Toward The Collective Art

on Himherandit Live Art Performances at Godsbanen

By Omid Shams

photos all by Allan Høgholm

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           The audience of art, the one who is presumed as the sole consumer, is in fact the creator as well. Simply because the work, the work of art, is finished only when it is received, revealed and discovered by the audience. What the artist makes by him/herself is only an object made with the artistic intentions which has not any specific use. It is only a container in which the work is hidden for the audience to reveal. However, the audience is a producer, a worker, of art who is fundamentally alienated from him/herself as worker and from the other worker (in this case the artist) as well. The audience is fully unaware of his/her work and its result simply because s/he never sees him/herself in a subjective/active position. The audience will not see the result of his/her labor as completing the process of making art; s/he only sees it as “consuming the art”. Moreover, the audience may not understand his/her work as a co-operation with the other worker. Therefore, such art will not produce any kind of consciousness. Since, a person’s consciousness is formed inter-subjectively (collectively), not subjectively (individually).

          Such an alienating shadow haunts the artist as well. S/he remains always separated from his/her work, its result and its destiny. S/he is uncertain about his/her work of art because s/he makes it in solitude and in an unreachable distance from the audience’s work (even in the case of theater that solitude and distance remains the same; the existence of stage implies that the audience and the performer are not on a same level and same place). The artist reduces his/her work to commodity in exchange for money and reputation. As an artist s/he gets nothing. What s/he gets (the money and reputation), /she gets it as a seller of his/her labor force or as the owner of the commodity. In fact, the commodification of art reproduces the power relations of our de-aestheticized society based on commodification of absolutely everything (including every single social activity). The audience passively accepts what the artist dictates to him as art and then the artist passively waits for the audience’s response in form of money, applause, appreciation, disagreement and disgust.

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The live Art performances in Godsbanen “suggested” by Andreas Constantinou and Noelia Mora Solves are incredibly effective attempts to abolish the alienation of art, artist and audience through destroying theses concepts in their existing forms and positions and moving toward the notion of collective art. In Live Art performances (“You Are Making: Art” and “My Undying Love”) theater abandons that pseudo democratic form of dramatic dialogue (that silences all the marginal voices around the stage) and revives its original collective form in which the audience and the artist constantly interchange their roles to the extent that there will be no distinction between artist as the loud/active one and the audience as the quiet/passive one or the audience as one who gazes/judges and the artist as one who is being gazed/judged.

In his brilliant work, Social History of Art, Arnold Hauser writes: [Athens] was governed in the name of the people, but in the spirit of the nobility …. The only ‘progress’ consisted in the displacement of the aristocracy of birth by an aristocracy of money…Tragedy is the characteristic creation of Athenian democracy; in no form of art are the inner conflicts of its social structure so directly and clearly to be seen as in this. The externals of its presentation to the masses were democratic, but its content, the heroic sagas with their tragi-heroic outlook on life, was aristocratic …. It unquestionably propagates the standards of the great-hearted individual, the uncommon distinguished man it owed its origin to the separation of the choir-leader from the choir, which turned collective performance of songs into dramatic dialogue”. (1)

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Apart from Hauser’s debatable claim that “the externals of tragedy’s presentation to the masses were democratic”, his idea of regressive transformation of collective performance into centralized and authoritative form of dramatic dialogue enlightens us about a drastic shift in the politics of art.

            Art, as well as the rest of our social and individual activities, has been adapted to the new established economic, and therefore, political structures of our society. The state apparatus turned the whole society into a compound of countless mirrors in front of the super narcissist face of the state. Art is not an exception. In its current status, art is, at best, only a convex mirror. Mustapha Khayati writes “The eminently revolutionary role of the bourgeoisie consists in having introduced the economy into history in a decisive and irreversible way…Since the emergence of commodity production, nothing in the world escapes the implacable development of this neo-Fate, the invisible economic rationality: the logic of the commodity. ” (2)

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            It is the logic of the commodity that economically and politically separates the artist from the audience and reproduces the ruler and ruled relationship between them. Then, imprisoning it in galleries, museums, theater halls, music hall and libraries, the logic of the commodity separates art from everyday life, as it separates imagination from reality, madness from rationality, nonsense from sense and nature from civilization. Art in prison is nothing but rubbish. You cannot add anything to the La Gioconda. You cannot even set what you may think as a continuous sequence of La Gioconda next to the painting. It was “Made By” Da Vinci and owned by Du Louver museum. It is perfect, finished and it is heavily protected from light, heat, humidity, dust, dirt and you. You cannot sing or play along with Berlin philharmonic orchestra or jump up the stage in a theater hall and perform what you might think the performance is lacking. You must sit back and stay silent, polite and separated from the artist, the art and the other audiences. Just calm down! And they will tell you what to do and how to enjoy.

Therefore, the first step is indeed to put an end to those separations and to make art un-commodifiable. It is possible only by abandoning the traditional goal of aesthetic which is to produce impressions of certain past elements of life in circumstances where those elements are absent. Therefore, the aesthetic value is measured by its ability of framing, crystalizing and objectifying the certain duration of time. Art in such sense defines itself as an exception to the time. Art always lives in the past dreaming the future. That is how it cuts its connection with the present everyday life.

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            In “You Are Making: Art”, Constantinou and Solves became the tools and playgrounds for a collective process of making art. Their bodies were used as paintbrushes and painting surfaces. They reconnected the ghostlike, silent and separated audiences to each other and to the active, alive and unpredictable battleground of creating art. But the most important point was the possibility of immediate participation in abundance of commoditized creation by means of deliberately arranged variations of ephemeral moments. The importance of these moments is in their fleeting effects. The temporary existence of the paintings emphasizes on the importance of creation instead of production. Once again, the performance revives those sacred circles of improvisations around the campfires in the earliest communes. Once again, the audiences could touch, talk and consult with each other. Another important point was the presence of the ritual elements such as nudity, play, circle, improvisation, body painting and turning the bodies into inhuman creatures. The performance was free, nothing was sold and nothing was bought and after all nothing was produced.

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            In “My Undying Love”, the performance is even more connected to the simple elements of everyday life. Once again, there was no passive spectator. You could experience the artistic essence of human life through acts of caring, cherishing and caressing the Constantinou’s passive body. The performance took place in a black room with a hospital bed and other medical equipment. Two performers dressed as nurses directed the other performers throughout the performance which was started by painting and writing on the Constantinou’s body and ended up with covering his entire body with bondages. The whole experience was quite touching. It actually made me cry and not because of the sentimental ambience intensified, not very pleasantly, by sad string music, but because of the strong feeling of overcoming the fundamental grief of being lonely through participating in a collective action. Although there were instructions by nurses, the performers could do whatever they wanted. For me the most interesting point was that participants/performers who used to be silent audiences were still too shy to take spontaneous actions. Although they were free to do anything, they still tended to be the passive followers of the nurses’ instructions. They were trained by all kinds of traditional forms of art to be waiting for permissions. For example when we were handed a paintbrush we mostly used it to paint the body or write something as if it is the only way to use it. When we were asked to cover the body with the bondages, we submissively obeyed. Nobody tried to stop others from covering the paintings on the body. I watched how people covered the phrase “I want to fly away” without any second thought. We all ignored the possibility of rituals using paints and chanting magical songs to perhaps bring the Constantinou’s body back to life. We were all stuck with the reality. However, our creativity thrived throughout the performance in order to be more spontaneous, improvisational and emotionally naked.

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            Art needs to be taken back to its original arena which is the sphere of everyday life. It also needs to suggest its politics as an alternative to the suppressive politics of our
de-spiritualized society. By demystifying the process of making art and by forming a new collective aesthetic which is temporary, playful, lawless, ritualistic, un-commodifiable and free, art could possibly free itself from the prisons of history and market. The artist as a professional worker, as an entertainer and as a decorator of the marginal moments of everyday life must be vanished. It must resurrect as an aesthetic invader to the aesthetics of everyday life. It must reappear as collective art organizer in order to realize art instead of producing it. It is not an idealistic worthless dream of a utopia. It is a suggestion of organizing the artistic insurgency which is designated “to teach, to direct toward change and to be an example of change”. As a consequence, the art defined as a luxurious behavior isolated and adorned to attract the costumers should be rejected, parodied, satirized, liberated or abandoned. The imagination and creativity, that do not dare to invade the realm of reality, are nothing but delusion and self-deception.

1. Arnold Hauser, The Social History of Art, trans. Stanley Godman, 4 vols (New York: Vintage Books, Inc., 1957), 1:83, 84–5, 87.

2- Internationale Situationniste #12 September 1969; trans. by Ken Knabb

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