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4. The Phoney Avant-Garde

ATTEMPTS TO REFORM THE ARTISTIC spectacle, to make it more coherent and, inseparably, to resurrect the illusion of participation in it, are ten a penny. For a time, separated forms -- sound, light, jazz, dance, painting, film, poetry, politics, theatre sculpture, architecture, etc -- have been brought together, in various juxtapositions, in the mixed and multi-media shows. In kinetic art we are promised the apotheosis of the process. A current Russian group declares: "We propose to exploit all possibilities, all aesthetic and technical means, all physical and chemical phenomena, even all kinds of art as our methods of artistic expression." (Form, No. 4) The specialist always dreams of 'broadening his field.' Likewise the obsessive attempts to make the 'audience' 'participate.' No one cares to point out that these two concepts are blatantly contradictory, that every artistic form, like every other prevailing social form, is explicitly designed to prohibit even the intervention, let alone the control, of the vast majority of people. Endless examples could be cited. Last winter saw "Vietnamese Free Elections" billed as an experiment in creating "total involvement" in the Vietnamese situation through a fusion of political and dramatic form, etc. "Actors are not wanted," it was stated. "This is a new exercise in audience participation" that came with the ticket. "If you want to speak, hold up your hand. When you are recognised by the chairman, you must give your real name and the fictional occupation entered on your background sheet. . . . During the course of the meeting, you are operating as a fictional character and not as a spokesman for your personally held beliefs" (emphasis in original). The Happening is the general matrix of participation art -- and the Happening is where it becomes obvious that nothing ever happens. Everyone has lost themselves as totally as they have lost everyone else. Without the drugs, it could be explosive.

COP ART, COP ARTISTS. THE WHOLE LOT moves towards a fusion of forms in a total environmental spectacle complete with various forms of prefabricated and controlled participation. It is just an integral part of the all-encompassing reforming of modern capitalism. Behind it looms the whole weight of a society trying to obscure the increasingly transparent exclusion and repression it imposes on everyone, to restore some semblance of colour, variety and meaning to leisure and work, to "organise participation in something in which it is impossible to participate." As such, these artists should be treated the same way as police-state psychiatrists, cyberneticians, and contemporary architects. Small wonder their avant-garde cultural 'events' are so heavily policed.


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