Rodrigo Garcia’s performance collage (see part one of this series) is an example of artistic autarchy. It creates its depth in an interior way, with inbuilt references: self-references created by its use of the mirror and the fold. Garcia’s own texts mirrored against Luigi Nono’s opera ; the Vietnam War reflected into critical contemporary texts about our consumer society. But where is the connection between war and consumerism? Why is this a mirror? The mirror is not reflecting a specular image, or at least not until we see the images channeled together. The tenuous link that Garcia has found needs something to clarify it. So Garcia introduces a bridge – Michaelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point.
In Garcia’s theatrical work, two scenes from Antonioni’s film are projected. The first, is a scene in which executives of a real estate company are watching a cheesy advert for the desert paradise they are planning to construct at Zabriskie Point. The colours and plasticity of this scene immediately build a bridge between the 60s film and our own 21st century consumer society reflected through Garcia’s own kitsch aesthetics. But what has this to do with Nono’s opera?
On the obvious level: the film is a 60s film, released in 1970, and therefore a near contemporary of Nono’s 1966 work. On the less obvious level, at least to an audience member who has never seen Zabriskie Point, Antonio’s film includes scenes of anti-Vietnam war protests and police brutality. Anti-Vietnam protest becomes an anti-consumerist symbol. Vietnam is a violent projection of the capitalist will for the ultimate power of globalisation and at the same time an area of equally violent resistance to that projected hegemony.
The second scene that Garcia projects is the film’s almost final sequence of the exploding mansion on the cliff face: the violent fantasy of ultimate resistance through annihilation of the enemy. We have an enormous “what if…” or “if only…” raised by the artist to stand against the reality which was the real historical progression of the narrative. In reality capitalism’s advance was not curtailed, despite the Vietcong’s victory; despite the destruction of the mansion in the desert the real estate project at Zabriskie Point would still have gone ahead. And the result of this unstoppable narrative sequence is the kitsch culture of consumerism we have today. A culture in which Nono’s opera seems to have no place, is absolutely ‘out of place’. In the autarchy of Garcia’s creation we also have a tremendous self-criticism: Why represent Nono’s opera in a place and time that could not possibly appreciate it? His answer: it is precisely the demonstration of how disassociated art is from our reality that justifies the representation.
Now Garcia folds back to enfold himself in associations with his own earlier work: an echo of his Golgotha’s Picnic. That piece was about violence and art. In essence the same theme, in which, after hours of hurling violent images at the audience he stages a baroque piano concert, provoking an exodus from the audience who, after stomaching, perhaps even enjoying the excitement of the violence, seem to find the beauty of the music unbearable. Or are our audiences now incapable of appreciating the beauty of the piano piece?
Garcia’s statement is that it is the saturation of imagery flung at us by the consumer society that is making us impervious to the beautiful in art. We are the products of nihilism and a positive, purposeful concept like beauty is anathema to us now.