Gabriela Jarzębowska, The Old Lady Has to Disappear

On 4 July 2008, Tri-City inhabitants witnessed an extraordinary event. A UFO was supposed to fly over the conurbation. From early morning one could sense clear commotion among the citizens and municipal services. The newspapers were writing all about the unusual civilisation clash expected for the night and the radio stations were shouting in the greatest secrecy to the enthusiastic inhabitants where the places from which they would best see the space visitors were. At 9 p.m. the bridge by the Green Gate was bouncing under all the thrill-seeking people holding digital cameras in their shaking hands. Suspense, expectation, impatience. There are journalists wandering among the excited people asking them for comments and reflections. It is 9.15 p.m. and the UFO is late. Impatience is growing. People are shifting from foot to foot, looking intently at the horizon lit by the last rays of the setting sun. 9.30 p.m. Suspense is reaching its limits.  The space visitors are still not here. Did they get cold feet? All of a sudden the characteristic sound of a helicopter can be distinguished from the noise of the crowd. In a while the sound is so intense that the people are silenced. The crowd gathered by the Motława is impatiently looking in the direction from where the helicopter’s deafening sound is coming. All of a sudden a black helicopter silhouette emerges from behind the houses. Confusion. After a while everything is crystal clear: there is a huge saucer hanging on a line from the helicopter and pulsing with many coloured lights. “It’s cool!” – a happy ten-year old boy shouts. The older spectators are fighting with stupefaction and disappointment. “And you call it a UFO??” After a while the whole of the Motława banks are shaking with spasms of laughter.

 Reality squawks

The action by Peter Coffin, an American artist, was an attempt to test archetypical threat patterns which in the times of global fears and uncertainty are reflected in concepts of space civilisations visiting Earth from the blue sky. The artificial UFO raised questions about the status of notions such as real/unreal, questioned clearly defined borders between trivial reality and imagined reality, created a social-psychoanalytical study testing the UFO phenomenon from the perspective of Jung’s theory. Were the project’s assumptions weak? Not at all. Why then didn’t we see any happy end? Because, unluckily, it was realised.

The horizons annexed by art keep expanding their scope, and the untamed imagination of artists seems to have no limits. Its present ontological status is defined by two related and interpenetrating streams, which since the 1960s have provided grounds for the contemporary concept of relations: present/absent, real/unreal, concept/realisation. On the one hand – monumental performances of the land art artists, setting a radical break from what used to be the indisputable status of the piece of art as an artefact displayed in an art gallery, realisations not only created in space but actually creating space and, more generally, the “real” world, non-artistic, and thus enlarging the borders of what may be considered as art to almost infinity. On the other hand – conceptualism with its tendency to philosophical speculations, to taking art as a concept rather than its physical realisation with primacy of mental art. The borders between these two tendencies used to be flexible and identification or radical rejection of one of them smelt of academism. However, one cannot fail to see a certain division line which art has been experiencing since then – the division between taking art as an abstract intellectual construction with no need for legitimisation in the form of produced artefact, and searching for real creation of reality in line with an artist’s imagination. In the first case a piece of art is nothing more than an addition, a mere documentation of a concept, while in the second case it is a sense and the final objective. Where materialisation of a concept is the condition sine qua non for an artist’s undertakings there is often dissonance between the assumptions and realisation, resulting in distortion and false notes. Did the concept which Yves Klein followed when jumping from the window cover broken legs resulting from the action? The abstract assumption of the project was not feasible. A man will never fly like a bird. Reality will never bend to the requirements of art. Creation of the previous 50 years has been full of activities where intellectual assumptions lost against the hard facts of life. And what if we withdrew from the uneven fight?

 Artistic second hand

The” by Maurice Benayoun draws conclusions from this concept unfitting to the real world. His ideas presented on his blog are not projects planned for realisation – they are rather a loose collection of ideas, inspirations, germs which may but don’t have to develop into something concrete. The material gestures are secondary – and from this perspective the French artist is an heir to the conceptual tradition, acknowledging the primacy of the concept above its realisation. It is not about labelling however. Another radical gesture which Benayoun makes is of great significance. Not only does he persistently give up realisation of his projects, but he also intentionally withdraws from two concepts of critical importance for art – from art integrity and integrity of the author. They are undermined, dispersed, blurred. Ideas presented on the blog may be treated as pieces of art, existing in the imaginary sphere; they may also be called raw material which we may use to create our own narration, our pieces of art. Both interpretations are fully justified; “The” has the structure of a rhizome, where you may go around in all possible directions. There is no beginning or end, nothing is defined or described. The authority of the common set-up (artist–piece of art–spectator) has been replaced by a democratic structure, where everybody may be both a spectator and a creator. The artist does not ration ideas anymore; they are not dispatchers of ideas but co-creators of the artistic ferment. One idea evolves into another one, their author and ontological status of ideas are dispersed, and thus they are of secondary importance. An intellectual impetus starts to live its own life.

 The strength of weakness

Let’s imagine a world where art has its reflection structure in “The”. The creation is not a product of an artist’s overblown ego, aggressively taking over everything which can be taken over, but an abstract structure constructed in the relation between various ideas, where the notions of author or physical existence of the piece of art seem to be an anachronism. It is not a coincidence that ”The” is an Internet project – as any other it reflects the polyphonic and democratic nature of the Internet, whose logic has been gradually adopted by various spheres of life. Getting to “real life” seems redundant. If we create a sophisticated art concept which will then start to live, function in a discussion, growing like an avalanche with additional contexts, won’t it seem too verbatim if translated into something concrete? Won’t it change into a ridiculous tautology, just like the UFO flying over Gdansk? Why do we need to jump from the window? Isn’t it enough to create the idea inside ourselves that we MAY do it? At the end of the day only the imagination is capable of undermining the law of gravitation.

From here it is just one step to a more radical observation, that if art is to be something more than just a deposit of outdated trends and values or megalomaniac actions, it has to withdraw from the scene and disappear. It is difficult to imagine – the institutional structures will not let themselves be forgotten. It is however worthwhile to give free reign to the imagination. Maybe the concept of non-existent art could contribute to Maurice Benayoun’s storage of ideas?


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