Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What is called for?

  Power Station of Art, Shanghai — artwork from Memorandum for Gaia

Yesterday  (November 8, as the clock ticks) I was at the Power Station of Art in Shanghai,  an ambitiously huge art museum located in one of the former buildings for the Shanghai Expo.  one could probably put half the art in Manhattan in a building of this size; as it was, only one floor had exhibits, a set of "emerging curators" exhibitions that included a presentation called Memorandum for Gaia.

The show was uneven, and included an excessive (to me) number of conceptual pieces based, among other things, on confusing projection video presentations. Most of the modern art done with projection video is, in its own way, as stupidly empty as the movies Hollywood is producing; both art and entertainment are capable, it turns out, of hitting bottom and starting to dig, although the tunnels may go in different directions.

In any event, in the midst of this artistic subjectivity, which in touching the soul of the creator (in this case, the artist) manages to largely absent itself from the possibility of touching any other soul whatsoever, it occurred to me how incredibly dense, confusing, and overwhelming the world is today. Any organic sensation that begins to comprehend the density and complexity of what we, as human beings, create will immediately come up against how staggering it is.

It is, at the same time, quite true that biology is immensely more complex; and the operations of a single cell during its lifetime probably beggar all of the activities of human beings put together. In a strange way, this idea becomes a refuge for me; no matter how complex biology becomes, it always expresses this quality called life in an irrevocable and unambiguous way, something that is far more tangible to my sense of myself than the abstract thoughts produced by the worlds of art and science, as they emerge as technologies.

One of the strange impressions I walk away from these exhibits with is how strongly people want other people to be other things; and we are all, it seems, tempted to want to be something other than what we are. It is always, in the end, about ourselves, and otherness; the enforced collapse into subjectivity which we participate in, versus the objectivity of relationship and community, which references us whether we want it to or not.

I'm not going to sort this one out; but this impression of the wish to be other seems to be at the root of the artistic question. And the question of whether I wish to be other or not is not an outer one; it doesn't really mean me and myself wanting to be him or her, they or them.

It's a question of my inner self and whether I am willing to be as I am. If I don't want to be as I am, and (or) I don't want other people to be as they are — a common problem when I want to impose my will or view on other people — there is, at the root, an unwillingness to participate. It's like a little child who sits on the sidelines and sulks. I was that little child (and have been that little adult) from time to time; and I would presume it sounds familiar to everyone. It comes back to this question of participation; and whether I agree with the subjectivity (and even the nonsense) of this, that, or the other piece of art, the root question is whether or not it invites me to participate. Even if the art is "bad," this invitation has been issued; and perhaps I should look there, rather than my judgment, in order to see where I am and what is called for from me.


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