It is a great tragedy that snark should house virtually any critique of the art world these days.
Between snark and hagiography, what decent choice does one have? Nothing works now (if it ever did). When Godard & Gorin made Letter to Jane after Tout va bien, their ungraciousness toward Fonda nevertheless posed some crucial political questions: what is the image of concern, and how can the image stand in for the real thing? Is there a real thing or have we only images in the face of the dooming structural monstrosities of capitalism, colonialism, and coercion? As with the concerned public figures analyzed by JLG & JPG, we see again and again the same thing (despite all differences) in Marco Anelli's photographs of Marina Abramovic's performance piece The Artist Is Present. This is the image of the sensitive observer. The emotionally open person. Artists, certainly a lot of artists. (Paco Blancas: "Also, I love meeting people in line. I’ve met a lot of people and have made a lot of new friends, many of them artists, but really all sorts of people.")
Abramovic to her co-present observers: 'let me be your mirror.'
The cultural spectacle of this performance piece, documented by Anelli and disseminated over the Internet for some time now (the run ended on May 31), may be my own mirror, and perhaps I will read into it my own problems well foregrounded before anything else that might concern anyone else. So be it. Still, amidst all these sensitive, moved, moving, tear-stained faces who've gone to sit and be with Abramovic, I notice, also, that so many of these observers indeed have good haircuts (and certainly not too many boring good haircuts). I cannot help but feel that, were I at a party with most of these dedicated observers, I would be invisible to them.
It is a strange and off-putting position - imagining having one's hard-earned nobrow passport denied - subtly denied - because one can't imagine integrating smoothly into a circle. (This circle of artist-observers.) But once my pouting and my sense of entitlement subside, I am left with further musings on the importance of the space-specific or time-specific art. Part of what is wonderful about ephemeral art, and art given to obsolescence or scarcity, is that wrinkles and re-crinkles the smoothness of an enormous, public projective space (i.e., the dream of mass culture as seen in the nightmares of the Frankfurt School). Put as crudely as possible: it makes things less boring by re-introducing chance & difference to the legacies of Fordism, Taylorization, mediation, and spectacle.
Cinema's relation to space-specific and time-specific art is a frequently-overlooked component of cinematic ontology and cinematic possibility - and, with respect to physical decay, what film is. (Though I would reformulate my arguments - which weren't so well-made - and come to somewhat different positions on certain points, I still more or less agree with the thrust of my three posts having to deal with this in 2006 with respect to Sátántangó - 1, 2, 3.) The art-event which, necessarily, some people will miss (like perhaps a film screening) bears seeds of inequality. But at the same time it introduces an awareness - perhaps a cutting awareness, like my own subdued adolescent pouting at not being like the sensitive aesthetes who were able to weep so beautifully, and with such LES-friendly clothing & hairstyles, at being-with-Abramovic. This awareness is of the disguised limitations of our own assumptive privileges, the thought that we are citizens born to a utopia of artistic access. Yet what ever provided us with these illusions? The entire broken system of modernity.
I like the idea of cinema existing also as a network of legends about films no one is any longer able to see, or is unlikely to see, but whose example may nonetheless spur thought & activity. In an Abramovic-like vein is (it seems) Sylvina Boissonnas' Un Film, about which Nicole Brenez has written beautifully:
The producer and leader of the Zanzibar group was Sylvina Boissonnas. She made only one film, simply titled Un Film, in 1969, an absolute masterpiece so singular and emotional that she has forbidden any screening of it. I have had the great privilege to see it; it is the most simple set-up one could imagine. Sylvina herself, wearing a white dress, stands still at the bottom of a round vat with the camera pointed at her at a right angle. The film is made of sequence shots of ten minutes each (the equivalent of a reel) over the course of which tons of water, sand, stones are poured into the vat, burying her for long minutes at the end of each of the shots. For Sylvina Boissonnas, this was an image of pure depression; for the viewer, it is one of the greatest performances in the history of cinema, one in which the author risked her life several times. It was filmed in 35mm. by Armand Marco, a cinematographer who also worked with Godard and the Dziga-Vertov group.
And thus my dissatisfaction with both snark and hagiography. Neither one can deal with difference; neither one can hold the gnawing horrors of that privileged playground, "the art world," at arm's length and still think through, think with the work itself. My dissatisfaction, too, not at all with The Artist Is Present, which I obviously did not visit/see/be with, but perhaps with what I intuit as the usurpation of cultural gnosticism (all its fun, all its unevenness) by the meaningless, instantaneous opinion-mongering of a web-connected context who proffered this entire thing to me as a sensation, prior to all experience. I don't have the experience, but I get the preview and glimpses of the remix.
I'm sure it would have been fantastic with Tracy Morgan, though.