Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Nightmare World

More art today, Bush. Sorry. I trust I'm not boring you. But here's something that goes beyond the narrow boundaries of high art, so I though it might be of interest. We sae a performance art piece yesterday, and most of our group were so adamant in their negative opinion that I thought it would be worth writing about.

We don't much like to be confronted with the worst parts of ourselves. Those parts that we hide, repress, deny. We like to keep our world in order, nice and neat, and we tend to get pissed off or offended when anything happens to upset that order.

These thoughts occur this morning because everyone in our group of art enthusiasts chose to condemn the performance by Jonathan Meese, a German artist included in SITE SANTA FE. It was undoubtedly tasteless, vulgar, sophomoric, obscene, grotesque--perhaps even pointless and insulting to the intelligence. I happened to love it.

I loved it precisely because it spoke to the naughty little boy in me--the one that to this day resists the toilet training that the adult world conspires to subject me to. I loved it because it enacted my own worst nightmares about myself, in a world gone mad. I loved it because it probed, uncomfortably, into those areas of my consciousness, as a human being, that are the leasrt acceptable to me.

I like to think of myself as a reasonable person, and Meese's performance embodied Unreason. Earlier in the day, in our guided tour of the SITE exhibition, we had been introduced to his art by Klaus Ottmann, the curator. The huge, formless and distinctly unbeautiful painting and the two chunky sculptures of somewhat revolting "deities" that flanked it were a mockery of all gods, Ottmann pointed out, whether political, cultural, or religious.

It's disconcerting to have our sacred idols mercilessly attacked--those beliefs about ourselves, our world, our convictions, our sexuality that we have constructed for our comfort and well-being. When attacked, our first response is to put up our defenses and repel the invader. This, I believe, is what happened in our group response to the Meese performance. It provoked all those rational judgments we use to defend our dearly-held beliefs.

One of the recurring themes of the performance was that "art is a self-fulfilling prophecy." At its most provocative best, art is what holds the mirror up for us to see ourselves. If sometimes it shows usd parts of ourselves that we don't want to see--and certainly don't want anyone else to see--so much the better in my view. That's when we start to learn about ourselves. We need only to push through the revulsion and ask ourselves about its deeper source.

One more thing: a teacher I once had as a graduate student many years ago impressed me enormously with his argument that, in a world abandoned by the gods, the closest we can come to tradegy is farce. Farce takes us to the limits of our need for control, where fate--or whatever name you want to give that force beyond ourselves--takes over and slaps us mercilessly in the face with its oversized brickbat; where the clown cimbs into the car, and the car explodes. Where reasonable expectation ends and the uncomfortable, essentially uncontrollable realities of life begin. In classical tragedy, the hero has the hubris to assert himself against these powers, and gets his comeuppance at the end. The gods win out. They prove their superior power. In farce, no gods. The hero is the clown, his fate is the inexplicable revenge of the absurd. It's the way we choose to take the sting out of our nightmares: when it's too painful to cry, we laugh instead.

So, Bush, there you go. We probably don't see eye to eye on the matter of the gods, but I'm with Meese. I believe they're more trouble than they're worth.

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