Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Allan Kaprow on installation and performance

Now, I think those two words, installation and performance, mark accurately the shift in attitude toward a rejection or sense of abandonment of an experimental, modernist, position which had prevailed up to about, lets be generous, up to about 1968-1969, and began gradually becoming less and less energized. So, I think what you’re getting there is the flavor of modernist exhaustion and incidently a return to earlier prototypes, or models, of what constitutes art. And it’s no accident that the majority of most performance nowadays, there’s not much installation anymore, by the way, the majority of those performances tend to be of an entertainment, show biz, song and dance, in which the focus is on the individual as skilled presenter of something that tends to have a kind of self-aggrandizing, or at least self-focusing, purpose. It is artist as performer, much like somebody is an entertainer in a nightclub. And they’re interesting. Some of them are very good. I think Laurie Anderson is very good. She’s got all the skills that are needed in theater, which is what this is. Many others who jump on the bandwagon, coming from the visual arts, have no theatrical skills, and know zilch about the timing, about the voic about positioning, about transitions, about juxtapositions, those moment by moment occurrences in theater that would make it work. But it’s another animal, whether good or bad, from what we were doing, and I think, in general, even the good ones are a conservatizing movement.

- Allan Kaprow, 1988 (full interview is here)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Black Square: Malevich and The World That Wouldn't Die

Here it is: the end of the world.
I am standing in front of it, and it looks like shit.
It is Kasimir Malevich's "Black Square", it hangs at the New Tretyakov national gallery in Moscow, and it is dirty, tired, bleak, so unimpressive it is embarrassing to see.
And yet, that is the end.
This can well be seen as the point where art enters the other world zone, leaving our poor miserable world of bodies behind. This art is spiritual, declares Malevich, and I am ready to believe him, not on faith, but because at this point faith is the only thing that can carry me as a viewer. To appreciate it - I think while standing in front of the painting - I need to believe that what my mind brings me when looking at this painting, it brings thanks to the painting. (And that it's worth the trip). Any thought, then, is a belief.
The painting is all cracked, it seems like it lived through terror, two wars and a revolution (it did).

For a while, I wonder what disturbs me in all this. I take Malevich's painting as an ever-returning challenge. We are challenged to accept this or go beyond this. We are challenged to deal with the out-of-this-worldliness of aesthetic creation. Supreme it is.

I thought all this quite disappointing, a concept I would have rather kept as a concept, a story, rather than seeing it translated into a poor somewhat-black square. But what about the painting? Doesn't it have anything to say? The cracks are most probably the result of the artist being in a hurry (it seems he put the black layer over the white one before the latter dried out). The strokes, we can clearly see, are uneven, quick, there is nothing uniform about this, and even the outside lines of the square are uneven (he is said to have painted it free hand, and very free it was). It is not a good square. Or, no: it is not the square we are told it is. It is a square that tells the history of its creation, the story of the tension, the energy, the impatience. It is a clear window into something that happened, into a performance of painting and a moment of life. In that sense, the painting appears better than we ever could have dreamed. It goes back to this world. The painting outdoes the painter - through unveiling something more than what he had planned.
Inside of the cracks, if we watch carefuly, we see another color, it is not black or white, and at moments it seems like it's not grey either. It varies from spot to spot, it is reddish, brownish, somewhere close to the color of flesh. It is the color of revenge. The revenge of the painting.


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