Sunday, March 06, 2005

Generation Tarnation

Tarnation "is thirty-one year old director Jonathan Caouette’s inspiring documentary self-portrait, chronicling his chaotic upbringing in a dysfunctional Texas family and the unexpected relationship that develops with his mentally-ill mother Renee."

It is far from being the first time someone made a piece of art out of his own life. Literature is overfilled with real-life-stories which make the drastic, in-your-face Tarnation seem like a fairy tale. So what makes this one so different? Maybe it's the fact of filming it, of making it impossible to escape from. Or the trendy editing that allows us to sit through Jonathan Caouette's story as if it were "quasi-real", that is, comfortably distant? Or is it the incredible patience, the tender and careful approach which, unlike in some other self-centered documentaries, shines from Caouette the director, the hero and the person?

The idea of making a piece of art out of one's "ordinary" (?) life is quite present on the net. Two sites caught my attention, medicine films and learning to love you more. Both of them are based on the idea of presenting one's life to others - suggesting that this is art. The funny thing about any such initative is that the people who show "just their normal life" often (always?) end up trying to put it into some sort of form, to make it appealing... Even the simplest videos have comments which suggest some special meaning. This reminds me of Allan Kaprow, the "inventor of the Happening", a performance artist who worked closely with John Cage and several other masters of contemporary art. Kaprow at a certain point stopped calling his works "happenings" (he said he would have to make commercials if he were to continue) and started calling them simply "activities" - which from all I know he still does. The interesting thing about Kaprow in this context is that he loved the idea of creating things that are actually almost impossible to distinguish from "real life" (whatever that might be). He still teaches that and works that way, avoiding publicity and generally enjoying the low-profile status of the "activities". But look at what he is doing, look at Tarnation, look at the "everyday artists" - isn't it fascinating how the form remains present and important?

(If you're interested in this stuff, you can get Kaprow's true classic Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life at Amazon and help me develop the page!

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