About the ‘Real’ in ‘Portraiture’
Rembrandt van Rijn, Paul Cézanne, et l’Observateur
Cézanne à propos du portrait et de Rembrandt :
« Rembrandt, Rubens, Titien savaient d’un coup, dans un compromis sublime, fondre toute leur personnalité à eux dans cette chair qu’ils avaient sous les yeux, l’animer de leur passion, et avec la ressemblance des autres, glorifier leur rêve ou leur tristesse. Je ne puis pas, moi. Car je veux être vrai, comme Flaubert, arracher la vérité de tout, me soumettre, par les ombres et les lumières. »
“Un moment décisif de toute présence au monde”
Je parlais de Rembrandt et le bourgeonnement de ses pensées est venu naturellement, aussi naturellement que la vision de ses toiles. J’ai Remarqué le chaos dont la surface de ses peintures est imprégnée. Ce chaos Presque pathologique, ce tumulte topographique reflète l’esprit qui agite le sens profond de l’image. Et pourtant, là n’ est pas l’ essence qui y réside ; en fait, le sens en termes sensoriels plutôt que sensuels dans ce cas, est une dimension réelle où l’ artiste a invoqué la réalité psychique du sujet. Par psychique, je veux dire que nous faisons face à un voyage qui traverse la psychologie pour nous enfouir dans les épaisseurs souterraines telles que les rivières Lourdes de Hadès au lieu des ruisseaux légers sur le bord d’un Paradis fictionnel.
L’art de peindre, est aussi l’art de ‘dé-peindre’, c’est à dire, de décomposer la composition, la démasquer, la broyer, la macérer, la découper, la remanier, la démanteler, et remettre alors les règles du jeu en cause, un jeu par lequel nous arrivons à des conclusion passives, abordables, faciles à absorber. Ces conclusions sont de nature ‘anaphilosophiques’, elles simplifient en reflétant la surface de l ‘objet d’art d’une manière pure, élégante et sociable. Sur cette étendue plate, de l’assimilation primaire, nous étalons les gazons théoriques qui ne mènent qu’à la satisfaction triviale de l’art.
Mais Rembrandt attaque la surface, et par son essor physique fait disparaître le code de la surface, car nous sommes démunis en face de ce qui se manifeste comme un orage, une tempête. Rembrandt à ce point où nous perdons les pieds, incapable de déchiffrer les données, se dissout dans les éléments, et le sujet prend forme dans le fond. Le fond qui est notre propre imagination où Rembrandt a fomenté une espèce de rébellion, un conte à rebours, car nous nous retournons sur nous même, sur l’histoire, sur ce que nous croyons savoir. Il peint…mais plus aussi. Celle et celui qui le regardent le regardent peindre, et le dévisagent alors qu’il s’abandonne à leur regard, sont les artistes de leur testament. Les portraits de Rembrandt vivent donc hors de lui, car ils ne furent jamais enterrés dans son moi social ni sa persona artistique. En lieu de publicité vulgaire, ces portraits se sont imprimés ironiquement dans la toile du temps non pas comme un patrimoine mais comme un souvenir personnel, le souvenir issu du sujet même, laissant Rembrandt seul, un témoin attendant des novelles dans la marge de l’ inconscient collectif. Il ne fixe rien, il libère. Et peut être espère t’il en libérant Psyché retrouver l’univers érotique que contenaient ses premières toiles bien que ce furent ses toiles des années matures qui devinrent le berceau d’Apollon. Mais la laideur sublime, il la gardait pour lui même, car il aimait être séduit par le Léviathan qu’il attirait de son lit de mercure maintes fois, pour connaitre ce monstre dans une forme de copulation incestueuse; son âme rompue et soudée à la fois dans cet embrassement viscéral et divin.
J’ai trouvé beaucoup de textes sur le philosophe Henri Maldiney qui a analysé un prédécesseur, le psychiatre Suisse Binswanger qui fut l’un des innovateurs dans le domaine de la psychologie existentielle. Celui ci écrivit :« la folie est une possibilité de l’homme sans laquelle il ne serait pas ce qu’il est (…) L’être-malade a son essence dans le pouvoir-être de la présence,….. « Le terme de Daseinsanalyse, d’analyse de la présence, marque assez la manière dont Binswanger entend cette présence de soi à soi auprès de l’autre, qui est la condition du comprendre, ce qui selon lui veut dire un partage et un échange de mondes entre les individus, dans ce cas le patient et le docteur, mais il pourrait s’agir d’une relation entre artiste et sujet.” In-der-Welt-Sein : la présence au monde “de Heidegger, ce qui implique une résonance mutuelle et quintessentielle tout en conservant une différenciation sans laquelle cette résonance ne pourrait être soutenue ou alimentée. Maldiney continue par dire que l’apparition et le discernement de cette présence au sein du monde humain est « d’abord une analyse des structures spatiales et temporelles de l’existence », au sens où « espace et temps sont les formes articulatoires de l’existence ».
Dans ce contexte nouveau, retrouver la perspective du portraitiste visionnaire qu’était Rembrandt prend un sens encore plus pertinent. Il se faisait médecin du caractère sous le scalpel de sa contre-couleur, Le clair-obscur utilisé comme un écarteur chirurgical. Au moment où il peint, il vit la vie de l’homme qu’il voit de bout en bout, comme dans un tourbillon où les formes se détachent et prennent une signification hors des mots, hors de l’intellectualisation. Ce n’est pas un acte politique ou un évènement culturel, ni une démarche didactique ou même promotionnelle. Plus maintenant, après les années formatrices, après l’aventure des tons romantiques, du raccourcissement maniériste, des drames satiriques, des élans célestes baroques. Il se dénude et là, dans l’obscurité de l’ignorance moralisatrice de son ère, il crée un silence ou la voix pesante des ombres émergent dans une lumière qu’il taille comme Rodin, avec le poing et un burin, cette lumière chaude, vive, un or qui sort de la pierre brute et qui coule presque entièrement dans la mare insondable de l’espace…cet espace qui, nous ne pouvons en douter, respire profondément, entre le sommeil et l’éveil. Dans son pinceau, il y a de la chair, dans sa couleur quasi monochromatique, il y a du sang. Il commet un acte Eucharistique comme il invente une peau où le sujet peu à peu se mélange et imbibe la chimie de son ‘mettre en visage’.
Pour en revenir au “pouvoir être de la présence”, être presque ici, la folie existentielle de l’esprit humain, Rembrandt ne nous guide pas, il n’est pas philosophe, du moins pas avec la langue. Il l’est, mais avec le fond et la forme, leur conjonction alchimique où il jette des poignées de terre sèche ou molle, des terres sombres ou bien des terres rougeoyantes, et il arrache le sulfure, alors que le salpêtre s’enlise, et que le mercure se débat dans les poussières de Venus, emmurée par le plomb. C’est dans ce tombeau que Vulcain pétri l’épée brulante de son inspiration. Il perce d’abord son propre cœur et sur la pointe de la lance, sa généalogie ontologique pénètre celle du néant avant de toucher le continent étranger qui nous apparait à présent, plus de quatre cent ans plus tard, un miroir de soi et Rembrandt, peut-être, dans la lueur d’une bougie, dans l’irrégularité d’un mur, une loi invisible qui régit un monde parallèle, un monde dont le regard n’est plus le sien. Rembrandt devient le sujet, l’envers de lui même, comme une nouvelle lune, il regarde le soleil, et nous ne le voyons pas. Nous percevons sa trace, mais il est absent. Les yeux qui nous toisent sont issus de l’esprit qui le toisait jadis, car il s’étendit comme une corde raide entre le passé et l’avenir. Et à l’intérieur, il plaça le ‘patient’, pas dans une mortuaire, mais dans une sorte de chambre à décompression qui laissa monter l’oxygène très lentement pour nous atteindre soudainement.
Quand il est dit “la folie est une possibilité de l’homme sans laquelle il ne serait pas ce qu’il est”, Rembrandt le démontre en tant qu’artiste, dans sa condition de créateur, mais aussi par le truchement de ses portraits, indépendamment de sa volonté. Quelle folie nous pousse même à revenir vers ces visages qui ne parlent pas, qui ne bougent pas, qui ne dorment pas ? Ils nous fascinent comme Rembrandt avait été fasciné. Que reste t’il d’eux sinon la folie qui nous relie, comme une sorte de liaison fatale? Le cordon qui liait Rembrandt à leur image est un cordon intemporel et dé-spatialisé. Ces portraits sont des fenêtres où se projettent des spectres luisants, intermittents et interminables qui collent comme du gel, et nous cherchons des indices pour déceler leur provenance, qui n’est autre que l’environ inconnu issu de nous même et la certitude de notre mortalité. Tel est le paradoxe, l’inconnu certain. Rembrandt donne un corps à la mort, ces visages vivent au delà de l’effroi de l’annihilation. Rembrandt ne se soumet pas, ni n’a besoin d’arracher la réalité au berceau de la matière. Ce n’est pas lui, en tant que personnalité, ni devant, ni derrière ces portraits. Mais sa vie est là, fondue et opposée à celle de l’autre, même si cet autre n’est que lui même, son image sans cesse détruite et recrée, dans cette compréhension émotionnelle où les idéaux deviennent futiles et les idées superflues.
Voilà donc la preuve que les philosophes de l’alchimie recherchaient avec acharnement, celle qui leur a toujours échappé, car c’est bien ce qui nous observe à présent, l’essence au delà de l’existence.
Copyright © Pascal Ancel Bartholdi 2012
To belong or not to be
A poetic and philosophical response to a vital project of cultural rescue.
“Belonging is dedicated to exposing abuses in tops-down ideological planning and architecture. Whilst creating architectural responses that empower marginalised, segregated and displaced communities and people.”
1) Architecture as ideology
2) The consumable Heart
3) Absorption, centrality and Object-places
4) Sacred walls also reverberate transient politics
5) Antinomy in the urban body
6) Denuded ego and the virtual impulse
7) The perfect instrument of power
8) Nation, identity, memory, battle of the Self
9) The Supremacist process, erasure of the sanctuary
10) Space to language, language to space
11) Medina of our soul
12) Planetary motherboard, death of the intimate imagination
13) Hylomorphic relation(ship),from symbol to emotion-interrogation
14) Passive intervention, system/people dilemma
15) Democracy versus voice
16) Alchemy of the imagination
1) Architecture as ideology
Before architecture, there were mountains and heavens. It was not long before a bridge was established between them. Bridges exist in nature without the application of logic, geometry or arithmetic; even between star systems rivers of hydrogen fill the void with underlying currents of potential life. Translated in architectural terms, such a bridge seemed to have been realised by Le Corbusier through the concept of the Radiant City. The grand plan was to use a city to link two states, in this case Punjab and Haryana. This was to serve as a city planning model called the UnionTerritory, the name of the city was Chandigarh, the first nation officially unifying capital in India and in the world. There was a problem which was intrinsic to all architectural ideologies. It did not include human interactional sensitivity. This was caused by the intrusion of functional morality in the planning of the city itself. Mussolini, the man renowned for his Fascist dictatorship was not averse to the arts, one of his obsessions being architecture on a quasi divine scale. As Louis Philip before him, Mussolini’s dream of power was intricately linked with the ideal of the perfectly ordered city. Ludwig the 2d hoped for architecture to mirror and to contain the essence of mystical joy he found in the Music of Wagner. Given enough man power and resources, any leader will be tempted to construct what to the common mortal appears as an aberration and a folly, but to them, as a materialisation of an essential state, that of supreme inviolable sovereignty, in other words, architecture as the embodiment of god’s three inherent properties: omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience. From the inaccessible centre of this maze, I.e. removed from visibility or/and decipherability, where political intrigues reflect the complexity of the spatial environment, the leader will define himself as a guardian of the treasure he inhabits and as a mediator to those who never will be granted a right to it thus justifying their status with the fatal logic of a Caligula.
Chandigarh was a daring and dangerous experiment, playing with cultural habits, antagonistic traditions, religious disparity, people’s lives. Architecture also evolves according to technological means and will therefore soon or later contradict certain archaic instincts, as much as archetypal psychic realities haunting the human entity. All humans by their mere presence on the grid participate in the inhuman machine of progress. But occasionally, a resistance occurs against the one directional current and opens a gap, prompts a journey leading out of the grid into a universe where technology and power are obsolete.
2) The consumable Heart
ManyCities were built around the monarch or around the idea of the spiritual centre, the God to be worshipped from all spheres, as it is described in Paradiso by Dante, although this is not evident in the more ancient settlements of the Palaeolithic age considering our earlier dwellings could then be equated to simpler organic structures, without a distinct nucleus. This is not to say the typical layout will resemble an actual cell, although centres are present in towns in the form of an emptiness, the vacant portent of a message from the divine realm inhabited by the priesthood or the highest dignitaries. There, markets bustled too, for life would manifest itself as a sudden entanglement of transactions and negotiations; at other times, in the same place, under a different sky, executions attracted the morbid populace eager to relieve itself of the shadows of the Scythe man. In this sense, the centre was an area of potentiality designed to host a promotional platform and a subsequent selling point for a particular product. In one case, food and varied useful products, in the other, the penitent, each a ‘consumable’ in its own ‘right’ surrounded by crowds, walls with eyes, all roads leading to them, all roads ending with their possession and their assimilation, an antithetical mirror to the position of grace upheld by the highest in command. Interestingly, city or town centres are now associated with the past, the heart of their history where one can trace back their evolutionary path, where, we could imagine, their soul has been stored in the aged stones, the ancient structures, the artistry encrusted and engraved in their remains.
3) Absorption, centrality and Object-places
Nevertheless, this opens up a new strata of debate for such ‘objects-places’ most often come in the form of a ruin, and as such turn by virtue of their uselessness into a work of art which thereby must reside under a different set of laws, all of which deal with archives, meaning, heritage, reliquary, antics and restoration, archaeology and history to name a few branches attached to the preservation and analysis of these latent metropolis ‘mysteries’. Their relevance is acute but their validity precarious since they occupy a space generally regarded as a deficit in the sense that it is not an active currency on the market, their property value being nil. Such strange ‘objects’ represent a risk and may under a different (political) agenda lose their symbolic value thus, by logical (economical) extension, becoming susceptible to displacement and deletion, dissolved into the process of modernisation; a fate common to other sources of trade loss such as entire human communities (ruins of human resources) which regrettably cannot even benefit from the rules protecting sensitive ancient artefacts.
In Paris the Cathedral Notre Dame defines the character of that central point as well as the original and primordial character of the city. It was built upon the Temple of Jupiter erected by the Romans and facing Kilometre Zero, the geographical heart of a city once known as Lutetia. During the Aztec empire, complex cities were built around a temple core where religious celebrations and rituals would take place, the king’s palace being located on its periphery. In the 6th century BC, the Etruscan civilisation had amassed enough wealth through trade to build cities which in turn would absorb neighbouring towns. Renowned as the tower people, their society revolved around multifarious gods inhabiting nature and objects alike. Their culture too was to become effaced by Greek and Roman History. Around thirteen thousand years ago, settlements were organized as communal areas “proto-urban”, slowly developing towards the separation of food, tools, women with children and men. There is no evidence of hierarchy, as humans had to protect themselves from animals and elements more than they had to defend their interests from the invasion of other humanoids at least until about 5000 BC. The priority was thus not pleasure or even territorialism, it was plain survival making agreement, coherence and cooperation vital. All would benefit equally, (we see this way of life developing as a neo-urban philosophy within small communities of like minded people in large cities such as London and Berlin but also in reclaimed villages)reflecting a parallel evolutionary reaction to what may be regarded as the most devastating predator of all times. Or can we speak of a sociological mutation manifest in the new Promethean tribes denying the status quo imposed by the gods ruling our metropolis through creative exchange? Each civilisation rises and falls, each seeks a different solution to project itself into the future.
4) Sacred walls also reverberate transient politics
What would bring our ancestors together was not only an instinct of self preservation safeguarding the continuation of the species but rituals. As populations increased, villages expanded, houses evolved from single chamber to multi room and multi level constructions. It was during that transformation from communal feeding storage to family unit autonomy that ‘temples’ emerged, as if a central principle of identity was manifesting itself outside the laws of biological sustenance. Gobekli Tepe exemplifies this tendency towards architectural and spatial creative expression, as a bridge linking the mortal being and the entire community with the unknown; what could not be hunted, stored or eaten, an inexpressible power that ruled over or passed through living things, a mysterious force that conventional or rather functional architecture could not channel. These were immobile inter stellar ships, pioneering the sentient exploration of invisible dimensions. Without this spiritual impetus, architecture would not have excelled. On the other hand, these new edifices and their management stood in synchronisation with a social mutation where hierarchical systems emerged. The fundamental alliance between the use of intellect for the purpose of pleasure fulfilment and the controlled use of resources had begun, reflected in the division between those who could convince and those who were convinced, between the manipulator and the manipulated. With this division arose a need for spatial structures through which these new social differences would be erected and displayed. Orders to that effect would be sent out from the inner sanctums of temples, and would be non negotiable. Although temples and palaces represented the heart of urban life, these were not only built in the middle of cities but either above or on the outer limit (a set up exemplified in Metropolis by Fritz Lang, Citizen Kane by Orson Wells or Blade Runner by Ridley Scott), over looking the lower margins of the nascent sedentary society which in turn encircled (policed) the expendable work force.
5) Antinomy in the urban body
We see cities developing in the manner in which the micro components of complex cellular organisms organize themselves devoid of a conscious intervention. In this sense too, the temple in particular is not only a place of devotion and prayer but the repository of knowledge reserved for the initiate, a source of coded information that will be deciphered by specialised micro cells only and sent out towards each outer strata of every single cell with a restorative, purgative and transformative mission .In urban terms, we notice such a development manifests itself through a double process of specialisation and homogenisation; the first lay in the economic status and functionality of the citizen within society, the second lay in their moral and biological ‘duty’ towards the species. These deep instinctive mechanisms of a ‘motor-cognitive’ nature alien to ‘conscious intelligence’ seem to have led to the implementation of a technology not only integral to urban planning but intrinsic to the mutation of Homo sapiens as himself an integrated part of the body of the city. I use the term “conscious intelligence” as an antinomy to the term “motor-cognitive”(not in the neurological sense but in the socio-anthropological sense), this latter composite suggesting the fusion of survival instinct with reason, a false contradiction in itself.
6) Denuded ego and the virtual impulse
One could venture ego has mastered the world (as in the squaring of the circle) because the world is nothing but a mere projection of it. Beyond the tentacular invasive propagation of civilisation, ego is powerless. Architecture has not only been the recipient of an obsessive enquiry into the cosmos, the mind, and the strange properties of space, it has and progressively became the bed rock of egoistical expression. We stare at those grandiose monuments, towers, arcs of triumph, obelisks, palaces, and remember that Le Corbusier himself did not have people in mind as much as a philosophy based on invoking harmony and proportion when he planned the perfected body of new architectural invention. Interestingly, the dome which had soared as a solution for an increasing number of religious and civic buildings during the Renaissance edified by Philippo Brunelleschi and Bramante for instance, was somehow ironically transformed into the idea of the all seeing eye of the state upon imprisoned criminals in the shape of the circular Panopticon elaborated by Jeremy Bentham towards the end of the eighteenth century; not so much an eye looking out as an implosive inescapable gaze. We find it also propped upon ‘presidential’ mansions, no longer associated with the divine but simply as a symbol of secular glory retuning thus to the public essence of Roman design but also as a sign of mankind’s domination over nature, the dome resting like a maternal breast upon the structure of power that supports it while feeding from it. The dome structure however has been with us for millennia, a natural extension of the mind’s eye, used to cover graves, temples, and even communal baths. It flourished during the Baroque period, reflecting a desire for limitless knowledge, eternal beauty, and above all glorification of the rich, epitomized in the frescoes of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo as in the ceiling painting The Allegory of the Planets and Continents at New Residenz, a circular erotic apotheosis. The arts of that age betray the first inklings of a virtual will in our species, a will to access the infinite through reason alone, but equally, a will to surrender to vertigo in the safety of divinely adorned palaces. Through the advance of technology, the effect such places , spaces and their artistic visualisation generated in the mind of the viewer have been converted into digital experiences, in my view an inevitable ‘ontological’ outgrowth of the beatific artifice of the Baroque age. These occur in apparently private environments although the experience itself entails the publicising of this enclosed chamber of dreams where ego becomes inadvertently the emperor with no clothe.
7) The perfect instrument of power
The Futurists will burn books as Marinetti exclaimed…, perhaps they set fire once to the great legendary library of Alexandria. Perhaps also were they aware that, as it is written in Eccentric Spaces by Robert Harbison (Books of Things: Topographical Fictions) “Though historical novels always start with material somewhat inert, a special class could be made of those in which history is seen primarily as a spatial effort to bridge the gap between individual consciousness and the suprapersonal idea of whole civilizations.”
Their manifesto was founded on the absolute negation of the past, memory, tradition, aesthetics derived from ancient notions of beauty generally associated with nature and the divine. It was also foremost the result of a fixation on death, time, and passivity in the form of ecstasy, contemplation all of which were embodied in woman they viewed as the seat of chaos. In sculpture this materialised in grotesque aberrations supposed to evoke speed, another essential component of an age thriving on instantaneous progress, where technology seemed to be the saviour from confusions secreted by feelings and emotion. The painters on the other hand dealt with space and light, ensuring our perception would be segmented and re-ordered through the systematic application of division, hence the name they adopted: Divisionism.
It was now time in the early 20th century, while machines began to wake and men to toil in their shadows, to form a consensus so as to embrace the ‘future’. The Supremacists would surely achieve this ideological aim. Their mission was grandiose yet apparently humble. It was a revolution where the main players would ignore the masses and the politicians, yet, through their cultivated input, reflecting the infrastructural explosion and the industrial acceleration, would influence the world we live in literally. These were brutal modernisers, but stoic, impeccable, and utopian. By this is meant that as a result of the implementation of rules set out by supremacists such as Mondrian and Malevich, the Cartesian grid began to find a support in the agenda of city planners and architects, despite its apparent failures. There would be no heaven on earth, quite the opposite was true…but for the very few. And therefore the utopia was not only a double edge sword held high in esteem by fascist leaders, it was in fact a dream come true, for it would be assimilated and implemented through the medium of architecture allied with pervasive and intrusive technology. Such a scheme however had indeed already been put in place throughout history. But it was now expanding from the religious and physical dimensions into the neurological and hyper-spatial dimensions.
There were several benefits to a ‘flattened’ view of the world, that means in effect, the grid locking of personal space through which not only would physical itineraries be arranged but also and primarily mental pathways. Motives and patterns needed to be simplified and de-symbolised, more so, those symbols if they should remain would become signs ( ancient markers found in all cultures, ornaments, talismans, pottery, furniture, tapestry, relief, frescoes, alcoves, columns, refrains, verses, melodies, proverbs…, are de-constructed, deformed, sanitised and re branded, appearing in images and objects promoting a meaningless product gaining meaning from the moment they are seen, associating a wondrous view of nature with a speeding auto-mobile, or a quasi extinct feline with Cartier jewellery, a Mozart sonata with a Barclay mortgage…leading the eye, the body and the mind in the fuzzy direction of the originator of urban dreams, I.e., the dogma inseminator, the ghostly puppeteer behind the advertiser: the state, not as a political institution but as a propaganda mogul, a monarch flaunting his right of veto and a liberal economical legislator, informing or more over educating the audience now passivated by perfected signifiers about a paradigm greater than life itself, the survival and happiness of the nation.
8) Nation, identity, memory, battle of the Self
The nation therefore must be replicated in the city, and the city must become a perfect machine. City State. An increasing number of extravagant and gigantic examples of lavish metallic buildings latticed and adorned with glass vistas parade as they overlook the murky labyrinthine streets of our metropolis, the aftermath of Le Corbusier design. In London, in Tokyo, in New York, in Dubai, in Bangkok, and elsewhere, the sky scrappers dig their heels in the flanks of seraphim; one imagines them armed with a transparent set of blades racking the biosphere indiscriminately. In lands where the land no longer breathes, the lifeless giants grow out of proportion, the irrefutable reverberation of an ego-psycho-social will to survive and dominate, but also to materialise the sublime. They echo the glorious soaring of cathedrals, but instead of a priest praying behind the altar with blind allegiance to the absurd, a receptionist monitors the lobby, the cross road of executives making their way to the top floor to savour the panorama of their property. The elite of the sacred has turned the divine into a marketable commodity, offices multiply inside the translucent womb of the modern temple. But these are not the cause of the trouble, only a mere effect. Their shadows are cast in stainless steel, filled with promises of an improbable future. Causes of trouble arise in the estate, in the building sites that erase the walls of our childhood, in the cranes and the bulldozers that pillage our playgrounds and green areas, but also the virginal land, the wild expanse of our planet, in the evictions of old locals, families, communities who disintegrate, lose means and direction and die isolated and disorientated far from home, from their past, from their memory. The trouble, the distemper, the disruptive cause of our ills lay with the impoverishment of our past. For in the memory breathes the root of our self, of our identity.
Le Corbusier set a paradoxical trend in motion. Based on the renaissance ideal of the ‘perfectly’ proportioned human body, which Leonardo da Vinci’s famous encircled model exemplified, the edifice was to follow simple rules of balance and volume, also guided by the supreme rule of the golden section. Incidentally, Anil Korotane initially designed the name of his company around it. The paradox emerges from the notion of an ideal human design being imposed on a real human body, i.e., on the prospective inhabitants of these grandiose intellectual monuments. In the shadow of the Second World War, architects took on a quasi messianic role through their active participation in the rebuilding of the nation. It was not only a question of rehousing the displaced but of social rehabilitation and thus of a kind of annihilation. Magnificent structures would rise thus from the ashes left by useless battles, ready to encase the common man and crush any desire to expand through mind or matter. Global spatial repression was henceforth set in motion. This process was summed up in a few words by the founders of the Congres Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne “It is only from the present that our architectural work should be derived”…“The most efficacious production is derived from rationalization and standardization”, in other words, functionalism and homogenisation. As the walls with tiny windows rose, they absorbed light and people, gazes and breath ending behind dwarf doors. This new form of habitation devours the population.
9) The Supremacist process, erasure of the sanctuary
“Suprematicism has advanced the ultimate tip of the visual pyramid of perspective into infinity…. We see that suprematicism has swept away from the plane the illusions of two-dimensional ‘planimetric’ space, the illusions of three-dimensional perspective space, and has created the ultimate illusion of irrational space, with its infinite extensibility into the background and foreground.” so El Lissitzky claimed. The notion of the perfect sphere at that particular juncture in the history of our civilisation was not an indication of miraculous creation or an emblem of artistic beauty but the first inkling into the field of inhuman symmetry, echoing the transparent obscene universe Baudrillard dissects in his poetic philosophy, and the monstrous now ubiquitous arena of infinite self espionage, the closed circuit circular mode of city dwelling so well adapted to our auto-erotic way of life. This was no doubt preluded by Jeremy Bentham in his idea: The Panopticon mentioned earlier, a prison model, embodying a wider ideology, utilitarianism. This latter concept was not new, not any more than suprematicism or futurism. It was nevertheless a prelude to both.
An increase in population would demand more organisation. As in any organism, evolution does not only engender greater complexity but also larger amounts of waste and the division of types would allow for certain elements to govern others via the administering of a code understood and accepted by the majority. These needed to expand into the spatial realm in order to monitor, stimulate or desensitise humanity once it had become artificially separated into functional units. This was no longer a question of inhabitation, of sedentary dwelling, of communities…this was a question of simple and plain population control and utilisation, slow, planned, rigorous and merciless. The shape of a house, the width of a door, the amount of light passing through a window, the amount of space between the pavement and the threshold, the narrowness of the corridor, the thinness of the walls between rooms and separate accommodations, the set order and position of kitchen units, of sanitary facilities, of plumbing, and electrical outlets, the colour of the walls, the imposition of immovable furniture, the type, location and direction of electric lighting, the heating, the noise generated by fans that come on automatically, the doors that we are not allowed to keep open naturally, the smoke alarms, all of these details belong to an architectural design created for the purpose of mental and psychic rehabilitation.
This process cannot take place however until all traces of a place of safety, where the fugitive mind may hide, has been erased. This place exists in the form of a building, in the form of a garden, a space where real voices mixed and minds mingled an environment free from alien intervention. It also exists in the images created through artistry, in music, in all forms of beauty and expressions of deeper thought. And this depth where imagination and memory evolve at a pace unknown to the coloniser is the enemy of the supremacist, that is, the enemy of corporate ideology now being enforced throughout the modern world via exhaustive political conflicts, but also via exuberant projects such as ‘irrational’ wars against quasi invisible armies such as Desert Storm, worthy of featuring as the title of a cheesy action novel(“ultimate illusion of irrational space”), the Olympics, wiping off ancient quarters of cities and sending thousands of people in exile as in Rio de Janeiro’ s slum population in preparation for the 2016 games, not to mention the forced removal or intimidation to this effect of communities in the vicinity of the Olympic Dome in London, a case Anil Korotane considers essential to the mandate of Belonging, or the advent of the European Union and the ruthless purging of natural resources parallel to the devastating homogenisation of trade. We are confronted with the faceless enemy, the black square so central to the supremacist philosophy, so far from the lofty circular pupil of the dome and its enlightening cupola letting the divine rays in so the interior can be inundated by diffused light, yet admittedly an illusion only fit for kings, popes and the ever ascending merchant cast.
Because this virtual denaturing process has invaded the language of space, words no longer correspond to what is around us. The world is being consistently patented by the structure of global morality, i.e. a tendency to evaluate individual lives according to criteria external and detrimental to their individual being. This process has infiltrated our daily lives and our culture in general. The term: ‘community’ is a point in case. It does no longer correspond to a cultural alliance, or to the idea of solidarity between workers or colleagues, families or friends. The reason is that these ‘tribes’ have been shattered by the effect of extreme hardship, their new priority set by economical pressures and their location determined by the source of their basic survival dictated by the employer. New artificial communities have replaced them, supposed to embody the new spirit of integration confined within the offspring of Brutalist architecture. This means the single mind no longer exists, it must coalesce lest the small universe revolving around it in the shape of a house, a family, a town etc. is razed to the ground annihilating all life in the process. This morality, a vague derivative of religious dogma intermixed with communitarianism has now set a precedent for the justification of mass exodus, relocation, deforestation, uprooting of ethnic populations, discrimination, segregation, alienation and starvation.
10) Space to language, language to space
For Anil Korotane, the future must be solved now, and his awareness of spatial meaning is astute. Language is our medium, it imbues our movements, bodily and mentally, it springs from the desire to be heard. Long before our tongues catch a word, an impression will rise from our mind and will through the most primitive apparatus land beyond our means, in the mind of our chosen interlocutor. We will trace a line, we will pick up a stone, we will make a promontory from mud and straw, we will cut out a rock and stand upon it, we will carve the bark of a tree, we will begin to delineate an area in which we may begin to cultivate the sense of privacy. We will set out a wider plan in which some members will evolve freely while others pass by. Entrances and exits are erected in place of words to describe the relationship between outside and inside. We will build steps to guide those who have led us to believe they are closer to the stars and therefore by natural spatial extension must be allowed the privilege to hover above the common mortal and doing so find the time, since space affords it, to relay messages from the gods. We will extend our vision of sacred spheres, the difference between sky, earth, water and fire, by inventing new structures, columns holding domes, architraves holding cathedrals. Thus, the corner stone is no longer just a joining device but a holly grail. Soon, walls are covered in glyphs, letters are engraved, cartouches hold the significance of a Pharaoh, dynasties are imprinted in the structures of temples. History is carried like an embryo inside the evolution of our environment, our cities; the stones are placed in very particular ways around us, they contain, like libraries, the language of our common destiny.
They, in the form we have given them, sustain meaning. Like a skin around a skeleton, and a skeleton inside that skin, they make sense to that body only. Robert Harbison writes of Dreaming Rooms: Sanctums: “If one takes architecture as the expression of an individual life, one starts at the centre rather than at the face, asking what space is created rather than what plot is filled. Places thoroughly lived in become internalized in a series of adjustments till they represent a person to himself”.
11) Medina of our soul
There is another apparent contradiction. Most individuals as they begin to fathom themselves simultaneously shed skins from the past, those having been glued on by our own direct environment, primarily our family circle. It takes a life time to peel them off often partially and painfully. Yet, it is essential for psychic growth. No one else can or should remove these skins from us, for it is in the act of flaying our own psyche that we find the clues to the centre of our own inner city, the old quarter, the Medina of our soul. And this is why what is happening in Liftabut alsoin many other towns including as is mentioned earlier, London, is criminal, an absolute violation of our primordial rights as living beings and as human beings; because it rips the only way back to the self out of us. It is in fact equally a terrifying metaphor, since it is so real and unequivocal, for the second death, the annihilation of the soul. Having been deprived of their common history, people of different cultures who had lived in peace for years are forced into disarray, divided, lost, and without present, as the walls that in the end had contained their unity fall around them. They also at that moment lose the language they shared.
12) Planetary motherboard, death of the intimate imagination
Our age contains all that was before although time and again we have fashioned an ark (following Noah’s binary model of selection allied to the Darwinian model of discrimination) in order to escape our traces and the potentially disruptive emotional baggage attached to them. Entire villages in remote parts of Spain and France are being emptied of prior life, wiped away by the tides of industrial and mercantile progress; one might feel the remains of ghosts, these shells have become the counterparts of cities boiling over with the trepidation of industry, yet both anti-types stagnate, infused with the reliquary sanctity of instituted sedentary meaning, a meaning imposed by the holders of capital who set the limitations within which each citizen will have to abide by these rules or survive on the margin, I.e. outside of the mandatory protection of the designated (patriotic) land. The land then becomes a national formula for identity; a nation becomes the repository of tradition and morality imposed and perpetuated by the very members of this blanket ID who will subside and adhere to the terms of their own incarceration but foremost, who will righteously inflict the terms by which their freedom has been systematically robbed onto any person or group of individuals appearing to denigrate or criticise this process of passive self annihilation. ; quite an ironic twist.
Many cities were razed to the ground by the injunction of technocratic necessity, ensuring the deletion of corporeal traces of personal existence as much as that of sensitive records relating to the management of citizens long before the ‘artificial’ disaster struck(catastrophe management is one of the most crucial political strategic developments), be it through war, famine or disease. For all cities have an executive arcane, a secret network of passages below the chaotic surface of the structure where numinous classificatory monitoring is performed. These mountains of files mask the presence of subterranean rivers that still carry ancient memories of home. That is to say, as it is for language itself, the understanding of a particular architectural structure will have to include each existing strata of human thought and its manifestation. There must be for each exegesis a reading of the esoteric sub text. As Gayatri Spivak purports, you cannot access universality while traces of the “(con)text” remain. Taken from the angle of ‘de-spatialisation’ however, this process has become the fundamental principle of the universal economic reformation implemented by the global ownership members who constitute the ‘shadow world’ haunting the collective unconscious of a slumbering population; an image recalling the relationship between gods and mortals in Homeric epic tales.
Having begun to engender a European system of monetary alliances in the momentum of the crusades in the 11th century, which found a more legal appearance with the birth of the Magna Carta, the seed of an invisible and indelible corporate infrastructure was planted and later would be fully demonstrated through digital technological assimilation into all departments of society. This universality in this sense is not to be viewed as redemptive or graceful but as an impartial force of monotonous purification. New city planning, although designed according to simplified models reflecting Hellenistic architecture, also incorporates idealised vistas and edifices sharing their structural characteristics with internal computer hardware. In this regard however, hardware computer design may be said to be borne out of a direct mimesis of ancient city layout and architecture pointing to the inherent presence of an original artificial intelligent plan emerging, disappearing and reappearing through the development of a succession of civilisations. Gayatri ‘s notion of universality is in opposition to what I have just described, hers being of the nature of imaginative abstraction, in effect, absolutely subversive since it denies the development and proliferation of binary reproductive repressive systems now regaining momentum throughout the world.
We must reside in the hub of mercantile enterprise or perish…we must follow the synthetic mode to the letter, a letter torn out of a series of verbs training the urban mind to produce linear futile and inconsequential diagrams. Our cities once a promise of prosperity and happiness are cemeteries where the migrant and the native pretend to join forces for the good of the majority when each guards the door to their dungeon with murderous intentions. why? Because the pathways that allow free circulation of feelings, thoughts and vital energy have been blocked up by governmental decree to safeguard the security of the land. The land means, property. Property means oligarchs. Intimacy can no longer reside in the heart of our living quarters; instead, we are blessed with a distorted vision of the world we in effect know less and less. Post-moderns de-constructed what the Moderns had constructed, and now, we must admire the melodramatic birth of a brand new world, a smooth soft edged carpeted re-construction of a past we are led to confuse with mythology. The imagination of Piranesi has been erased, the earth turned over, sifted, denatured, and entirely covered by the circuitry, the modules, the processors, and the cosmos of a planetary motherboard, the “global village” Mac Lahan prefigured in the 1950s, manufactured in 3d to fill every gap in our field of vision.
13) Hylomorphic relation (ship), from symbol to emotion-interrogation
As Anil affirms however, the essential of architecture for him resides in the reality of “place” rather than in the general concept of “space”. In his own words, “place means user, user means place”. In Mapping the Future by Jon Bird David Harvey writes as the 3d point of his introduction to From space to place and back again “A recognition that the dimensions of space and time matter and that there are real geographies of social action, real as well as metaphorical territories and spaces of power that are the site of innumerable differences that have to be understood both in their own right and within the overall logic of capitalist development. Historical materialism, in short, must take its geography seriously.” This notion of place is essential also for the richness of its meaning extending in a plurality of human states and activity, as Jon Bird attests by calling this word “one of the most multi-layered and multi-purpose words in our language”. In a sense, the spirit of Heidegger has impregnated the masonry of Anil’s project. It is evident in my eyes that in the arts as in architecture, theory has superseded the practice in so far as the mason no longer understands the wall he put up with his own hands, let alone the building he faces once it has been completed, so far from the root, so lofty in its embodiment of an ideal. People cannot live in the projection of a corporate dream.
However, it is paradoxically the inherent sentient significance of “place”, that lends weight to any rescue enterprise in the area where meaning is most acute, in Heidegger’s words ” that open, cleared, yet bounded region in which we find ourselves gathered together with other persons and things, in which we are opened up to the world and the world to us… . [With] a dynamic character of its own … a unifying, gathered regioning — place is, in this sense, always a “taking place,” a “happening” of place…something that contains space in potentia”.
From a different and complementary perspective, Belonging as an enterprise, and its intrinsic voice, Anil’s, form a bridge in Heidegger’s sense:”a manifestation of the fourfold which is at the base of all dwelling. A bridge collects and unites all aspects of the fourfold, earth, sky, mortals and divinities into a “thing”.” He has inadvertently become part of a larger structure, the existence of a deep chasm between the dispossessed and property owners, but more so the proponent of a de-structuralism that converges towards what he calls the dismantlement of existential language. And although this mission seems to contradict the image of a bridge, as all complex forms, it also invites the mind beyond the boundaries of politics, ethics or rationalism.
What is existential language?
Can we talk of the moral imposition of a nation state upon the vulnerable channels of popular communication as an existential language? How does the functionality of architecture fit into this scheme? Can we associate this idea with Aristotle’s theory of Hylomorphism? I.e., the conjunction of form and matter in a coherent whole, such as a psyche, seen by Aristotle as a set of properties giving meaning or direction and motion to a thing, I.e., a conglomerate of material particles either wise ineffectual.
And how can this be achieved without negating one’s own language…without negating language itself? One would succumb to archetypes; one would seal their fate to the polarised faces of a war whose roots go deeper than those of our ancestral idioms. Would we assume the role thereof of a corner stone? Such an object would seem abhorrent to the uninitiated, an alien intrusion at worst, an incidental utterance at best. Being the voice of the people, people may be driven to silence us. For people often understand simple ideas, war and the enemy being simpler to grasp and support than dialogue and comprehension.
How can such profound aberrations, such epistemological discrepancies be remedied? How can we exhume human nature from its cultural grave in the certainty this will be a resurrection rather than an excavation of bones? Bones of contention, relics of knowledge lost, barren, useless or radio-active?
Objects hold breath from the outer chamber of their being responsive to our touch, they inhabit us, we are the house they live in. they play the counterpoint of place where we evolve, where in effect a stage is set from the moment we situate ourselves, a centre being erected ‘in place of’ a vacancy. In Theatre and its Double, Antonin Artaud writes in reference to the manifestation of our free voice, the sensual psyche demonstrated via stage presence: “this double is more than an echo, it is the memory of a language of which theatre has lost the secret.” in his vision, objects held a silence more alive than any superfluous scream. These were talismans as equally as unadulterated souls, metaphors in the flesh for the alienation of the persona in the desert of the stage. On the other hand, an object will not move until it is moved, not by a god as Plato suggested but by the political will of an oppressor…or the will to surpass this oppression. Concerning the former, one would, In order to demystify this oppressive kinesis, have to enter in personal contact with the situation of the object and as such also become a point of contact between the force of displacement and the victim of displacement.
One therefore would have to play two distinct and outwardly contradictory parts. Not exactly a corner stone, for it is mobile and interventional. An interpreter of signs.
14) Passive intervention, system/people dilemma
This double identity, the dilemma arising between addressing an idea or addressing an individual, and equally troubling, the issue of individual versus community, is present in this ideological venture where an organisation bares the face of a single individual, the voice not only of a pragmatic philosophy but also and occasionally confusingly, the voice of a non-nation, a community whose identity is no longer defined by place or time, status or culture, but by its passive struggle which to all intents and purposes has been managed by international agencies such as human rights organisations.
In this regard, Gayatri Spivak said “the impatience of the human rights intervention joins hands with what I have just described: the general will for exploitation in the subalterned is too present”. Gayatri defines the initial subalterned as a position without identity and more precisely, “people without access to the lines of mobility”. She later modified her definition having studied the consequences of a culture of institutional rescue imposed by corporate bodies under humanitarian mandates and more often than not endorsed by the state acknowledging henceforth that “indigenous knowledge systems”, had undergone a forced and insidious conversion into data, thus leading to “the transformation of subalternity into property”.
Both aspects: lines of mobility and transformation of subalternity into property are fundamental to the global homogenic re-structuring of society. Cities once organic static organisms now contain the seed of a live network of subliminal indoctrination enabling this re-structuring along the patterns that had once emerged in the minds and opus of the Supremacists. Lines of immobility would describe more acutely the condition of the contemporary non defined citizen, accumulating useless paraphernalia and filling up with useless food, stuck in a shrinking space a brain logged into the droning sludge of useless data continuously spreading across the blinding screen. These are also homeless, since they have no roots, no memories and no culture.
One could argue that as passivated agents of a system driven sedentary society, we are not only robbed of material property or of the deeper strata of meaning in the communication models we have adopted or adapted to, we are also subjecting ourselves quasi willingly to the erasure of more subtle properties, having signed up to a rigorous program of rehabilitation and modernisation whereby all traces of private emotions and memories constituting the atmosphere of our the personal sphere have been displaced by encoded information replicating our selves in a manner appropriate to the techno-civic grid accountancy of the ‘homogenopolis’.
15) Democracy versus voice
To come back to the project set out in Belonging, the aim being the implementation of a safeguard against the loss of a unique identity through the implicit justification of spatial personalisation, that is the validation of place as the natural inheritance of the people who occupy it in the sense of home as opposed to property, a grave obstacle seems to loom. Whereas other players in the field of ethnic conflict wear a mask, or more appropriately bare no single face, Belonging has one, clear and unequivocal. Anil Korotane is a spokesman for Belonging and for the situation at hand, for the people and for those groups who have joined his rank.
In the case of organized massive socio-political structures, the language is impregnable; the ideology is waterproof and the funding often unmatchable. All criticisms are distributed over its elegant façade and diffused through delegated conduits, losing momentum and sense along the way. This is not a barricade but a thick smooth rampart protecting a high signalling citadel. We have in effect the equivalent of an opposite to the vulnerable broken bastion of a dissolving language epitomised by Lifta and other places of conflict, reflected by the personal human response of Belonging. On this last point, Anil Korotane is not addressing an abstract notion of freedom but the remnant population the members of which may have already submitted to the will of national sovereignty, hence the fragility of any loyalty towards a cause he believes in while they hope for redemption or possible compensation, which he cannot offer.
This echoes for me the difficulty of Albert Camus’s own position faced with the inevitable reaction of the people who had not understood ‘his’ battle. Algerie under colonial rule was unacceptable to him and this prompted him to spend most of his adult life criticising the French government or the media attached to it. Nevertheless, he feared independence predicting an exodus of French Algerians like himself as a result of ethnic political cleansing. Camus wrote in response to what he considered an incurable illness afflicting French society and the world at large: “both tyrannies and monetary democracies know that in order to reign, work and culture must be separated.”
This exodus has evidently happened, not only to Pieds Noirs, but to People caught in civil wars as in former Yugoslavia, In Rwanda, in the middle East…and here comes one more stumbling block because those who suffered this fate are not and never will be those who govern the fate of nations. The plight of the displaced is a gashing scare on the face of our supreme modern ideal, democracy. Yet democracies continue to benefit from international crisis.
In the light of such a discrepancy, how can any movement for freedom of dialogue and reconciliation be validated? Does it need to be? Can it be reconciled to a wider discourse, i.e. the possibility of a philanthropic partnership between productivity and creativity for example?
Is political language invalidating any effort to bypass certain interventions prompted by economically charged powers and by the works of which such a language arose? Can such a linguistic tyranny be overturned or undermined, or better still, can we negotiate a deal in the eye of the storm?
Is there an art to the formation of a marriage between architecture and philosophy that would therefore facilitate a journey beyond measure, beyond the walls of the city, beyond the artificial womb of the nation and beyond the field of land mine paradoxes cultivated by the barons of political subterfuge?
Can we create a new world out of our own unspoken history and weave pathways to a past , our worm hole into the reality of the self, rendered increasingly inaccessible by the tanks and the bulldozers of progress?
16) Alchemy of the imagination
Rome was conceived by two brothers saved and nurtured by a she-wolf so the legend tells us. Romulus, built Rome on the back of a fratricide, thus the great city Roma came to be erected on the bones of a mortal conflict, a violent instance of disequilibrium. But it is described as the Quadra Cita, (not Quadra grand city Surabaya, Indonesia, the hi-tec mall as it is known); for some say it was designed as a circle divided in four quarters, one for each season or each principal stages of the alchemical process: the quartering of philosophy, and for each quarter of a complete day, an ironic reflection of the Mandala, symbol of unity, completion and harmony. Such is the kind of paradoxes human history is scattered with; all roads lead to her, not only the heart of Italy but the symbol of the human quest for a centre. Nevertheless, were we to remove Rome from the map, another would have to be invented. No city is born in a day however; in the years it takes to enrich the life and culture of such a place, one life could turn into many, memories would grow fade and evolve, populations would roll in and out, mix and divide, the ecology of combined minds would induce new changes in the arts and daily life. Re-inventing a centre of self discovery to compensate for the sudden loss of another is therefore futile. Yet, this is what we are promised. An immense expanse of complex thoughts is being slowly but surely erased in front of our very eyes, on our very door step, in our very sleep, right into our backyard. The systematic destruction of what constitutes common heritage, but also and even more importantly the disfigurement and dislocation of the rotunda, the psychic and emotional point containing the deep transformative symbols of our connection to the world and to other human beings, continues to affect an environment which soon will be entirely drained of all quintessence. This environment holds within it the live imprint of our memory, like a map, but it is not flat, and we travel through the pathways that no one else can see, illumined by emotions, asters in the obscure canyons of the night city. We become like whales following distant songs through the liquid universe. Whales too lose their way, they are robbed of their channels, they can no longer recognise the song guiding them home. That is to say, we as human beings may find a home anywhere so long as we find a way home. ‘The way’, the process of remembrance, the form of a feeling, an object full of personal meaning, these are the essential elements of human existence now under continuous attack. We see sacred land in north America vandalised, Indian tribes broken and decimated, their language a mere dialect useless to survive, in Australia, Aborigines losing their history confined to museums and entertainment, Iraq, once the famous Persia land of ancient Babylon vilified and ransacked, Tibet, its great temples soiled by the Chinese army, its traditions forbidden, its people displaced, then, the tidal ripper comes into our streets and bares the contented grin of democracy.
The river runs deep despite vertical mining, deeper than the ocean and an irresistible current propels the individual to immerse him/herself in the interior cosmos where all is possible for there beats the heart of our imagination. But as Anil points out, the momentum arises in mediation, not opposition, in the patient construction of an intelligent network, a two way bridge and perhaps the recognition of a value in what may first appear so mundane, in effect, allowing for the emergence of Art in the indistinct zone of a black hole.
Copyright © Pascal Ancel Bartholdi 2012
Progress without Art
Response to text Yes or No, in Loser Friendly, 2008, volume 12 written by Ivan Mercl.
I was amazed by your article: “Yes or No” in which your describe a pervasive and global state of intellectual stagnancy especially in regards to the arts, referring in particular to the domain of our so called patrons and guarantors, art distributors; the domain through which art should be rendered accessible to an audience… uncensored.
Of course, those very institutions contradict the very nature of Art i.e., to quote Lindsay Gordon, director of Peacock Visual Arts in Variant, Winter 2011, “art, good art, should be and always has been subversive. Revolutionary. Biting the hand that feeds you…”
But Variant, “cross currents in culture” news paper, is itself ran by voluntaries who despite being able to point out the persistent discrepancies of a pseudo-democratic system are themselves dependant on subsidies, economically pacified and politically quasi inconsequential. Nevertheless, this handicap allows paradoxically for a sharper comment, a voice indeed of dissent.
Further in this article, Shona Macnaughton says:”The language used” (by politicians now imposing new laws and regulations on artists, in Scotland but also frankly everywhere else), “is important…as an important signifier because it normalises a rhetoric that submits culture to singularly economic purposes.” She ends thus, “There are few spaces left for dissenting, questioning voices and little time.”
In this last sentence, we could read a premonition which has been latent for some decades, in the advent of technocratic monopolistic imperative. We could read this as over pessimistic, doomsday scenario, fatalistic. Yet, it is mild, clear and relevant.
The situation is simply catastrophic.
In your article, you ask: “Why do we tolerate the arrogance and decay of platforms meant to represent contemporary art? Why do we suffer from laziness of thought among those persons meant to apply complicated principles and procedures?” and later, you state “They prefer to spend their budget on themselves”.
You answer your questions precisely but not entirely. You mention 1989, pivotal year where post modernism finally gave birth to egomaniac entrepreneurship. Art having glowed a little longer in the factory of a genius advertiser called Warhol, could finally transmute into the unequivocal effect of hyper democratisation, ‘the product’. It was not long until the artist had to validate his/her position as a creator in terms of marketability only. The agenda was set and irreversible. We now experience the implementation of a state run ideal, the homogeneous dissemination of thought. On the other hand, this is also and foremost a flagrant bureaucratic encircling of a world where chaos and unpredictability reign. As such, a new elaborate system of discrimination has been put in place whereby any individual artist or alternative collective will be isolated, alienated, impoverished, boycotted, and rendered voiceless and harmless. The laziness you refer to is a case of ‘turn a blind eye’; ignore the extraordinary in favour of the commodity value. This is in short not laziness but outright market based selection, hand in hand with socio-political repression. What we are seeing is the formation of a schism between four main forms of art, one the contemporary luxury article gaining financial momentum, another, the acceptable useful communal art, a watered down art for ‘dumbing-down’ educational purposes, a third, the traditional art in museums, staples of, as you remark, the luxury shelf of book shops, and the fourth the art that will not see the light or will languish in caves, grimy shop windows, hospital corridors, greasy spoon cafes because no galleries will show it. Why should they invest in the soul? This kind of art is no longer regarded as good for people. This kind of art features as a danger to society’s innate order. It is treated like a narcotic, those who make it like perverse dealers. If the artist was a healer, as Joseph Beuys saw it, a shaman, a psychopomp, he and she have now become witches, impenetrable, suspicious and expendable.
In a subsidiary article, two committee members from Transmission Gallery debate. One of them(CM1), mentions new terminology: “…the end of flexible funding and the introduction of strategic commissioning”. The move towards an administrative utilitarian art system is revealed in the shift of words we note in this extract.
The main word is ‘strategy’. Artists lack strategy which is intrinsic to government policy making. Hence, a grave imbalance arises at crucial moments of change which are certainly not always for the better. This change however would and has been described as necessary, a mark of progress and commanding obedience and sympathy. Any opposition must logically be discerned as counter-progressive. Another by-product of a successful institutional strategy: subliminal propaganda inserted in the fabric of national cultural identity. CM2, the interlocutor finally asks: “how is there supposed to be a dialogue when people are afraid to speak about something because if they speak against it, their funding is potentially compromised? And equally because the access to information is very limited and confusing?”
Along this article, Sam Ainsley, David Handing and Alexander Moffat remind us of why the system did not fail the artist until now: “The ‘arms length principle’ which was developed in the post war period to guard against central government interference in art and culture has shifted…” Luke fowler answers on the other page by quoting the Scottish government:” Culture…is what gives us a sense of identity both as individuals and as a nation. Culture is not simply about ‘image and history’ but about presenting ‘a hard commercial edge’-Culture(Chris Smith) affirms ”lies at the very heart of (the) mission’ of the new government”.
Here, if one is at all familiar with the events and politics of Germany during the 2d world war, one would recognize the unmistakable national Socialist rhetoric, echoed throughout the language of neo-post modern liberalism.
There is a question reflecting your own concerns: “Can we now refuse to be forced into still further competition with one another, to allow every aspect of our life to be placed under scrutiny and exploited in the form of cultural capital in the service of a chimerical creative economy?” Luke Fowler ends with these words as a warning against complacency and ignorance: “I envisage a future where corporate populism has become the final arbiter of value.”
This idea of the uselessness and usefulness of art has intrigued me and I realized while thinking about it how art was not an effect so much as a phenomenon. Were we as a species to blot out this form of life we are the instruments of, we as a species would cease to exist in our present form. Perhaps we are simply witnessing the outset of collective psychic decay; the advance and engulfment by a shadow we were unable to integrate as C G Jung implied in his numerous works on the subject. Levi-Strauss in his Tristes Tropiques, concludes: “the world began without the human race, and will end without it”. A grim tale is being played out and perhaps the role of the artists is to reverberate and transmute this story according to the only valid position, that of the deeply personal; the unique eye of the individual soul with or without the art council funding.
Copyright © Sebastian.E,Wanguard in collaboration with writer Pascal Ancelbartholdi 2012