Category Archives: postmodernism

Sublime Now

Though it’s impossible to discuss sublime today without historical references, I would like to use these to contradict the traditional denotations.

The term has its background in the ancient rhetorics, then – mainly through eighteenth-century Western-European philosophy it establishes itself firmly as an aesthetic concept, functioning along and in an opposition to other terms within the area like: beautiful, tragic, humorous, profane, ugly etc.

Yet, it’s probably worth to emphasize that, strangely enough, in E. Burke’s and I. Kant’s understanding the Sublime never fits into criteria of metaphysical or ontological phenomenon (or entity) – it simply exists in a beholder’s mind as a powerful yet transient, fleeting psychological and spiritual reaction, an emotion, feeling of sublime. From a historical point of view is interesting to see how the dialectics of the sublime, used by two great ontologists fits into the nature of the phenomenological school of thought, which is both specifically twentieth-century and opposed to metaphysics discipline. It seems that the concept under discussion never fully integrates into a traditional philosophical inquiry – being more Dionysian than Apollonian in its nature – the sublime is born from paradoxes, it’s based on these and – if it functions in any universal form (out of a beholder’s mind) – it probably takes the form of  an ontological oxymoron, an enigma – as unnerving as it is alluring.

Looking forward to the modern and postmodern times one may be easily dazzled by its potential to embody and to convey the sublime to an intensity not possible ever before. After ‘growing out’ of the Great Romantics’ idealistic enthusiasm on the matter, in the ‘after-God” era when the sublime cannot be simply mistaken for a religious/mystical experience, facing the challenges of  the shattered, discontinuous, idiolects and antitheses – based world, reaching scientific and technological heights difficult to imagine even few decades before – the humankind not longer chases but seems to meet on a regular basis that great oxymoron – the sublime.

It takes many forms and definitions – from the A. Hitchcock’s and C. Jung’s shadows then – G. Lucas’s astriferous epics, from Big Brother’s house grotesque and through the war/terrorism-rooted atrocities to Barrack’s Obama intense political charisma – Burke’s mind-expanding ‘negative pain’ and Kant’s ‘indefinite’ yet desired dread is as indisputably a part of the contemporary condition as Aristotle’s catharsis had to be for ancient Greeks.

Andreas Gursky’s photos, which  embrace the traditional understanding of the sublime as the vast, terrifying, annihilating, formless, liminal etc. and the ultra-modern embodiment of it in digitally mastered photographs of a postmodern – globalized and impersonal universe.

His approach would be that of a shock-therapy and a direct, uncompromising attack – perhaps the best way of a defense against the audacity and the… ridicule of the contemporary sublime.

Both Gursky’s work gives a picture of a formidable, limitless, always deeply confusing, often ugly and grotesque, sometimes eerily attractive spectacle, some sort of Baudrillard’s hypo-reality , and the ancient Roman bloody games – the reality, we live in today.

In Chicago Board of Trade II (above) human beings are nothing more than annoyingly numerous, uniform, yet nicely coloured dots, the well-rehearsed pixels; while in 99 Cents (above, 2) the supermarket goods take their place – and guess what? – one can hardly notice any substantial difference…

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Deleuze and Guattari’s flesh-appeal…

Well, these thinkers are not for faint-hearted or narrow-minded; they not even for those rebellion-minded and lion-hearted…They are someone between and beyond, the very dismissal of any signification or categorization right in the core of their beliefs…

How did I fall for D&G’s double charm? Typically perhaps – via theirs passionate pupils and followers. Manuel Delanda’s lectures at the European Graduate School (below) have slapped me right across my safe, familiar thinking waking me up to a world of another possibility – that there are still highly inspirational thoughts and theories resonating from within the contemporary philosophy – those compelling enough to alter one’s perception of things… And I thought that after Sartre’s death few decades ago it was rather impossible to experience that thrill again…

Then I started to read their whimsical yet carefully crafted theories; seasoned generously with the idiosyncratic concepts, which I could not grasp intelligibly even the half of…It took me some time to get the very principle of the philosophy – that is meant to be on the opposite of the ‘proper’ and classical reasoning, that the fact that is seems to grow in all different directions at the same time, fluctuating with co-existent possible readings – that is – what is was designed to be… Not that easily accepted for anyone nurtured on the great, perfectly logical and systematic systems of thought – if you remove one part from them – they fall; if you get one concept – others add on like letters of an alphabet…

Not in D&G’s world though – here the system is anti-hierarchical, not ABC code but rather ASDFG… riddle (letters of your keyboard, second row)… Their called it the ‘rhizomatic’ reasoning – horizontal, open and multi-centered. Just like the chosen organic structure – the thought multiplies in a semi-random pattern of many possible threads springing from the one common source; yet no one can predict which, if any of the threads will survive, or will become the satellite-wombs for another ideas to be born…

Perhaps the easier way to introduce the thought of the two French thinkers is to contra pose the old, classical concept of the ‘body’ with the one of the ‘flesh’. The Greek ‘body’ is the self-contained, dignified object of an admiration – an epitome of beauty and epiphany of the transcendent divine order – just as their thought used to be. The ‘flesh’ is more primitive and Hebrew (‘Bible’ originated) – it’s shapeless, featureless and extremely vulnerable; it’s a place of suffering and weakness – it’s extremely human – it’s so human that it becomes… animal…

D&G’s philosophy is the one of the ‘flesh’ – of a formless lack and a painful transformation, of a celebrated dis-unity and perpetual ‘becoming’. It’s a difficult, yet strangely soothing proposition for someone trying to make sense of the contemporary times…

It’s an anti-philosophy after all, if one keeps up with the rigid standards; that’s why it’s been struggling to sink into the academic grounds – right now it gets more of the deserved attention, with the esoteric texts being translated from French and commentaries being published… Still it remains mostly inaccessible in Polish ( I guess in many other languages too), too bad – over two decades after the original publications…

It’s a remotely optimistic vision for the remotely optimistic times of ours… I hope to present some of its aspects in the posts, which will follow…


Contemporary Art (9) Nathalie Djurberg

Nathalie Djurberg (b. 1978 BirthLysekil, Sweden) – young multimedia artist, lives and works in Berlin. She has won the Silver Lion for a Promising Young Artist at this year’s 53rd Venice Biennale. She was awarded for her multimedia installation “Experiment” (above – first photo shows the work still in progress).

Gothic, rich, visceral and provocative work of this girl could not to leave any mark on the viewers’ collective and individual consciousness. I met people who hated it, yet still remained under its dark spell respecting the way this artist had teased their common sense of civilized, dignified beings.

Djurberg’s theater of absurd – devil’s Eden of huge, colorful wax vegetation was seasoned with caves of screens where the true drama of life, lust, violence and death went on over and over again. Sounds were those of some tribal ‘mysteria’ inter-weaved with some primordial  sub-resonance of deep earthy tones which went on creeping into one’s unconscious. Child-like fascination with this chaotic, pre-rational microcosm battled with one’s impulse to treat the entire spectacle as pure fiction, a theater performance with no or little valid reference to the ‘real’ life outside that extravaganza…

Nothing more deceptive… Djurberg’s worldview is hyper-real and indulgent in parts – indeed – yet it’s much more realistic in its portrayal of the human nature and the Nature in itself than many works of so-called ‘Realism’ in art, where polite and dull landscapes or family portraits were given to the public as the ‘truthful’ depiction of life and man…

‘It’s a strange world’ and ‘Owls are not what they seem’… Let’s Breughel’s, Goya’s, the Romantics and the Surrealists’ dreams go on …


Contempotary Art (8) Chris Marker

Chris Marker (b. Neuilly-sur-Seine, France 1921) – actual  name: Christian François Bouche-Villeneuve – multimedia artist, photographer, film director, writer. Lives in Paris and does not grant interviews. When asked for a picture of himself, he usually offers a photograph of a cat instead (so far as the gossip says). His cat is named Guillaume-en-egypte. (See more details in my previous post here: http://wp.me/p8s8b-66)

Creator of: La Jetée (1962), A Grin Without a Cat (1977), Sans Soleil (1983) and AK (1985) a documentary on Akiro Kurosawa. From the recent projects: in 2005 Marker created a multimedia piece for The Museum of Modern Art in New York titled Owls at Noon Prelude: The Hollow Men (influenced by T.S. Elliot’s poem); in 2008: Immemory – an interactive video produced  by Centre Pompidou, created out of fascination by digital technology. 

Marker is as enigmatic, brilliant and witty in his collages above as he would be behind his directorial camera viewfinder. One simply cannot get enough of this artist’s vision – it escapes one’s full comprehension and intuitive potential. It’s a one-man world-view, a singularity which resists any thorough penetration. A beauty and power of human uncanniness captured into a compelling, enthrilling  visual extravaganza. Just keep exploring…

Site about Marker’s view of the world:  Chris Marker


Raffi Lavie: ‘In the Name of the Father’

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Raffi Lavie (1937-2007) Late Israeli artist representing Israel at the 53rd International Biennale in Venice.

A painter, educator, art critic, music connoisseur, and curator. The most central, charismatic figure in the art scene in Israel for the past four decades until his death in 2007.

Influenced by Paul Klee, Jean Dubuffet, and Robert Rauschenberg, as well as by local artists such as Aviva Uri and Arie Aroch, he introduced the avant-garde of his time to Israel by adapting its components into a local discourse. Lavie was the founder of the “10+” group which started its activities in 1965 in a series of theme exhibitions that brought home current international trends.

He was also the key figure in the style that formed around him in the 1970s, which would become known as the “Want of Matter” due to its adherence to inexpensive, ascetic materials such as plywood, and the use of collage; a style associated with the city of Tel Aviv, conveying urban, secular, local values untainted by the narratives of any given ideology.

In some respects, Lavie succeeded in distilling an Israeli aesthetic; by giving it form, he reaffirmed the ethos of the place. His genius stems from the fact that his art reflects our values, ideals, and aspirations that have gone awry. An exhibition of Raffi Lavie’s work at the present Biennale attests to the yearnings invoked by his art, forcing us to question what is it that we wish to remember, and why this therapeutic memory has the taste of urgency.

Observing Lavie’s works, two qualities stand out: the child-like painting, and the obsessive erasure of images via scribbling, carving, and generous color strokes. These practices are connected to his perception of the periphery’s double role as an actual place and as a spiritual dimension. The acts of erasing and starting anew are closely related to Lavie’s cultural heritage as an Israeli and a Jew. Working from within a scopophobic tradition, far-removed from any center, he created an idiosyncratic language, specific to the place, its needs, and desires. (Biennale Information Note on the painter)

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Despite of bearing similarities and invoking comparisons to other artists and trends in the contemporary art (mostly to Cy Twomby, abstract expressionist art or Outsiders Art) Lavie’s works stand out as singularities – created outside the mainstream of art-world, by an alpha – individual, they got that sort of an authority and idiosyncrasy about them, which makes them both commanding and closed to any simplified, superficial reading.

When I entered the Israeli Pavilion in Giardini I saw these works as a manifest of pure, raw creativity without any superfluous conceptual or political scaffolding around them. Their  predominant whites and reds brought to mind the troubled history of the land they were created in, the simplicity of the technique and modest materials (plywood) had the power of some explosives, instead of undermining the message. Some of the paintings were arranged on a wall as a sort of an assemblage in paint telling a story perhaps, or just supporting each other in the common struggle for the survival in viewers’ eyes and minds.

All that felt fresh and inspiring after some hours spent in the national pavilions of the 53rd Biennale. I saw Raffie Lavie as one of those really good artists, which are rare to be found nowadays, partly because they don’t necessary seek any wider recognition. I read his paintings as a personal statement, personal one-man exhibition and as a comment on his and his land human condition. A that was a sort of a relief to experience in Venice, among the sea of (just) entertaining, ‘smart’, in parts dull and often painfully self-conscious art about art…


‘Making Worlds’ by losing your way…

That is a surprisingly romantic title for an enormous international art show – ‘Making Worlds – Fare Mondi’… Right from the day it was announced I knew I got to see it.

In a strange way that name referred to my own idea of art as a device for creating universes, for inventing new realities and new ways of perception of what is ‘known’ and ‘familiar’… To see how very different artists from tens of countries address this very issue right now; and to experience it in one place within only few days of an intense take – that sounded like a dream-come-true opportunity.0

Then I made my way to Venice… A group of us – final year fine art students – we spent half of a night and most of a day getting ourselves from a tiny, misty Irish airport right to an artistic epicenter of the 53rd Biennale. And then – the true challenge had begun… Being a first time visitor to Venice – one has to invent ways – quick and efficient:  of avoiding crowds, of finding ways in an omnipresent maze of lanes and canals, of keeping cool when faced with a wondrous strangeness and beauty of the place and, finally – to get the most (and the best) of the shows presented – tens of them blown around the city like some erratic parts of a huge machinery; often in places that even locals found difficult to find…

I can be pretty sure not to be the first and the last of the 53rd Biennale visitor, who was immensely tempted to dismiss the entire pandemonium and to spend some quality time in one of the Irish or English pubs; just drinking some wine and staring at Venetian light reflected from the Grand Canal… So tempting…

Anyway, I went through it all in a less indulgent way, which means: I stuffed myself, my cameras and my notebook with the visions of ‘Making Worlds’… Facing it all, and reflecting on it afterward looking for a compendium, links and any order – that is a sort of making yet another world – so diverse, rich and demanding the whole experience is. Yet, it does not necessary mean, that the Biennale was/is a miraculous, creative Wonderland…quite to the contrary – but by its intrinsic qualities like the size, inter-nationality and the inherited prestige – it’s born to leave a clear mark on one’s artistic psyche; not matter how critical and contemptuous one becomes when addressing it.

Making Worlds… artistic (and curatorial!) calling, duty, obsession, wonder and a doom. Nothing more self-indulgent, nothing more pretentious. Nothing more marvelous, nothing more risky. In fact, I don’t personally believe that the most of Birnbaum’s show has stood up to its own challenge… And instead of some down-spine shivers and wide-opened eyes browsing a miracle of some new-born, never seen before worlds – one had to chew up, once again, the same familiar concepts and interventions  cooked and served in a way, which anyone even mildly accustomed to the history of the contemporary art has to know by heart by now…

In other words, there was a chance-taking, adventure -seeking, alternative-supporting attitude bitterly missing in all the curatorial effort of this Biennale. Each show of this type is a sort of an authorship (sometimes – dictatorship); but if a good author hides his strings he is pulling to make his personal vision to be appreciated, Birnbaum made it all too predictable and dull as a whole. One has to allow to risk it all, to be completely lost in order to make entire world out of this self-implied or provoked chaos. There is no other way of creating new world than the one which faces chaos and a gulf; otherwise we got ‘re-making’ old worlds or ‘recycling’ the existing, but worn out ones…

I lost my way dozens of times in Venice. Venice is the space to be lost and to be found, and this very process goes in circles and in-finitum… One has to throw away all maps, one has to trust his instincts and follow no path other than the one which cuts across the old ones instead of re-drawing them…

Making worlds is the most human of all human dwellings… And it is possible, yet not easy – to make a new world out of this too-familiar, too-excessive, too-indulgent entropy of art today.  By losing one’s way in it – one will find the way out of it…


Contemporary Art (7) – Marlene Dumas

“My best works are erotic displays of mental confusions (with intrusions of irrelevant information).”

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Marlene Dumas (b. 1953, Cape Town) – one of the most important, influential figurative painters working today.

With Dumas one may easy get into a trap of ‘an infatuated viewer’. Trap she has crafted herself – deliberately or not- it is working well, and blinding all those moths that had dared to approach these paintings too close, well beyond the line of their personal zones…

They are there to seduce, to spit at taboo, to provoke, to lit the flames of all sorts of powerful emotions… Embodied femmes fatales, dark and alluring, doomed and the born survivors…

To form any theoretical apparatus for Dumas’ work is a waste of time. Yet, it doesn’t mean the paintings are irrational. Quite opposite is true – to experience them means to approach them with some sort of a keen intelligence, yet it’s a special kind of intelligence; even not the emotional one – more sensual, passionate one… And some deeply fleshly logic has to be put to hard work… Painted with brooding, intense sensations they reveal themselves under the touch of a viewer’s neurological stir…

As paintings-artworks they are deliciously painterly and ardent in execution. Paint is being laid (poured) loosely and in a number of visceral, beautifully transparent layers; highly expressive marks co-exist with a smooth, detailed finish in one part or another. The overall impression is that of a juicy, bitter-sweet forbidden fruit – to be taken of left behind….

Mmmm…


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