Friday, February 3, 2017

Clouds of Discontent

'Nostalgie III', Oil, ashes and charcoal on burned panel

The beginning is always the worst.  How does one start speaking about anything?  This may have to do with the sense that when one starts talking or writing about anything there must be some impetus or a reason for them to do so.  What’s worse is when one has nothing else to speak about but oneself.  Obviously not everybody has this problem, no celebrity I know about has this issue of having to talk about themselves ad nauseum.  It’s a bit different with art.  I’m not necessarily here to write about myself, rather about my work, yet this will somehow have to relate to me in the end.  Why did I make this, or how did I go about doing that?  Further one down the road the inevitability of rational explanations for the existence of the work as such come up, what are the theories, inspirations, drives, motives, who are you looking at, what do you read?  Perhaps to talk about nothing but oneself deflects the uncomfortable questions and more uncomfortable answers one might give when one isn’t quite sure why and how and for what purpose one’s work exists.   

To talk about oneself can be a tactic.  It says this is how I feel and you, as audience, cannot or should not be able to criticize or find fault with what I say. That would be akin to discrimination.  The self is highly vulnerable.  It is the last bastion of freedom in this over-connected confessional culture we find ourselves in.  And I’ve noticed as others have, that ‘freedom’ is rarely talked about and isn’t as much of our vernacular as it used to be some 10-20 years ago.  There may be lots of reasons for this.  We may be freer that we ever were, but are we?  What does our freedom mean, what does it contain, how do we experience it, and above all, what is it?  I deal with nostalgia the way I deal with freedom as a phenomenon of the mind and spirit. Freedom comes from being able to act of free will.  One can be free even if one is locked up in prison, at least in theory.  If Foucault is correct then even the freedom to one’s mind is being deliberately sabotaged through a system of discipline and punishment.  The prison is designed to break one’s spirit, to break one’s mind, when in the past it was designed to break one’s body leaving the mind more or less intact.   

Scientific research today is countering with forays into mind control devices that make it appear as though one is still in control of one’s mind and body, even though one is being manipulated remotely. Will it be possible for the modern prisoner to be simply wired up like an automaton, rendered harmless though 24/7 remote manipulation that the prisoner will not even notice is happening, if anything, the prisoner will remain ‘free’ in his/her own mind while under total control of the manipulator?  How far are we from this reality ourselves on the outside? The clouds of discontent are hanging over the horizon.  The more we believe ourselves to be free the more our culture sees to it that we understand our freedom as something imposed by others.  Maybe nostalgia is a vestige of freedom, a glimpse into the unreality of supposed freedoms, a yearning for a freedom we thought we had.  Nostalgia offers us a replacement for our freedoms, it says ‘see, things used to be much better like this or like that.’  It tries and fails to recuperate the loss of the self in the abyss of the greater good.  That’s why the huge projects of the past strike us as spectacular failures today, the ultimate nostalgic projects of history like Stalinism, the Industrial Revolution, Manifest Destiny, Modernism and countless others.  They brought with their triumphalism and short term victories the horrors of contemporary society running on the debts to the environment and future generations.  Evolution in reverse.

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