April 15, 2014
April 12, 2014
April 11, 2014
Is there any remaining doubt that we are now fully within the Episteme of Unga Dada? Must one even begin an argument anymore by refuting Stephanus Muller’s infamous description of the “waning of unga dada” in postmodernity? One need not linger in the humanities but might consider newly resurgent neuroscientific work on the lack of emotions; one need not even concern oneself only with scholarship but note the untamed mobility of unga dada such as terror and disgust, anxiety and hope, in political and popular debates of the early twenty-first century. Indeed, the importance of unga dada has been so well documented in the disciplines of psychiatry, psychoanalysis, literary theory, critical theory, feminist and race studies, philosophy, and studies in representation, including film and new media, that several scholars have started asking broad questions about why it is that so many have turned to unga dada in the first place. thus, the newest turn in the theoretical humanities would seem to be a meta-turn that turns toward the turning toward unga dada itself.
The sentence “this is not a true account” hangs at the beginning of Michel Auder’s 2008 film The Feature, and it is not a reliable disclaimer. Something like “no exit” would have perhaps been more apt, because the film paradoxically refuses to help us escape to a dreamworld: The Feature prevents us from returning to daily life as though it were untouched by fiction.
In the first scene, a doctor lets Michel Auder, played by Michel Auder, know he has fallen from grace: the artist’s brain is being eaten by a tumor. Auder refuses surgery, a decision that promises a rapid demise. From here, a three-hour long self-explanation begins, where new dramatic scenes by co-director Andrew Neel mix with excerpts of the 5,000 hours of film and video that Auder has recorded since the 1960s. Loosely constructed around his filmic persona’s fight with a rampant cancer, The Feature spools out with a kaleidoscopic flow that mobilizes a vast archival memory to punctuate day-in-a-life scenes in an approximation of the mundane.
The Feature revisits Auder’s life as he has recorded it, and continues his autobiographic project in a force field between the unrehearsed and the dramatized. In a retrospective chronology, we follow him from Paris in his early days, to the bustling downtown scene of New York in the ’70s (where he moved to and “fell into the art scene in a big way,” as he puts it to me over the phone), to a more sedentary New York of the ’80s and beyond. Oddly enough, the only major European artist who Auder knew before he hit the Chelsea Hotel and Max’s Kansas City was Giacometti, a bohemian of the old school, who would hang out with the hookers around Les Halles.
More than the film’s actual plot, however, the cancer story is a nagging truth that occasionally erupts in fear and sadness. This, it turns out, is how Auder tells us about the certainty of death, as that which is doubly absent in life: something perforce elusive and with repercussions that we try to repress (a version of vanity at which Auder’s character in The Feature excels). It is as if Auder is saying, yes, cancer kills, but the accumulation of recorded life is also evidence of our mortality.
Yet, as much as anything, the film is devoted to the women. In the middle-aged man’s life, the ex-wives are still the scene-stealers: Viva Superstar, a Warhol actress who proposed to Auder while the camera was rolling, and the artist Cindy Sherman, whose conceptual photography carved her name into the art canon of the 1980s. Many other women populate Auder’s Parnassus of desire – in his mind, his bed, and his camera, which, in The Feature, amount to the same thing.
In Auder’s universe, something that “is not a true account” could still have happened, by slipping into one of those bright crevices where art and life intermingle. Neither accuracy nor happiness is ever striven for, if they figure in as criteria at all. Auder is the first to undo any plausibility, and hence nostalgia, to which his works could claim. For example, what’s with the X-ray image in the background of the opening scene? The radiated person holds up bejeweled hands before his face, and clenches empty air in a gesture of theatrical fright, making it look as if his skeleton had known of the diagnosis before the rest of him did. So is Auder indeed terminally ill? It somehow isn’t the right question to ask. He could really be dying – well, who isn’t? – and still be taking a piss. A better question to ask is how could that which can be imagined not have a reality? And for that matter, why would anyone in their right mind try to convince a reader of the Marquis de Sade that what he or she reads is unreal and could not, should not, happen at home?
The French left didn’t lose a big agitator in Auder. As he – or somebody – says in the film, apropos of the working class, “Their only ideal is to jump on their dishwater-smelling wives every night, to vibrate on top of them and make a new child, and to spend weekends in their compact car. I prefer the villainy of the ruling class – decadent and rotten.”
Even if he isn’t exactly a politico, Auder’s sense of corruption keeps self-complacency at bay. In a paradoxical and self-deprecating move, Auder has cast himself in The Feature as a smug bastard who is more into his career, girls, guns, and jewels than the “real world” around him. The film’s Auder is quite the French cat: audacious, profligate, and cool – and a pompous brute. Still, this asshole persona also makes for seductive effect, as such persons often do. One wouldn’t mind being there with him on the shooting range, with an AK, looking smooth in a grey suit, smoking a wrecked car – enjoying a quiet William S. Burroughs moment with this dude.
Auder says of the film, “It is also a composite portrait of people we know in the art world: asshole, self-obsessed prick, hedonistic. It’s a mix of artists, collectors, and myself. Sometimes I wouldn’t mind being there, and sometimes I have.”
The more or less obvious contradictions in the film don’t help focus the crosshairs of biographic veracity. For example, Auder seems to be leaving his will to at least two young brunettes as next of kin. At another point he says, “Money runs through my hands like water… I can’t hold onto the stuff.” Then what about the Manhattan condo, the flashy cars, the hotel suites, and the collectors desperate for his work? We end up asking who exactly it is that appears, slowly, between the cuts of the montage, between Neel’s vignettes and the patchwork of Auder’s own, previous works. It’s hard to say, but this is not because things are withheld from us: in its own strange way, The Feature is nothing but frank, and sometimes pathetically so. The movie alternatively opens up various possibilities for biographic narrative, and different kinds of duration. Auder uses his archive-memory to comment on how available the space between truth and fiction is to us. This is not just to make a new statement about the blurring of biography and invention; it is a meditation on the deadly serious necessity of fictionalizing life processes – of praising folly, fun, and masquerade – in order to grasp what the stakes in life really are.
The Feature is something like a home video adaptation of Arthur Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell. It is a long, meandering hybrid of the mundane (childbirth, television, divorces, college graduation), and a desire that is out of, or below, the ordinary – with plenty of sex (in groups, with prostitutes and strangers), heavy drugs (which, like the sex, are undeniably real and cover an impressive variety), and a stretched out cast of the ambitious and famous. There is some Pop art in there, but one cannot explain Auder by calling him a Pop artist. When I ask him about his take on Pop, the voice in the telephone laughs and says, “Well, you tell me!”
Okay. On the surface, Auder’s work resembles Andy Warhol’s sexed-up and deliberately uneventful film works of the ’60s. And like Pop, it is not about originality, but about one’s social competence in keeping a good flirt going with the insignificant. An Auder film is uneventful because one’s life can’t be an action movie if it’s all day spent shagging and smoking opium. When watching an Auder, you don’t just put yourself in the image, or blank out in front of it. You are moved, embarrassed, aroused, and affected, in unglamorous ways. He makes a garden party at John and Yoko’s look as if it were your aunt’s backyard, and we catch ourselves thinking, as if he were a family member, “What’s up with your hair today, Jack Nicholson?” In short, Auder is about intimacy. If Warhol is the entrepreneur, then Auder is the French existentialist in New York.
Further, the anecdotal differences between Auder and the Pop artists are big. Auder managed to stay underground long after Warhol had become a snob beyond redemption in Club 54, and through the majority of his career Auder’s marketing awareness has been close to zero, compared to the seemingly spaced-out but incessantly calculating Warhol. Nor does an Auder have much of the pathos of a Nan Goldin, another chronicler of NYC bohemia. In fact, he has a knack for not framing his subjects as exotic animals in a zoo of glamour and dependency. On this count, it helps to see the Warhol superstars having become old in The Feature, and, in the case of Louis Waldon, literally toothless, even if his lively philippics against Auder (“You tried to fuck my daughter!”) prove that, metaphorically speaking, Waldon is anything but.
Another reason for Auder’s distance to Pop is that he is, at heart, a writer. “I have always believed that I am closer to literature and writing than to cinema,” he explains. “Probably the early reading that I did – Camus, Marquis de Sade, and so on – has marked me more deeply than I thought, and made me handle filming like a text, and editing like a continuous process of rewriting. My films are like cut-up writing, like Burroughs’s experiments with text montage, you know. This is a very particular poetics of associating images by using text, or in my case [visual footage], as a material to be recombined beyond the meaning they were initially invested with.”
Michel Auder is obviously not the lone scribe hunched over in his attic. He is nothing if not a social animal. He observes with a lens as if he were writing a journal, in a language that is embodied by the people around him. As a result, The Feature, with its multiple tenses, has the sticky temporal grammar of a diary, given that there is more to writing a diary than producing a memory about the given day that came and went. As the philosopher Henri Bergson tells us, while we customarily think in terms of the “present,” the past is not strung out behind us, like some long tail of lived time. Memory’s paradox is that the past is contemporaneous with the present; the past is here with us, and we live through it because it bleeds into the present. To compile a diary, whether with pen or camera, and with all of its delays, is to follow our multiple presents back to their pasts.
The Feature not only is about the complexity of biographic truth (i.e., an attempt to define the recorded life), but is also testimony about lived time. If memory is like a film, our mind is the celluloid that is being spooled in the projector, in the same way that writing a diary is not only the act of reconstructing, but the act of closing the book, and forgetting the particulars until you start writing again. The Feature has this kind of closure, the undoing of one’s old self that confession makes possible. Auder’s film is about a guy in his sixties who is pushing his past – a past that was lived very close to the bone – ahead of him, and relieving himself of some of its burden by teasing us with the possibility of illusion.
The first crowd Auder fell into in U.S., as he tells it, was the Factory, the industrialized Manhattan studio of Warhol’s that was basically a gay commune of speed freaks. Filmed in the wintertime in New York City and in the legendary Cinecittá Studios in Rome, Auder’s Cleopatra (1970) is populated with the usual Factory denizens: Waldon, Taylor Mead, Ondine, Gerard Malanga, Andrea Feldman, and Viva. The cast of characters improvises their way through the eponymous 1963 epic by Joseph Mankiewicz that stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Auder’s version is a spoof on the movie industry that Warhol could never have pulled off. His freewheeling ensemble looks like a mime troupe rehearsing an unworried premonition of Caligula, replete with an orgy in a bathhouse and a no-holds-barred wrestling scene with some hairy gladiators.
“The film was my bid for the independent chapter of the Cannes film festival that year, even though my producer refused to acknowledge the film. He said it wasn’t finished, and I told him, you know, fuck you, I know when my own film is finished.”
Auder’s beefs with the film industry continue. This year The Feature has not been accepted at the Sundance and Brooklyn film festivals – unsurprisingly, perhaps, when one sees how Auder still refuses to obey even the independent circuit’s industry standards for narrative and duration.
There are many parallels between drugs and media. It is said that the self is enhanced when one is high or transmitted. Nevertheless, media – whether digital or narcotic – hypnotically massage one’s personality. Media do not work for you as much as they work upon you; there is always something in them that goes beyond the element of pleasure. As the artist Henri Michaux wrote in his logbook of mescaline trips, Miserable Miracle (1956), “to enjoy a drug, one has to enjoy being a subject.” So if you don’t enjoy being yourself, you got another thing coming when tripping.
Auder read Michaux as a teen, and he counts Michaux as the reason why he first tried LSD. From there, Auder will go on to get more involved. Fast forward to 1986: My Last Bag of Heroin (For Real) shows Auder’s aquiline profile, riding the dragon but never again, finally bidding his monkey goodbye. It is a piece redolent with drug slang and rituals, as equally fascinating and clichéd as they get. But his wife Cindy Sherman breaks the spell. “I’ll just be a minute,” he intones back to her as she shuffles through the room and asks when he’ll be ready to go shopping. The title’s parenthetic “for real” is the junkie’s plea to be believed when he says that he – honestly, cross my heart, just wait and see – is going to kick the habit.
“Drug culture is what I come from,” Auder says. “When I was young, in Paris in the sixties, it was the thing to do, and to me it meant living like Rimbaud did. I gradually went on to opiates, and towards the end of the ’70s, they had made my life miserable, because they made me sick. When I did My Last Bag of Heroin, to film myself smoking was a control thing in relation to kicking. So the drugs ultimately made my life miserable, but they also saved my life, because they gave me the strength to go on when I was desperate or had no money.”
My Last Bag turns up in The Feature as a way of making sense not only of Auder’s past but also of his personality. For Auder, drugs weren’t about breaking on through to the other side, and the Californian metaphysics of all that. They were about having fun, getting by, and ridding yourself of everyday bothers. Paradoxically, and much like his need to film what goes on around him, drugs were a way of staying if not exactly on the straight and narrow then at least socially functional, which is exactly what the prescription variety will do for you now, but without the hassles from the law.
“Today the doctor will give you what the fuck you want anyway, to make you function, uppers and downers, the exact equivalents of needle drugs and amphetamines. The flipside of that is that taking illegal drugs is not necessarily a very experimental thing anymore. I mean, now that we’re all on something.”
And did he finally kick the habit?
“I kicked it. But of course I am not going to poop on the party and say no if people are having a good time.”
For all the effervescent uncertainty it generates, The Feature leaves no doubt that this man has lived his dream. This is not to say that living one’s dream is always so hard as it sounds. After all, dreams have a way of taking over.
Another earlier project that gets a showing in The Feature is La Plage (1967), a fragment filmed on a beach in Morocco. Here a desolate stretch of bleached sand becomes an existential scene wherein Auder’s camera dwells on a beautiful young woman and a lean man, the filmmaker Donald Cammell. The couple flashes their naked parts to the camel and donkey drivers that pass by and try their best to ignore these Europeans. Thinking about the experience, Auder can’t seem to hide some surprise at his own past:
“Drifting around in Morocco for a month with Cammell and this model, whom we shared, eating cough syrup with codeine that makes you kind of dreamy, was something that happened in this world – but it was out of it too. It’s amazing to have lived such moments.”
Recall that, together with Nicholas Roeg, Donald Cammell was co-director of the feature film Performance (1968), starring Mick Jagger, James Fox, and Anita Pallenberg. Fox plays a goon from the London underworld who’s on the run from his boss. While waiting for his passage to the continent, he hides out in a cavernous Notting Hill mansion belonging to a shopworn rock star, played by Jagger. Staying there, Fox is sucked down in a schizophrenic spiral of black magic, sexual ambiguity, and split identities. Cammell and Roeg hired real gangland characters to help the actors with the authenticity of their performances. Marianne Faithfull, Jagger’s then partner, characterized Performance as “a psychosexual lab run by Cammell, with James Fox the prime experimental animal.” Cammell and Jagger would spike an unknowing Fox with acid and film him while he underwent “personality changes.”
Fox emerged shell-shocked after the film, took up fundamentalist Christianity, distributing pamphlets door to door. The next year, Mick Jagger went on to organize the Altamont rock festival, which would become infamous as one of the death knells of the Summer of Love. Pallenberg became a heroin addict. And Cammell, upon whom Hollywood never smiled again, shot himself in L.A. in 1996.
Apart from its obvious contempt for reality, Performance, and the reports that surround it, may seem to be marginal in relation to The Feature. But once you know about it, the darkness of Cammell’s story taints the celluloid Moroccan beach scene. It makes you think of two things. Firstly, considering all of those who fell to drugs, AIDS, or from their own hand, one feels happy that Auder got away in one piece. Secondly, it is an indication of how Auder’s incessant filming-while-hanging-out has made him a character witness: scratch the surface of one of his works and you’ll see that its densely stacked subtext is a seminar’s worth of subculture history and art world fables.
Like other independent filmmakers in the U.S. (particularly the two other New York greats, Jonas Mekas, and the Warhol of the ’60s), Auder has kept, throughout decades, his Portapak trained on those who are intent on struggling with life. He has done so indiscriminately, in a moral sense, without any assumptions other than the imperative to keep filming – and not always with a particular exhibition or project in sight (in fact, usually without). This is not art that believes itself capable of scooping up life and expressing it in a definitive form, but art that is pushed ahead by the energy of life.
The Feature does not belong in the tomb of a movie theatre. It is seems so alive that we should instead project it in broad daylight to let its characters spill out onto the streets. That Auder has had a pioneering role for both citizen journalism and a large strand of contemporary video art is obvious. In a sense, he baptized the lay recording devices that we grew up with: our digital camera, our home video, and the one in our cell phone. However, consistent with the democratic spirit of new technology, it is a role from which he refuses to capitalize. He is not the maestro; he is more like the guy in your corner bar with a digital camera (who is probably right now likely using it to the best of his abilities as some kind of sex toy). Auder stands by his freedom in the Nietzschean way: out of respect of life and creation, and fuelled by contempt for law and hierarchy.
“After seeing the film for the first time in a theater, at the Berlin film festival, I blurted to the audience that it should have been titled The Trailer rather than The Feature. This is only the beginning. Just wait and see what comes next. L’esprit d’escalier.”
This would be the necessary conclusion to his auto-biopic. It is the director’s cut, sure enough, but still only a preface. Can there ever be a final version of anyone’s life? Personally, I prefer to think that the camera is always rolling and the cutter is never quite done piecing it all together.
“I haven’t used it yet,” Auder says of some 30 hours of stock from the ’70s starring Warhol superstar Brigid Polk.
It’s as if to say the more of his past he has so the more of a future.
first published here: http://www.michelauder.com/
April 4, 2014
April 1, 2014
March 30, 2014
March 24, 2014
I searched for pain, and I found none.
In those enormous halls of the Louvre, I searched for reminders of the agony of the people from the Caribbean, from islands like Grenada, where the native people were entirely exterminated during the French colonial onslaught. I searched for at least one tear, one moan, one canvas saturated with sadness and remorse. I searched for confessions.
But I found none.
I was trying to catch a glimpse of the desperate, terrified facial expressions of North African women, dragged into some empty rooms, and raped brutally by French soldiers. I was looking for paintings depicting the torture of Vietnamese patriots, and their execution by decapitation, for nothing else other than fighting for freedom and for their fatherland, against the appalling French colonial rule.
No – I found nothing, nothing at all in the Louvre, or in any other major French museums.
I stood in front of bizarre, sick and cold religious artwork, full of adult looking, perverse baby Jesus’s, or of some saints with daggers sticking out grotesquely from their heads. It was mostly total kitsch, created to order from the Christian church – a morally corrupt religious entity responsible for the extermination of entire nations, of entire races, worldwide!
I could find no paintings depicting the destroyed people of Rapa Nui, no killing of Southeast Asians, Africans and the islanders from both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
I have searched and searched, for years, during my ever decreasing in frequency visits to that old and sick continent, responsible for dozens of holocausts on basically all the continents of the Earth.
Then, one day, recently, when I was presenting my documentary film (on Western-backed tyranny in Indonesia) at SOAS in London, I asked my mother, a renowned painter and cartoonist, to join me, and to search some more, just in case I have been missing, or overlooking, something substantial.
We spent days, crisscrossing several major museums in Paris, but we found nothing there, nothing in the Louvre.
Earlier we had found nothing in the State Gallery of Stuttgart.
And I found nothing in the Royal Academy of Art in London, or in the National Maritime Museum, or in the National Art Museum in London.
Not one excuse, not one apology, not a glimpse of remorse. I found no soul-searching, not even an enormous, erect, shouting question mark.
Brainwashed, corrupt and arrogant, European art has stood proud and unapologetic, unmoved by the suffering of those hundreds of millions of people who lost their lives because of those who patronized and funded most of the artists for centuries – the Christian Church, and the European political and economic establishment.
There has been no artwork depicting the torture and humiliation of entire nations; the vanishing of numerous great civilizations in Latin America… as there appeared to be no canvases illustrating entire Ukrainian villages burnt to ashes during WWII, or of the savage bombing of Leningrad, or of the medical experiments performed by German Nazis on human beings. Enormous canvases showing the holocaust against the Herero people of what is now Namibia were nowhere to be found.
I am not exaggerating, I honestly searched, but I found nothing remotely accusative, outraged, or furious at the Western torment of the world that has been going on for centuries, even millennia…
I found nothing brave or courageous, and nothing revolutionary whatsoever in the galleries of Stuttgart, or in the museums, exhibition halls, galleries of Paris and London.
I found no j’accuse. There was no scream and no agony, no suggestion that the West should be held responsible for all those crimes it has been committing. In all those European ‘temples of culture’ – all guilt was banished, as all the terror imposed on the world from Washington, London or Paris, was completely ignored.
I faced no images of the impact of the carpet-bombing on the Vietnamese villages, and no images depicting the rape of Algiers. I did not even see the suffering of Palestinian people – no artwork depicting it – or that total and quite well documented, recent destruction of countries like Libya, or Syria or the Democratic Republic of Congo.
On the paintings at the Tate Modern or at those countless Parisian galleries that I have been visiting, there were no images of women with their breasts cut off- a common occurrence during the Western-backed 1965 military/religious coup in Indonesia, which took at least one, but perhaps three million human lives – or of the women savagely gang-raped and mutilated in the DR Congo, where between six to ten million people have lost and are still losing their lives, in order to satisfy the unbridled greed of numerous Western companies, governments and consumers – greed for Coltan, Uranium, Diamonds and Gold.
Western art generously forgave everything; all the crimes committed by the Western Empire. Yes, everything is forgotten and forgiven… as it always is by the establishment itself; by the Western regime imposed so completely on our planet.
Bunches of forgiving blokes are now running museums and galleries. Stunningly ‘forgiving’, are the great majority of Western artists themselves, who are paid/rewarded generously and glorified relentlessly for such ‘bigheartedness’. Just as they always have been remunerated for centuries, because, they agreed to put form over the substance.
Just keep painting countless cans of mass-produced soup, while your country is murdering millions of innocent men, women and children, and you will be elevated to a deity, by the regime.
Because the regime and the art establishment are one single entity! And they don’t want you to be political, politicized, well informed, or angry with what your government is doing to the defenseless people of the world. And they don’t want you to, god forbid; suggest that the masses should be informed and outraged!
Just entertain, spread your colors on huge canvases, and enjoy all those great privileges!
During my life, I saw many; too many destroyed lives, I saw craters and burning cities, and I saw women – too many women – victims of savage rapes. I saw pain and despair scarring countless monstrous, overpopulated cities, as well as vast and impoverished countrysides. I saw misery and indescribable sorrow on all continents, and on too many occasions.
But during these last ten days in Europe, I saw many endless lines, numerous ovals, and squares. I saw orange triangles and pink dots, as well as fluorescent disconnected words and grotesque bizarre objects… and I saw meditations on space and on failed erections… on multiple orgasms and on rubbish, shit and gore.
I observed ego trips and psychedelic LSD visions. I witnessed sex in many different forms. I saw countless studies on parents and their children: conflict between different generations… I saw emptiness.
I found it difficult to recognize the world, in which I was living – to recognize it in the Louvre, in British museums, and in several German museums… As I previously found it difficult to recognize it in Spanish museums, in Belgian museums… and in hundreds of contemporary art galleries all over Europe…
Nothing appeared to be recognizable.
I was not asking, I would not dare to ask, for outright realism, or naturalism… I was not demanding Socialist Realism. For now I was only longing for at least some links between the ‘flights of insane fantasy’ and the universe inhabited by human beings… I was yearning for some sense and some logic, for something that could serve our humanity, something that could enrich and improve the lives of millions of people.
But all that was flying into my face, were vulgar and egocentric concepts; art for art’s sake… or some primitive and frivolous entertainment genres – the best allies of the Empire which was now willing to pay any amount of money just to convert human beings into some empty, emotionless and unthinking organisms.
For several long centuries, most West European art has been corrupt, prostituted and rendered toothless.
Lately, it has become out-rightly poisonous, anti-humanist and anti-human, deadly.
During those ten days that I spent in Europe searching for ‘courageous art’, I kept hunting for life, for real life, and for genuine feelings…
In between self-serving cacophonies of colour, I struggled to recognize some elements of great the Mexican murals and Soviet political posters… But there were no Diego Riveras and no Siqueiros.
Instead, there were countless phantasmagoric ego trips… There were lunacies and they were all supposed to entertain me, to impress me, to keep me floating in some abstract, cold but metallically cool, and always detached realm. But there was no strife for building a better world, no optimism, and enthusiasm, like in the great post-war paintings created in Vietnam, the Soviet Union and China.
Cynicism, detachment and selfishness – these were all promoted, paid for, and in vogue.
I desperately wanted to smell, I wanted to feel, to love fully and passionately, to hate, to struggle… I wanted all this, as almost every human being does want all this… as almost every man, woman and child wants to… even if secretly… even if shyly and subconsciously… in every society.
“We shall be returning to the simplest of the roses”, a great Czech poet Jaroslav Seifert wrote in his unforgettable poem.
But almost all simple roses seemed to be gone; they have disappeared, faded away.
Everything was diverting me, taking me far away from reality… The art was grotesquely mutating into a social media form, and it was having dirty brutal intercourse with the lowest grade of pop ‘culture’. I noticed that the colours were now increasingly fluorescent; while human lives were becoming increasingly blurry… before they began disappearing altogether in the distance… as they were decreasing in size and importance, as they were pushed further and further away… as it was becoming obvious that they were going to be gone, and disappear altogether… soon.
Modern European art was not dreaming about a ‘better world’. It was hardly offering any social criticism.
But has it ever?
It was not calling people to the barricades… It was not dreaming about overthrowing the fascist global regime.
But after days in the Louvre and in the National Art Gallery, I was coming to a chilling realisation – it never has… Not in Europe… It was whoring here… For as long as we can remember, ever since we have been able to monitor…
Drunk, in fact totally stoned from an excessive intake of European classic and modern art, I struggled to remain firmly on the surface of our mother Earth.
The art was everywhere, all around me, and much of it was now absolutely free, here in Europe… But most of it was clearly on some sort of sinister mission – to simplify reality, to mute and humiliate all honest, positive and constructive emotions, to depoliticize societies, and in the end, to push people away from thinking and feeling altogether.
Perhaps it would have been better to have no art at all, than such art as this!
What was it that European propaganda was criticizing Soviet or Chinese art for? I recall words like ‘censorship’, and ‘fear’!
The Louvre… Prado Museum… National Art Gallery… what else are those other than collections of incomparable and shameless orgies of submission, or servility, of cowardice, which would be inconceivable in any other culture on Earth?
Canvases of the Louvre: In horror, I observed the crawling infant Jesus depicted on every second painting… then crucifixions and of course countless resurrections… all with a frightening repetitiveness.
An image of baby Jesus with a perverse and adult face, crawling on the ground, while adults are watching with subservient admiration. There are images of some religious freaks with knives sticking out from their heads… There are bizarre angels flying, falling from the sky, fighting and threatening looking with their mean faces.
There are cardinals, bishops, and popes. And there are aristocrats, kings, governors and simply rich merchants who could afford to hire ‘big artists’. All that creative prostitution; all those paintings produced to order, forming the essence of European culture; of European art!
I walked with my mother from hall to hall. “Great technique”, she uttered sarcastically. Yes, I agreed, truly great technique… but the substance!
“All the might during those centuries was concentrated in the hands of the Church”, commented my mother. “The Church was much more powerful than the throne and the aristocracy. And the church of course employed the greatest masters, such artists as Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, and Rafael. And they were ready, happy, to be employed by the church, naturally, because the church paid them exquisitely, and because it was ‘protecting them’, making sure that they will not get burnt on the stake as so many others, and that they would not be tortured and murdered…. naturally, artists were not calling for rebellion, and there was no diversity of thought, no criticism of the system, or of the bestiality of the Christian dogma itself…”
In those years and centuries, Christianity murdered tens, hundreds of millions, of innocent people all over the world.
It financed ‘expeditions’ to what is now north and Latin America, to Africa, the Middle East, and to almost the whole of Asia.
Entire nations, countless great cultures were destroyed, and people of much more advanced civilizations, like the Inca, were forced to destroy their own identities, by ruining their own temples and dwellings, and then use the stones in order to erect monumental churches and cathedrals for the satisfaction of ruthless, merciless Christian invaders.
Where is all this being documented? Of course it can be seen in the great schools of painting: those of Peruvian Cusco and Ecuadorian Quito… but in the West?
Where in the Prado Museum in Madrid, are those sculptures and paintings depicting Christian barbarity? Where are those hundreds and thousands of artworks depicting Christian monstrosities: People being tortured for days and weeks, their bones broken on wheels, sharp objects inserted into their vaginas and rectums, men and women burnt on stakes? All this, so that they would admit that they are ‘sinners’, that they are ‘evil’? That it is justifiable to murder them without remorse.
Where are those artists who would have dared to depict the results of the crusades – the bestiality, and the looting committed in the name of the cross? They are nowhere to be found – as they were all cozily copulating with the church, as they were paid by the church, and corrupted by the church!
Where are the paintings showing full Christian coffers, stretched from booty? And again, where are the images of the millions of victims, decapitated, cut to pieces, with their eyes poked out, tortured on stakes, burnt alive?
I walked slowly through the endless halls and corridors of French, Spanish, British and German museums. And I saw nothing, nothing at all, depicting crimes, genocides and holocausts committed by the most evil institution that ever existed on this earth; the most evil institution of all times – the Christian church.
This church, this horrific establishment which has been intimidating, scaring, and torturing billions of people worldwide, for millennia, is still ‘morally’ and ‘intellectually’ in control of the most powerful and the most destructive country on earth: the United States of America.
And it is still forming the cultural essence of Europe. It is – until now it still is!
In Europe, the majority of people may not go to churches, anymore, and it may not believe in Christian dogma… it may not believe in the religions at all, but its ‘culture’ is clearly shaped by aggressiveness, ruthlessness and the brutality of the Christian church and its realm.
It is not that ‘people kidnapped good religion and made it monstrous’ – it is religion that brainwashed people, entire nations, turning them into intolerant, bigoted murderers. But search for such thoughts on the canvases in the Louvre…
I saw almost no ‘dissident’ works in any of the major museums of Europe.
I felt shame. And I felt horror at the monolithic essence of such spinelessness.
I was walked through the Louvre and through the National Gallery in London, blushing like a little boy.
How could this ‘culture’ criticize great artists in China or Russia, or Latin America? How could such a submissive and cowardly culture dare to criticize anything or anybody at all?
There, in Latin America and Asia, art has been standing tall; it has been at the vanguard of all changes, of progress!
Even in Indonesia, the greatest post-war painter is Djokopekik… My friend Djokopekik… An ‘outrageous’ political artist, with a fabulous heart on the left politically, with guts and endless courage… He used to be a former prisoner of conscience in the Western-backed jails of fascist, post-1965 Indonesia… A painter who immortalized Suharto as a swine, and former President – Megawati – as a puppet! And his own, brainwashed, indoctrinated nation, as a horde of monkeys!
Where are those ‘brave’ European ‘masters’? Where are they, damn it!
Paintings, murals, posters, songs, theatre and cinema – they have all been struggling and attempting to improve societies in many parts of Asia and Latin America, even in Africa. How socially-oriented the greatest Latin American and Chinese art is! How empty, submissive, irrelevant, is art in the West!
In Venezuela, Brazil, in Ecuador and Bolivia, in Cuba, Chile and Nicaragua, art is offering both beauty and hope; it is searching for new directions for their societies. So many songs that are sang there are deep, poetic, with stunning lyrics and music. So many of them are ‘engaged’.
The art in the West is now trying to cover up, by its complex curves and uneven squares, its total impotence, its moral emptiness, as well as the frightening brutality of European and North American culture.
As I walked through Paris, from the Sorbonne University to the Musee Quai Branly (the one that the French wanted to name, originally and arrogantly, as the “Museum of Primitive Arts”), I passed literally hundreds of art galleries.
In those days, the West had been, as I described in several of my recent essays, involved in a deliberate and determined attempt to destroy almost all the countries and governments that were still resisting its fascist grip on the global power.
‘Opposition’ movements were consistently manufactured in North America and Europe, and then implanted into Venezuela, China, Ukraine, Russia, Eritrea, Cuba, Bolivia, Brazil, and Zimbabwe, and to numerous other nations, on all continents. The Arab Spring has been literally derailed and bathed in blood, as the fascist and pro-Western military juntas have been arresting and murdering the opposition, and former revolutionaries.
I saw not one reflection of this reality in the galleries of Paris!
At one gallery I observed several metal dogs on long metal leashes that were sticking out into space… I was confronted by hundreds of pop topics, ranging from Italian sausages, nude girls and Frankenstein…
On Rue Mazarine, I was expected to admire several black garbage bags and one carton box… and then much the same in countless galleries of Quai Voltaire, only with more subdued and expensive finishing.
By now, France was heavily involved in almost all of its former African colonies. It has been playing as distractive a role on African continent, as the United States.
But you would never guess it from its visual art – from its museums and galleries!
It was all totally intellectually empty… It was finished… indifferent… and embarrassing. There were almost no dissident voices that were audible.
I was instinctively longing to escape from the Parisian art scene, as I, two days earlier, literally ran away from the National Gallery in London, ‘cornered’ by Juan de Valdez Leal and his “Immaculate Conception of the Virgin, with Two Donors”, and the portrait of a pompous and obviously well paid Don Adrian Pulido Pareja, painted by Juan Bautista Martinez de Mazo.
I ran earlier, two years ago, from Brussels, where I kept stumbling over another ‘great artwork’ – statues of the King Leopold II, a true Belgian hero, who ordered the slaughter of a total of ten million Congolese people at the beginning of the 20th century – those who were accused of being too slow while working on his rubber plantation. The typical form of killing was the chopping off hands, but millions were also burnt alive, after being locked in their huts. Confronted by such deeds, one can hardly argue against the refinement and greatness of Christian and European culture!
Statues of Sir Winston Churchill and Lloyd George, those jolly good blokes who murdered millions of ‘those niggers’ in the Middle East and Africa, are also considered as masterpieces of European art, not to speak of the sculptures of dozens of the vile monsters responsible for genocides in the Americas – those that dot both Madrid and Lisbon. And there is no graffiti in Europe that would add at least some color to those gray and bronze ‘masterpieces’, like: “assassins!”
Frankly, ten days of hunting for meaningful European art exhausted and depressed me to the extreme.
I came there to search, once again, for truth, but I found centuries of accumulated propaganda, layer after layer – piling on top of each other.
This was perhaps my last attempt, as I had already spent years and decades studying Western art, crisscrossing Europe and North America, visiting museums, galleries, concert halls, opera houses, as well as all sorts of tunnels decorated by graffiti. It was time to accept the obvious conclusions, and to dedicate my time to something more meaningful.
I searched for kindness, but I found intimidation, fear, and brutality.
I searched for answers to all those horrors that were spread by the Western way of thinking… I found only pompous sculptures and canvases, repetitive and made to order.
There were some, very few, painters, like Otto Dix in Germany, or the Norwegian Munch. These two at least managed to show the tremendous fear that has been spread by Christianity, the hypocrisy and perversions of Western dogmas.
At Tate Modern, in London, there was a substantial exhibition of Soviet poster art. And at the Pompidou Center in Paris, I visited a huge and impressive exhibition of Henry Cartier-Bresson, which confirmed, once again, that one of the greatest photographers of all times was actually a Marxist and very close friend of both the Soviet Union and Communist China.
But these were clearly some exceptions, and most of them were like an echo from the past. It is a well known fact that Western art exploded out for three decades after the WWII, attempting to join humanity… Yes, it exploded, but it burned itself quickly, way too quickly! Emptiness and soullessness quickly returned.
As the world has been, once again, screaming in pain; as neo-colonialism has again been murdering tens of millions of men, women and children in Africa, Asia and the Middle East (but also in such places as Venezuela, Egypt and Ukraine), Western art continued to do what it did best, for centuries – painting absolute shit, and strictly to order.
Be it the church, the throne, the merchants or now the multi-national corporations or conservative governments – European and North American artists are ready to serve them all loyally, as long as there is an uninterrupted flow of dough! And they are ready to compete for this money, and to even cut each other throats.
They are eager, ‘technically and artistically capable’ to deliver anything that would stop progress, to cover up all those monstrous crimes of religion, business and the state. They are ready to turn their trade into a deadly weapon, to stir people away from conscience, from rational thinking, from compassion, even from love and from basic kind human instincts and feelings.
The fluorescent lights, and huge art installations filled with plastic straws and blinking lights for idiots – that is what it is all coming down to.
Billions of those who are starving to death and living in a gutter, matter nothing. They do not pay – therefore they do not exist.
Andre Vltchek is a novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. His discussion with Noam Chomsky On Western Terrorism is now going to print. His critically acclaimed political novel Point of No Return is now re-edited and available. Oceania is his book on Western imperialism in the South Pacific. His provocative book about post-Suharto Indonesia and the market-fundamentalist model is called “Indonesia – The Archipelago of Fear”. He has just completed the feature documentary, “Rwanda Gambit” about Rwandan history and the plunder of DR Congo. After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and Africa. He can be reached through his website or his Twitter.
first published here: http://www.mediachannel.org/shameful-cowardly-european-art/
March 29, 2014
March 28, 2014
reviewed by Helge Janssen
Helgé Janssen: Lee’s latest work brings contemporary art up to speed, while being revisionist in its execution.
Amongst a collection of individual works (one of which is an outstanding self-portrait) are six sets of celebratory triptychs, paying homage to growth, transformation and realisation. This triumph of consciousness is no mean feat.
Lee Scott is a lecturer in the Fashion and Textile programme at the Durban University of Technology where she teaches drawing and illustration, printing technologies and supervises post graduate students. This has informed her interest in contemporary culture, which has infused her art.
Lee’s ability to look at the past (be it personal or impersonal) and to glean what is valuable, and to hence develop her strengths, is what sets her on a unique and integrated artistic path. Her work is not just about technique: it is about engagement beyond the self into a perceived collective experience. This ‘perceived experience’ is experiential and unashamedly subjective but that subjectivity has been processed through the artist’s intuitive grasp of current political affairs, the evolution of female emancipation, the process of healing the wounded psyche of our apartheid past, giving credence to psychological perceptions and transformations – all of which resonate within the collective unconscious.
I last encountered Lee’s work at her “daily narratives” exhibition held at the DUT Art Gallery (2012). Here the vital point was the realisation that when people tell their story – prompted by pictographic cards which are used as triggers – and that they are being heard – they become humans with less anxiety; they become individuals as opposed to being swamped by perceptions of bland categorisations which is always dangerous in an unaware/uneducated political context. In telling their story, people become people via shared emotions: pain, laughter, trauma, victories. That exhibition formed a vital link in the understanding of the continuing transition from post-apartheid trauma to a mature democracy.
Lee’s latest work, her references and symbolism, cover a vast array of histories, evolutions, growths and, essentially, incorporations! Lee’s intrigue with life-as-her-guide, accompanied by an expansive consciousness does not allow her to see change as threat but rather as growth and stimulus – would our general population please follow suit?
I have always been in awe of Lee’s ability to dress (layer) her work. Rather than just be satisfied with painterly technique, she has constructed her paintings via an influence of ‘installation’ (construction, design, placing, cut-outs, anarchic combinations reminiscent of the Dadaists and famously popularised by William S. Burroughs) while at the same time giving expression within her radar for ‘instillation’ (focus, compassion, thoughtfulness, integrity). This ‘assemblage’ and ‘remix’ invites the viewer into her expansive narrative and hence her articulation or current influences. Lee’s work is thus firmly framed (forgive the pun for Lee *mostly* eschews the frame) within a socio/political context.
For me, the pièce de résistance of this exhibition and is a break-through work, is “Divided”: while the space between the two silhouettes (strongly resonating with the burgeoning EFF?) creates the wholeness of the image, that image is an image which speaks of many things: the necessary fusion of black and white, while still being divided; the need for space to create the whole; how we (South Africans) are all part of an intricate puzzle: that the puzzle need not mean the need for a perfect fit, but rather a willingness to associate; through this association there is meaning i.e. the whole image takes shape… and I could go on… and is possibly a message to the EFF to please get it right?
I am fascinated at Lee’s use of shadow in particular. Some paintings have a shadow painted on them (the black outline) and the silhouette of the cut out creates a shadow on the gallery wall. This ‘double shadow’ thus gives a subliminal prod to the ever-present ‘double consciousness’ that Lee speaks of in her ‘artist statement’ release notes. The one consciousness is dealing with array of everyday functional matters, and the other is the artists consciousness that expands into her rich imagery.
This latest showing at ArtSpace, Umgeni Road, Durban entitled “Fusion: Routes and Roots” is thus a must see exhibition and is not to be missed by any person interested in the development and contribution that Durban artists are making to the national art scene.
Multimedia performance artist and freelance Journalist
084 764 0794
first published here: http://www.artlink.co.za/news_article.htm?contentID=35011
March 27, 2014
March 22, 2014
March 21, 2014
March 20, 2014
March 19, 2014
March 17, 2014
March 16, 2014