Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Keep Dumbing it Down Until Everyone Gets It

I suppose it’s how you approach it. As a curator, I spent many years in the South Pacific, exploring themes of globalization, territorialization, isolationism, cultural studies and related topics only to find myself within the confines of the American south. What is so surprising about the south is how far within itself it remains, how the discourses that should be paramount become subsumed within the overall veil of the culture wars, how art has a voice that teeters sometimes on silence and how, somehow, it doesn’t seem to matter.

Many years ago I sat in a conference with keynote speakers Lynne Cooke and Elizabeth Sussmann, and four days later in the same space as the late Kathy Acker took four hundred culturally and creatively intrigued listeners on a fantastic journey.

Somehow, sometimes, the periphery becomes the center. Displacement is overcome by distance, and isolationism is replaced by its multifaceted international doppelganger.

I raise these issues because it appears that art maybe teetering on an edge of irrelevance. Not so much in part because it has nothing left to say, but in part because what it has to say is so often said into the face of deafening silence.

Dialogues are now more often than not carried out within the confines of a tweet, subtly placed within Facebook pages, or subsumed by the assumption that somehow meaning always transcends.

Instead, what it does is teeter on the edges of repetition and pastiche. The recent death of Dash Snow made me realize just how short our memories are, as if Larry Clark’s Tulsa had never existed, as if Nan Goldin had never snapped an image, if the eroticism of George Platt Lynes in the face of legal and social consequences had never happened.

What seems surprising so far, however, is that the laudatory missives seem absent, suggesting that maybe, just maybe we’ve pushed art as far as it can go. Maybe we’re at the point where we’re not so much interested in the naked as in the nude, where excessive consumption isn’t indicative of innovation, where somehow, somebody or bodies is trying to determine how the whole world of art is going to continue to be relevant.

It’s hard to imagine that the days in which a three-minute attention span courtesy of MTVs twenty-four hour videos now seems an eternity as text messaging and tweets whittle our capacities for expression into smaller and smaller fragments. Artists works become digital experiences sorted through Google via resolution, all the better to be displayed on non-calibrated monitors in various NSFW environments.

And yet somewhere, there on the periphery, in the Antipodes or Aotearoa or China, somewhere on the Pacific Rim or on the edges of Africa, somewhere crossing into or through the occupied territories is a discourse on art that isn’t always already prefigured by its Puritanism or its reservations. Instead, it is positioned by intelligent discourse confident of the opportunities and the potentialities it faces.

But here while I sort the possibilities into two columns, “job-keepers” and “job-losers”, I wonder just where we lost the ability to engage with complex ideas in intellectual ways.

No comments: