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John Grant – GMF from Chris Clarke on Vimeo.

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R.I.P.–Peter Maxwell Davies–8 September 1934 – 14 March 2016

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blackstar arrives vinylly

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R.I.P.–a public catafalque, as requested–David Bowie 8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016

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Undivided

join

in loving

transformation

here

answer terror

and hate

with

lust

for life

for a humanity

undivided

by fear

Lingis –

“lust surges through a body

in transubstantiation”

loving transformation is

transubstantiation

when “in the midst of social transactions,

there is contact with the substance of the other,

and lust

breaks through”

(Alphonso Lingis)

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Arvo Pärt, Robert Wilson

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please share with every body

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l’imagination au pouvoir: the theory of modern art & the crucial “Giorgione effect” according to Enrique Vila-Matas

When back in May ’78 I was able to interview Salvador Dalí in his Cadaqués house, the painter kept going on about a Venetian painting: “A while ago, just before you arrived, I was looking again at Giorgione’s Tempest. There is a soldier, and a naked woman holding a baby. It is a pivotal painting, though our fellow countrymen don’t know it.”

The Illogic of Kassel, 2015, by Enrique Vila-Matas, p. 158

The Tempest, Giorgione, 1506–1508

[Strangely enough, this painting too is a theme in the great English experimental novelist, Nicholas Mosley’s Metamorphosis. He wrote the novella in 2014, aged 91. Like his masterpiece, Hopeful Monsters, written in 1990, it affirms the force of biological mutation in metamorphosis and is as optimistic about the future of life and of human life through transformation as Enrique Vila-Matas is about the future of art in transforming itself with life.]

…that interview with Dalí unexpectedly took on greater depth when I read by chance Mallarmé’s recommendation to Édouard Manet that is for some the founding statement of the art of our time: “Paint, not the thing, but the effect it produces.”

I immediately thought of Manet’s The Railway, that painting that dumbfounded critics of the time. In it, a young mother looks at us, while her daughter stares at the plume of steam from a passing train.

– Vila-Matas, ibid., p. 159

The Railway, Édouard Manet, 1873

[This scene, as described, without the steam, is repeated in A Man in Love, the second volume of his life story, called My Struggle, by Karl Ove Knausgaard, an avowed art-lover, who speaks of how a painting can make him cry where the events of life do not. At once the proximity of these themes will be discerned to the European cultural and political tragedy of mid-twentieth century totalitarianism, of which Vila-Matas is at first sentimentally aware and to which, in his encounter with what has become by 2012 of the avant-garde at Documenta, he later unsentimentally reconciles himself.]

la réminiscence archéologique de l’Angelus de Millet, Salvador Dalí, 1935

In the foreground, the little girl has her back to us. In the background, there’s the great cloud of smoke that the train has left as it chugs through the center of Paris.

I noticed that the structure of The Railway reminded me of Giorgione’s The Tempest. Looking it up, I saw I was not mistaken, may people had said the same. And then I thought if only Manet’s picture had an actual trace of what someone had done before. A sketch or a hint of Giorgione would allow us to see the direct connection between the two, in the same way Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase would acquire greater depth if it contained an actual trace of Manet on the canvas. And might it not be that Dalí, lost in a very dark Spain, wanted to bequeath to me that day the effect that introduced modernity, the crucial Giorgione effect?

Se non è vero, è ben trovato, Dalí was known to say. That was, in fact the expression he quoted to me in that interview when I told him that his book [Le mythe tragique de l’Angélus de Millet] formed a sort of “obligatory perimeter,” while leaving free in the center of language a great “shore of imagination,” perhaps with no other object than for us to play on it. To this Dalí  replied that his wife Gala, when she read the book, had said: It would be great if what he wrote were true, but if in the end it turned out not to be, the book would be greater still.”

– Vila-Matas, ibid., p. 159

L’atavisme du crépuscule, Salvador Dalí, 1933

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because after this Enrique Vila-Matas writes…

…during these minutes I was able to think things over and put an end to any further queistions I might still ask myself about the possible, or impossible, relationship between innovative art and a bottle of perfume belonging to a Nazi woman, about the possible relationship between innovative art and our historical past and present. … It had become clear to me that art and historical memory were inseparable.

Any activity connected to the avant-garde – assuming the avant-garde still existed (which I doubted more with each passing hour) – must never lose sight of the political dimension: one that required us to bear in mind that perhaps nothing would do us poor mortals more good than for the avant-garde to disappear, not because it was worn out, but because, through an invisible current, it had turned into a source of pure energy, transforming itself into our own fascinating life.

33.

For a moment, I thought I saw the invisible impulse cross the area and flow through that community of strangers seated in the middle of the forest. I remember thinking of the efforts of popular revolutions trying to make a name for themselves, while secret groups like this one in the woods at Kassel, or those formed during sporadic bursts of fighting, had, by contrast, never tended to be photographed or leave a trace. I recalled Sebastià Jovani, a writer from Barcelona, who said that revolutions spawned postcards and all sorts of souvenirs, while guerrilla warfare and spontaneous groups involved in clandestine struggles – volatile groups, situationists if you looked at them that way – generated emotions, common feelings that didn’t require a picture framed up on the wall. Jovani also said, if I remember rightly, that it was worth asking if anyone would really want a signed urinal in their living room. Perhaps, in that question, the difference between art exhibited in museums and art without a fixed home – art that is out in the open, so visible in Kassel, in more than one installation – couldn’t be better summed up. Art of the outskirts. Or of the outskirts of the outskirts. Like Huyghe’s work, with his humus and pink-legged dog, with his remote quagmire, where there was no organization, no representation, no exhibition – although I suspected things were interconnected there than they appeared to be.

And while I was thinking about all this, I realized how that silent revolt of the spirit was making a move at that precise instant and let itself be seen, too: the almost imperceptible was making everyone suddenly get younger on the spot.

This reminded me of that episode in Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past where you see the members of the old aristocracy grimacing in a Paris salon, getting older on the spot, becoming mummies of themselves.

For a while, I didn’t stop looking around me. The music’s attempt to get us over the collapse seemed very fortuitous. That motif of death Schubert had placed at the center of Winter Journey, which we were all listening to there in shy silence, collided head-on with the idea of that voyage. Each of us allowed ourselves to be assailed by our solitude, which expanded timelessly in the evening light, the sun reflecting among the clouds, and it did so like the nightmare I most feared, the one in which I felt at constant risk of seeing everything invaded by frost and dead nature.

Death was before us like the bird singing just then, filtering through in an unequal contest with Schubert’s music. Death was playing no tricks and plainly visible, but the general resistance, the effort not to succumb to its awful, murderous song, was admirable. The imperceptible breeze ran serenely throughout, getting stronger every minute, perhaps because it was a current that advocated life. Indeed, the conspirators in the forest appeared to be getting stronger and stronger in this lull. Even so, my disquiet didn’t seem about to evaporate so easily. There were flashes of vitality within the forest group, but a certain inner disquiet persisted. I remember the circumstances of that moment well. The truth is, I always remember my own unforeseen anguish with mathematical precision: I was in the forest, I lost myself mentally in a tangle of undergrowth. I heard the cry of a tawny owl in the area bordering the woodland, and then nothing, absolutely nothing. I went on to the esplanade and saw that Europe was a lifeless expanse and then accepted that the dawn light of morning had turned into darkest night. I think I perceived a song far off in the distance that I learned in childhood and that comes back to me from time to time, above all now that I’m getting old. It’s a song that disturbs me because it says there is no escape: to get out of the forest we have to get out of Europe, but to get out of Europe we have to get out of the forest.

The Illogic of Kassel, Enrique Vila-Matas (trans. Anne McLean & Anna Milsom), pp. 108-110

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Enrique Vila-Matas, Pierre Huyghe, Ai Weiwei and I at Kassel, Documentas 12-13

“I’d been fascinated at the beginning of the seventies by some questions that had been put to Alain Robbe-Grillet, which made him writhe against theories like an upside-down cat: “Let’s say I’m old-fashioned. For me, all that counts are the works of art.”

“The works of art! These days such ingenuousness would trigger laughter. At Documenta 13, separating work and theory would have been seen as very old-fashioned, because there, according to all the information I had, you saw a great many works under the ambiguous umbrella of innovation presented as theory and vice versa. It was the triumphant and now almost definitive reign of the marriage between practice and theory, to such an extent that if ou casually came across a rather classical-looking piece, you’d soon discover it was nothing more than theory camouflaged as a work. Or a work camouflaged as theory.

“Was there any artist at Kassel with sufficient courage to just hang a painting on the wall, a straighforward painting? I imagined the great peals of laughter that would ring out if it occurred to some poor brave devil to hang a canvas on a wall in the Fridericianum. It seemed nobody there wanted to be regarded as terribly old-fashioned, so there was no way of seeing painting anywhere.”

– Enrique Vila-Matas, The Illogic of Kassel, p. 69

Untilled, characters who appear in Enrique Vila-Matas’s novel, by Pierre Huyghe at Documenta 13

Strangely, I happened to be involved in the Documenta 12 Magazine Project through <<empyre>> soft_skinned_space, a listserv onto which I have foisted my sometimes welcome, mostly unwelcome, and usually ignored observations, reflections and scribblage.

The following I wrote into the listserv under the subject heading of “Fugue” – which is interesting in so far as I have in front of me a volume by Sergio Pitol with a foreword by Enrique Vila-Matas, the writer of the foregoing on Documenta 13, entitled The Art of Flight. The English translator of this work, George Henson, apologises, that “already in the title” he has failed, because the Spanish fuga translates as both fugue and flight and in the original Spanish, the book is called El arte de la fuga. The Art of Fugue. Indirectly, for Documenta 12, I wrote:

Dear Empyreans,

the following I pursued for my own interest: I apologise if there’s nothing in it.

Roger Beurgel [artistic director of Documenta 12. It was Roger Beurgel’s “provocation”, on the question, Is Modernity our Antiquity? that led the discussion, here] in quotes:

“It is fairly obvious that modernity, or modernity’s fate, exerts a profound influence on contemporary artists.”

How is modernity tied to its fate that, either the thing itself or the myth, exerts a pull – as if equally and interchangeably? And if there isn’t anything in itself there? Only the mythic Fate, then isn’t this a description of tragedy? Is a degree of that influence to do with the desire not just to reinstaurate the determinism or fatalism of modernity on its certain path but to redeem it?

“Part of that attraction may stem from the fact that no one really knows if modernity is dead or alive.”

Which suggests exactly the spectral/corp(u)s/e mode modernity was so good at advancing: and pomo was so good at extracting – half-life apparitions and death-drive amortisations.

“It seems to be in ruins after the totalitarian catastrophes of the 20th century (the very same catastrophes to which it somehow gave rise).”

Surely, that ‘somehow’, tenuously holding on, like spectral rider to ghoulish horse, confirms that the modernity described here is in the grand European tragic style – or pomo pastiche thereof. The taste for setting such great store by aesthetics (however deeply internally politicised or outwardly conceptual and dematerialised), that ‘totalitarian catastrophes’ ensue from them, is modernist at the fascist end of the spectrum.

“It seems utterly compromised by the brutally partial application of its universal demands (liberté, égalité, fraternité) or by the simple fact that modernity and coloniality went, and probably still go, hand in hand.”

As a colonial antipode – foot in hand, sometimes in mouth – I’ve thought a little about colonialism’s place in respect of modernity. My view, from NZ, of modernity is only historically, not ‘utterly,’ ‘compromised’ by the cultural marginalisation that goes hand-in-hand with modernity’s centralist concerns. But this issue brings us round to whether modernity has a political armature in praxis, a Realpolitik, such that it could be ‘brutally partial’ in the application of demands that are by no means ‘universal’ nor endemic to modernity, as an era (or a constellation, an infirmament, of historically informed assumptions and happenstance).

The secular nation-state, to my mind, better expresses the political ideas and ideals of the modern era, and of modernity, than the Colonial Empire. The failure of the former – in its current crisis or decadence – offers perhaps a clearer index to the vivacity or morbidity of a political modernity.

“Still, people’s imaginations are full of modernity’s visions and forms (and I mean not only Bauhaus but also arch-modernist mind-sets transformed into contemporary catchwords like “identity” or “culture”).”

There is something about this ‘transformation’ (of ‘arch-modernist mindsets’) that merits discussion. I think it was Brett, forgive me if I’m wrong, who said that postmodernism is built on the foundations of modernism. Christine has poked a little, deservedly, at the idea of Hegelian synthesis, in the n-state. In both views there inheres the idea of transformation – a redemption even of modernist assumptions. I think this archaeological impulse, this restorative ‘moral’ and critical project – such, indeed, that the question heading this discussion can be asked – may be promoted by precisely the kind of spectacular mise-en-scene we see in Roger Beurgel’s statement on modernity.

“In short, it seems that we are both outside and inside modernity, both repelled by its deadly violence and seduced by its most immodest aspiration or potential: that there might, after all, be a common planetary horizon for all the living and the dead.”

Pa Ubu: “Hornstrumpet! We shall not have succeeded in demolishing everything unless we demolish the ruins as well. But the only way I can see of doing that is to use them to put up a lot of fine, well-designed buildings.”

Finally, a brief word regarding the n-state, an idea with its own fascination; and I’d like to know more about its provenance; since, as well as zipping up a certain bodybag – synthetic teeth mesh – it also iterates management/bureaucratic themes of ‘technological progress and infrastructural improvements’. (By way of contrast, inspired by a Polish grandmother on a European train, ’82, I chanced on the related idea of ‘n-set’ – a play on ‘NZ’ and also an acronym. The grandmother said that all her countrymen were doing in those days was watching satellite TV and making babies – “like Africa!” she said.

(N-SET became a script-scenario dealing with a covert (insurgence) operation starting in Poland to postmodernise via media’s softsell immersion the East and West and foment political revolution: to postmediatise consciousness. N-SET stands for ‘non-specified enemy territory’ – carrying forward its scenario through random acts of state-sponsored terror, according to the view that the civilian population as a whole is the only object on which a postmodern war can be waged.)

Simon Taylor

Fairytale, 1,001 chairs, Ai Weiwei, at Documenta 12

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