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.

File 26-03-17 16 57 43


Volkspaleis 2014 – sound and entropy

Volkspaleis 2014
Zuiderstrandtheater Scheveningen
18 October to 16 November 2014

The Zuiderstrandtheater is here to stay; never mind the confusion about its temporary status; it is standing there, so why not use it too. Gallery West organises this year’s Volkspaleis in this new space. Previous editions of this event of a 30 days span, took place in the Turbinehal of the E.On Electriciteitsfabriek and the Grote Kerk in the centre of The Hague. It is organised by Gallery West so mainly video and sound is the expected. A programme full of (experimental) music/ performances; it must be the place to be for sonology students as well as the art&science department of the art academy.

The music programme falls under the title “Public Address/ Hommage à Loudspeaker”; which next to the obvious, performances and concerts, it interprets into lectures/ presentations of the history, aesthetics and functionality of the loudspeaker, the mobility and portability of speakers, the amplified sound, the sounding systems in theatres and finally the absence of them with relation to the acoustic sound. “From maximum volume and electricity, from overwhelming fill and reach to no electricity at all, almost complete silence and acoustic ways of amplifying sound”, I read in the printed programme. In this programme there is also a workshop for constructing DIY speakers by hacking virtuoso Nic Collins, only this weekend; this means that you register from before and go there with a bag of materials (like a radio and batteries and cables) and then the fun begins. I expect the men of the house to come back all excited… but that does not mean that only men participate; not at all.

Of the immobile exhibits, the black&white films in Hall 1 are the first to ask for our attention and time of course; there is a couch at good distance from each of the screens, except from the screen showing the film “Seven songs for Malcolm X” by John Akomfrah (the black audio film collective)-UK1993. For this one you have to stand on a specific point under the speakers, which gives a tough time to whoever wants to see the whole film. In the belief that all is set with a purpose I should think that this is the minimum effort asked from the viewer…but again this is not clear. Anyway, I found this as the most interesting film and very much linked to the present. The other films felt old, though not all of them really are. The outtakes (yes, the rejected material) of Maya Deren’s  “A study in choreography for camera” also feel contemporary in their fragmented narration, sometimes mere repetition of a take which gives an hysterical tone to the result; however, it also lets us look more carefully at the interiors of our grandparents time.

Who says that only in our times you can barely make anything rejected disappear?


"A study in choreography for camera-outtakes" Maya Deren, 1945 -Volkspaleis in Strandtheater

“A study in choreography for camera-outtakes” Maya Deren, 1945 -Volkspaleis in Zuiderstrandtheater

workshop room during the break
DIY workshop room during the break
leaving the Strandtheater towards the town center
leaving the Zuiderstrandtheater towards the town centre

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It starts with a line, or no line

Oh, hear, hear, at times a voice describing the process of making art can be the best antidote to the horrors of daily life. Notice this C minor tone, encompassing a history of merged prides and declines, attached to this artist or any artist.

See the video titled “polygon mesh” by K_Van:

P.S. Do you prefer the beginning or the end?

gas_regulator by K_Van, oil on canvas, 2013
gas_regulator by K_Van, oil on canvas, 2013

The art of wandering

“cover gently as you would cover a sleeping child”

It was one of those days when the act of painting seems a nuisance hissing from the back of my ear “you can not do it”. Sliding from the darkness outside to the dome light inside, I thought it was not too cold and not too bad of a feeling after all to sit in front of the painted canvas. In a move of rebellion I put on music of Bharata Natyam dance of Southern India. My son is becoming six; I can allow myself to be lost again in the space that music makes and then tune up the painting until its sounds prick my skin. Fear and despair made way for gentleness while covering all parts that were out of tune. I left it there to settle but kept the rounded space within until the duties flattened it again. A space to wander; now I was reminded where to look for it.

the studio at Kempstraat (demolished)
the studio at Kempstraat (demolished in 2009)