1. IS THIS ALL WE CAN DO?
Luigi Nono’s operetta “A Floreta é jovem y Cheja de Visa” (1966) concludes with the text in English: “Is this all we can do?”
In April 2012, Rodrigo Garcia presented a version of Nono’s work in Madrid. Garcia stretched the piece out from the forty minutes of musical performance time by adding an hour of text. The text was read by actors, almost always sitting comfortably in low chairs with microphones. The text, which was a barrage of pop culture imagery, was accompanied by life-streaming video montages of small objects that were dipped into a large tub of chocolate.
Nono’s opera, which could be translated as “The forest is young, and full of life” is supposed to deal with the Vietnam war. It is slow, strident at times, tonally rich, but also messy and often uncomfortable. The text, which is mainly illegible and layered, is apparently a collage of revolutionary slogans.
The version by Garcia seems at first to be two separate works with little connection, but he inserts a conduit: Michaelangelo Antonioni’s film: Zabrinskie Point.
In effect we have a double mirroring between Garcia and Nono and Antonioni, or a triple mirroring because Garcia’s work reflects back on the other two. The connections seem tenuous at first, but that very looseness makes it more powerful: the artistic power of ambiguity.
Through ambiguity in art we get a lack of cohesiveness, provoking the hungry mind to become actively involved in its own interpretation of the piece. The hunger, of course, has to be fed by an intersubjectivity betwen the artist and the audience – there has to be resonance of feeling in order to stimulate the intellectual side of the subject with a need to locate reasons for the resonance. The audience member not only has to ask “what is going on here?” he or she has to be motivated to search for a reason to want to answer the question themselves.
This reason has to come from the resonance. Once resonance has been felt, ambiguity will turn the audience into an interested detective. We are present, physically present, but epistemologically absent.
Of course, for many- perhaps most – observers this is an unsettling experience to say the least. For the artist, this kind of creation poses two negative possibilities: a) the piece will be totally misinterpreted by the audience, or b) the epistemological alienation will provoke a negative defence mechanism which will shut off the audience’s desire to investigate, rendering the whole piece unbearable and provoke exodus. Likewise, mainstream media has created a predominantly passive relationship between the work and the audience. Art is confused with entertainment. Artists are expected to be entertainers. The atmosphere provoked by such a situation is deadly for the arts as intersubjective communicators of the inward truth/lie. Fear of failure makes artistic pessimistic and in the arts today, pessimism reigns. The artist sinks into the black pool of an interior isolation. But the truth is that this pessimism is also illusory. The need for true art is always there, even if it is not recognised institutionally.
Here we have a metaphor of life in the market-driven world of information: it’s no longer what we know that is important but what we don’t know. What is being lost by being immersed in that which is offered us by the mainstream or by other failure-fearful artists? By having our attention driven towards the juicy fruits of gossip, entertainment, and pornography, we are effectively being rendered unaware of the challenges. This is not just a commercial or political manipulation, with ideological or profit making ends, it is also a creation of spiritual absenteeism. The more deeply intersubjective we are the more difficult it is for us to be manipulated, so intersubjectivity is discouraged by avoiding alienation. The System, prefers a shallow reality created by the passive immersion of the audience. Herein lies the inherent totalitarianism behind Hollywood. Art as entertainment requires no effort from the spectator. The illusory reality, Hollywood’s virtual-film reality, absorbs the spectator, dictates the reality in which we are immersed and then spits us out. The whole experience is an escape from life, a nihilistic substitution from the mundane reality of the real life experience.
Art as an experience of “truth” however, is centred not in what is revealed, but on what is absent, inviting the audience to search for that absence themselves. An idea anathema to the System which must project a veneer of perfection despite its nihilistic substance. The consumer market-place must tolerate art for art represents the freedom it itself purports to extol, but as a systemic phenomenon the market-place can only tolerate artistic freedom as long as it is capable of invisibly castrating art’s potent intersubjective resonances and transforming art itself into a Disneyland factory of superficial escapism. The orthodoxy of Hollywood is anti-heterodoxical like all orthodoxies, and it is in this orthodoxy that we can discern the repulsion the system has for art, and with its repulsion for art, its repulsion for truth.