OK IMAGINE THIS:
The whole of Culture is an Empire. The Empire’s collective consciousness understands and accepts things as having the function of Art. A painting, or a bronze sculpture for example are long accepted and understood as Art. An ink-jet print, a 16mm film, a “casual” arrangement of objects are also understood as art. More recently, the Empire acquired a whole new set of internet inspired aesthetic imagery which is slowly (or rapidly) subsumed into the mechanisms of cultural recognition. The collective consciousness works as a unified being and recycles, visual, philosophical, musical trends.
–laser beam sounds–
NOW, we find ourselves in an art school. We look around. Young people, trying to work through peer pressure, societal expectations and deal with a completely decayed idea of YBA artistic super-stardom. In the last seminar I became aware of a definite gap in art students conceptions of being an art student. Trying to bypass the ambivalent existential argument of “why are we doing it”, I would like to ask a different question:
WHAT IS MISSING?
Everyone wants to be good at whatever it is they are doing. Good students, successful artists. We are so desperate to make something “good” (which apparently is equivalent to “could exist in a gallery”) that we end up striving to produce things that look like art. But we missed something. I thought we are here to create something that not only cannot exist in a gallery but would require the whole structure of the gallery to change in order to be “housed”. If we believe in the possibility of change surely we should begin outside of everything that is already there. We need to fight the Empire, break its monopoly.
Art School as I see it now, is a factory of reproductions of “art”. Personal insecurity, fear of academic failure (which somehow extends to societal failure, as with every other subject) push young students towards the art of preservation. The Empire likes to understand and categorise things. It needs to maintain the status of its understanding. Its dominance depends on FIXED MEANINGS and RIGID FUNCTIONS. By (re)producing what is already art we merely manage to illustrate, outline the picture of a corpse in an anatomy class. And this illustration could at some point earn a small place in one of the Empire’s galleries/fridges installed to maintain the meaning and understanding of art long dead.
I would like to propose a different way of assessing our individual/collective practices. Good or Bad is quite frankly vague and irrelevant. Instead I propose to use the words, ALIVE or DEAD. It might sound equally vague and somehow weird but I do urge you to go through your work and distinguish between the Dead and the Alive pieces, without me defining the terms. You should be able to do so without knowing the exact definitions. There is a definite power and spark in Alive things and we can instinctively tell them apart from Dead ones. The human is somehow absent in a corpse.
The Empire tends to kill things. Once something becomes understood and concrete, chances are it’s already dead. You can make a symbol out of a dead thing but you cannot really bring it back to life (Zombie art is a whole different sub-category of the Dead/Alive drama. I will not get into this now).
RETURN OF THE JEDI (plural)
Should we all be smugglers, like Hans Solo and bring stuff in and out of the Empire for personal gain? Or should we be young Skywalker fighting the Empire for noble and high purposes. The worst thing one could become is an Anakin Skywalker. Not only join the Empire but be a driving force in its stability and expansion. There are a lot of young radicals- turned middle aged agents of the Dark Side out there. Concluding I would like to add that our tutors should be incarnations of Joda or Obi Wan Kenobi and train us to be strong and kind and help us not to fear the Resistance. Be real human beings and create weird, alive, untamed stuff that in a lack of a better descriptive word, we would have to call Art.
Thank you for reading,
PS I was going to end with this quote by Badiou: “It is better to do nothing than to contribute to the invention of formal ways of rendering visible that which Empire already recognises as existent” since the Empire is his metaphor but I am not going to. I am not sure if he is Princess Leia fighting the Empire from the inside or not… Too far… Too far…