britta Marakatt-Labba, see text here:

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documenta 14 – Kassel: in a Yes and a No

documenta 14 – Kassel: in a Yes and a No

In case you don’t belong to that tribe that goes to Kassel every five years [and to Venice every two] no matter what, here come a few questions about documenta 14 – Kassel answered with a yes or a no. They might be helpful for making a decision about visiting; there is still some time left till 17 September when the event wraps it up.

– Is it a contemporary art exhibition?
– No.
– Does it contain contemporary art?
– Yes.
– Does it contain art?
– Yes.

– Does it show spectacular art?
– No.
– Does it have big names?
– No.
– Is it a sample of something?
– Yes.
– Is it provocative?
– No.
– Is it political?
– Yes.

– Is it for everyone?
– No.
– Is it sophisticated?
– No.
– Is it sentimental?
– Yes.
– Is it conclusive?
– No.

– Does it deal with innovation and the trend of Art & Science?
– No.
– Does it show:
textile, painting, installations, audio-video works, craft, memorabilia, archival pieces, texts, sculptures, etc.?
– Yes.
– Is this all avant-garde?
– No.

– Is it worth visiting?
– Yes.

P.S. More articles about documenta 14 to come: one about textile art and one more general, at least.

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When the artist departs

When the artist departs

Away from the institutional art scene.

I was preparing myself for a light new article, as too much darkness had weighed on my writings this last period. Let me be a blasphema (I always wanted to use this word as hilariously pronounced by the English speaking crowds in biblical movies), but well, art is not worth dying for. I had planned to put this blog through a digital analyses, something in the line of digital humanities, where words are retrieved and counted and you get a graph, or even a more elaborate image, of what your blog is about, its atmosphere too; a fun way to see what we are talking about here.

But, the devil has it, that I received as present the book ‘Tell them I said No’ by Martin Herbert (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2016) which, in ten documented essays, talks about artists who took a distance from the art-world or dropped it completely; with enough variations to fit the cases of ten artists. The content of the book is well described in this article/ interview with the author: ‘Goodbye to All That: Why Do Artists Reject the Art World?

The departed artist is a critic of the field where in he/she is asked to work. With the exception of the painter Albert York (essay title ‘The Next Hill’, pp. 29-38),  and the anarchist/ activist Christopher D’Archangelo (essay title ‘Forever Incomplete’, pp. 83-94), the presented artists have operated within the main stream art-world and the accepted game of status-acknowledgment-trend (of institution and artist equally). They departed after having ‘earned the right’ to retrieve themselves from all this; once the safety valve was secured.

What kind of virtue is silence if your stand is forgotten by art history, […]? (p. 44)

When the artist departs without having secured the safety valve he/she commits professional suicide. Yet, this may be the only decent act to do. Because professionalism in the arts presupposes reduction. Nevertheless, we hang our wares out in the light; nowadays our head too, more and more.

A big part of the artist’s role now, in a massively professionalized art world, is showing up to self-market, being present. (p. 11)

The notion of ‘professional artist’ is a dubious one. We never know whether it is there to help the artists or to dig their grave. When it helps, for ex. in claims to be paid (like, with money) for work done, or to request a societal status from the authorities, which in principle resumes in to being allowed to actually do their work and not any other work in order to exist, the word ‘professional’ has a value as in any other work field. Artists, in the course of time, have been professionals, meaning that they were getting paid for their work, unless they were monks or tribe craftsmen. The crafts aspect of the art is more than anything prominent in this deal. There was a demand, a kind of need, for the artwork, and the artists offered their work as a service. We’ve been told that this deal has faded away (or was deliberately broken), yet what was annihilated was the status of the artist in society; the authority, monetary or political, still gives out the cards: prestige-money-presence (in art history). Plus, in countries solely ‘success oriented’ like the Netherlands, art projects are not welcomed (not even by fellow-artists) if not carrying the stamp (or the aspiration) of institutional approval, most often translated into a state subsidy; thus, usually such projects are not attempted.

Within this, the artist-celebrity blurs the situation even more. Is it a joke, a blaspheme, or an exposure of the art world as it is, the artists-stars (think for ex. Hirst, Koons, etc) show in their egocentric extremity that art can be a reality show and thus not only is not worth dying for, but it is not even a field for decent people. Vanity is the opposite of the holy grail. You can not claim to set off for both.

[…] artists don’t have to have long careers. A starburst can be enough. (p. 110)

The artists’ course (career included) is not linear, as there is no given path, and it certainly does not have to be public in its entirety. Plus, the more private the less compromised.

“It is painful for me to face the fact that art cannot contribute to the solution of urgent social problems” (p. 42)

The poetical, although seen as not engaged, can be more subversive because it does not fit the ‘narrative’ of any institutional authority. It is usually appreciated in out of time-bound context and when the official history (of art) is revised. Nothing useful for the artist here either.

The book provokes a plethora of thoughts about the reviewed artists, about the dominance of conceptualism, and indeed about the self-destructive aspiration for becoming an artist. It is written with lucidity, and with sympathy for the departed artists. For artists, it is good to know that there are other options than what the art school proposes and what the institutions suggest one should be busy with (brand yourself?). Whatever this is, don’t do it.

P.S. 1 No endnotes, though this piece could have them.

P.S. 2 The images are from the exhibition ‘De geborgen kamers van Transvaal’ (the secured rooms of Transvaal), set up in 2006 by Stichting Gaidaro in the closing-down part of the street Brandtstraat in the neighborhood Transvaal in The Hague (NL), a few months before demolition started. It was a composition of aesthetic rubble and sound, that no one saw, except of the artists and one or two close friends.

P.S. 3 A list of key-words should come in a future article on this blog. The language manufactured by all those working (and earning) around the artists gets probably the highest score among art impact factors. Brains have been shaped upon them. Art works have been pronounced as such through them. Key-words put the work into recognizable and measurable context; if the work cannot be worded, it cannot exist. Mambo jumbo it is; and yes, the world is turned upside down (these do not belong to the key-words list).

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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.