I liked A the best when she talked to me about art.
‘To the artist too long confined to the status of petty voyant:
It is no longer enough to say with the philosophers
I IS ANOTHER
but only in the purest affirmation of the creative act can the perfect white egg of the i emerge with a shattering birthing cry!
It is my concern’ – she began – ‘to establish how we may exalt the value of the artwork without degrading the status of the artist. The paradigm of value has failed in this respect. Instead, we must assume as measure: evil, and power.
The idea of artist as authority is long behind us. for a sovereign art, there is no authority to which one might appeal. It must overthrow entirely the artist to which it might return, on its hands and bruised knees, in a desperate bastard bid for more blood.
Of course the author is dead, and his tools along with him – killed by a secret and delicious incineration. But without a public hanging we have failed to properly dethrone him. or rather, in dethroning the author, we have simply erected false and esoteric gods in his place. we have glossed over his disappearance with countless puzzled advertisements, ‘MISSING’ posters that announce his fugitive departure.
the poster for the sovereign art will instead bear this sign in the place of the artist: WANTED.
the artwork itself will replace the artist, as a substitute authority, for whom it is only proper to assume the task of issuing this search-warrant against itself. Indeed, the artwork is both crime and judiciary. It exists shamelessly, while persecuting itself for doing so. The artwork is a self-cancelling machine.’
CAN IT EVER BE CANCELLED i ask
‘It can never be cancelled,’ replied A. ‘For it exists only to cancel itself – with its endlessly internal contradictions
The statue, the painting, the celluloid film, or the implosive Happening must possess this rigorously self-negating impulse in order to ensure absolutely that there is NO justification for its existence. For it to exist shamelessly in the world is for it to demand its place therein, to demand its portion of world to take place in, and therefore, the artwork is reduced to its function – to take up space in the world, or in the case of music or cinema, to take up time in history. But art is allergic to function. Art is GUILTY, GUILTY and LAZY. Do you see? Everyone can see just how guilty and lazy it is. To expect a disinterested neutrality from the upstanding museumgoer is to drag a monk out of his cloister and into the town square, place him before the bronze equestrian statue that glints under the horrible sun and expect him to chant his morning prayers in the acedia of noon.
No longer will we tolerate the artwork’s lascivious ‘presencing’ like an obscene tropical flower in the hothouse of the white cube. the bronze statue may return to life, yet only to be kicked to the ground and trampled under the hooves of his horse. the artwork must contend with a nihility through an evacuation of all that the work IS from itself. That’s the artist that’s been living rent-free in the loft and is getting kicked out. But in the place of the artist is left an unequivocal void against which the artwork desperately contends, as if it is allergic to the substance of its own blood. What is art? Empty palaces, lost armies, wandering concubines, thousands of letters without return address.
This amounts to a simple dialectic. The artist, rather than simply a non-figure in the consideration of the work, is an active negativity which diligently undermines the grotesque positivity incarnated by the material art object.
He is more than a pattern of traces left upon a body of clay, more than the scratches of Turner’s overgrown thumbnails wrinkling the sky around his ocular suns – rather something which gestures toward a truer absence, a true negative mystery. The evidence of the artist’s sordid love stains the artwork’s material dimension and yet must needs remain aloof from it. On the other hand, the work longs to transcend its brutish material nature, but is doomed only to be constituted thus.
the artwork’s proud defiance of its creator is limitless. soon we will have a sacrificial new materialism drawn out of a bloodthirsty and autonomous system of objects.
Do you understand?‘
Do I understand?
In my view
THE WORK OF ART IS SIMPLY:
1. A message caught charging through the forests of Europe: sovereign begets sovereign. Let us think of the artwork as a mutinous and sovereign child. take, for example the portraits of the loveless children of the first king charles, in their feral silks, regarding their portraitist with a filial hatred of the pictorial preservation to which they have been consigned. how much they would like to expend themselves instead, to scorn and burn and play and to commit the insects of the palace grounds to death by glass lenses. in the same fashion must the work regard its creator, with the returned gaze of ringleted boys of royals painted by old masters: contempt, accusation, fantasies of slavery.
2. A criminal and a sovereign have this in common: both are exempt from the law, one momentarily, through action, and the other simply in essence. However this essence stemmed from divine appointment: that original, criminal attribution of earthly power to the king by a faraway god. The work and artist in this way attain a kind of polarised equivalence.
3. to ensure the sovereignty of the work of art, the perpetuation of the Sovereign line of artworks and, most importantly, lest we be deprived of the exquisite glare of the trussed-up painted Dauphin, we must accept the artist, too, as sovereign. the artist’s power is like that of George iii passing a law, in his most spitting fit of madness, that ensures his own abdication. The work must be inaugurated into kingship through displacing another sovereign being, an ongoing process to which it provides continual testimony.
‘Those are the principles. The artist’s work is one of an unceasing betrayal, a cruelty of which the sovereign alone is capable. the artwork of a limitless receptivity, a generosity only available to the sovereign. only an economy of forgiveness could reconcile the pair, an act so terrible as to be comparable to murder.
But since this is not an affair of human nature, the allergic fathers and ambivalent sons of the psychoanalytic model can be left in the past. away with families – on with the sublime geometry of succession. This is a natural comparison for, like the work of art, the nobility of the sovereign increases by its ineffectuality. The line of the Hapsburg jaws, for example, each creature more hideous and useless than the last, bears the crushing weight of absolute power within an ever more unsuitable incarnation. Recall jesus as a little child; a hard, sweet seed.
Imagine fathers begetting children in order to be devoured by them. Saturn biting his own tail. The immaculate conception of Rosemary’s baby.
This art rejects the parlour games of ideology. It is instead pure energy, the kind of energy obtained by breaking molecular bonds. Not art exactly, but art without its chains. In william blake’s conception the creative subject is divided into four anthropomorphised parts known as the zoas, signifying head, heart, loins and body. fast forward 300 yrs: they are declaring nuclear war. the politicians hang up their coats. It’s an antidote for our battered planet patched over with humanitarian documentaries and graphic design.’
IT IS A VICIOUS ART I reply
‘And artworks will be warmongers. The artist, always losing or fleeing a bloody battle, must be plied by the community with limitless supplies. this is because risk of artmaking is no longer constituted by a gamble of material resources, but by spiritual blood. the new zoas – type o, a, b and ab. i will reiterate that the violence of the artist is always in vain. the artist is only host and victim to a far greater violence incarnated by the work as cruel and hypocritical sovereign, as lawmaker and criminal. marina abramovic finally stabbing herself in the heart.’
ACCEPT IT, THE ART WORK IS SOVEREIGN!
A hangs up.
The night is lonely and dark in her absence.
The next morning, I receive the following message in three separate voice notes over Facebook messenger:
/ This text should be treated as the elaboration of a new and authoritative TABOO, an affirmation of the ecology of things. /
Only in the full acceptance of this state of affairs can the process of transgression begin. / The artist’s signature will be a tattoo in the form of a spider on the body of a stolen lover. /
* * * * * * * * * * *
I am treated to a second lecture by A: her voice is softer this time, but somehow more urgent.
‘Last night I dreamed of a horse-borne eunuch shaman.’
‘I see him too.’ I replied, ‘The rider
head in flames, criminal, radiant.’
‘But his stolen horse does not direct him homeward, to the happy mob or to the company of fellow men. This rider is just like the artist: in flight. The crime and debris that multiplies behind him is his art; the signature the fugitive hoof-stamps that shudder on contact with the sand.
In an eighteenth century story told by Schiller, a princess named Turandot, whose modesty is matched only by her cruelty, sits high upon a palace balcony somewhere in western China. Beads hang from her hair like strands of ice, among which is nestled a small red face like a cottage in snow. The princess offers her hand to whatever suitor may guess her name. She hides this name from the world like a precious likeness. Turandot. But an incorrect answer from the suitor is paid for by death.
I’ve been thinking. What else is the smile of the Mona Lisa than that of cruel Turandot herself, a shadow upon the final view of your waking life across the Persian steppes?
And yet, on the lips of the artist, the word TURRRRRANDOT is the yelp of the rider fleeing like an arrow across the plains into the bloodthirsty dawn
Yes – the rider guesses, and he guesses correctly. In fact, his answer is just like a dart flying into the red eye of the sun. Yet he never returns to the cold palace, which for all he cares may have burned to the ground, and the princess along with it.
The trajectory of the red rider is toward one thing alone – toward oblivion. Flight for flight’s sake. We can hope only that the net of the universe will catch him and deliver him back to us; us, the mob, the masses – who can only look on terrified as epistemologies fall in sediment about them. This mob is not to blame, nor is it animated by some desperate and pathological desire for blood… Rather the civilians are filled with horror at the warfare that surrounds them, the din of bronze driving down on rooftops, the victims in marble, the turpentine floods… all terrible. No matter how many foot soldiers the universities will conscript to be flayed at their final degree show, the civilians will neither consent to nor understand it unless they allow themselves to be bribed by the siren of violence.
Can you hear it?’
YES IT IS ARTS OWN POISONED NAME i replied
‘Uh-huh. Let us have an example.
A metal hook lies on a table. it radiates the aura of its terrible use value. Its curve: a dark smile, or another phenotype of depravity. It issues an equally dark proposition: deliver me into the hands of my purpose, or consent to admire me. The hook is in fact not a tool of any sort but a work of sculpture, by Giacometti for example. It demands not to be taken up as tool, but to be left quite alone, as a piece of art, to prevail in its for-itselfness, in the throne of its unique race. By drawing attention to its horrific set of possible appropriations at the hands of its human user, by itself, passive and immobile, it gleams with a rhetoric of innocence-until-proven-otherwise.’
(I see. A work which is no longer crime… but law!)
‘It is instead the spectator in this uneasy conversation who must play the criminal. But it is not the act of looking for which he is tried, as he might be in a peep show or a gaze toward the sun. Looking at the hook is submission and a holding in tension. The crime is a secret and invisible germ, a fairytale of slavery to the tool: it is the imagined act of using.
The artist refuses to be used by the hook, so he makes it. Wild dialectic – the hook tears through the taut skin on our rider’s back, through the nerves around the spine. It spins easily through the air, sending flesh flying, to land upright in the sand.
Silver and patient, here it remains until long after the imprints of fleeing cloven feet have vanished. To some future archaeologist, it appears in the form of a question mark.’
‘I’ll see you on Monday.’ This is the complete record of the substantial conversations that have passed between us so far. I am sure A is right, in fact, on most of these points.
Yours sincerely again – somehow more solitary than ever