|1995 ventsislav zankov|
BODY, FLESH AND VIRTUAL REALITIES
a paper presented at the Prague Conference on Artificial Environments as Artifacts
‘Everything turns into its opposite through metamorphosis
to live through its purest form’
When I was to sit down, with a pen in hand, and write what I intend to present to you today, I faced one difficulty: I did not know who you are, what you are after and unaware of that I was not able to write a formal text, composing a monologue that I myself don’t need. I do have something to tell you or at least I believe I do, yet one chooses different ways to tell one and the same thing to different people and for different reasons. So I had to imagine you, to think you out, to tease you into an imaginative discourse, in which you would take the listening part, in fact the more difficult one. My imagination may never meet reality but I don’t feel awkward about that, and I don’t think it is that important either: I just needed this initiation as quant mathematicians need to introduce virtual equations for their own reasons...
I faced another difficulty, as it always happens to me when trying to voice my thoughts into words: '...language can hardly present thought at once in its coherence: it has to set it out in parts and in accordance with a certain linear continuity...' as Foucault put it. Which is my pattern of voicing my thoughts? I have to put together the parts of an intellectual puzzle and the image of that puzzle will hopefully come up in the end.
That was the mental labyrinth I had to enter and I had to at least give it size and shape, otherwise it might have turned out to be an endless one, resembling Borhess’s La Biblioteca de Babylon. Still Borhess himself shaped this labyrinth after the pattern of a library, avoiding in this way its vicious infinity.
I don’t feel like making a historical analysis and review of the development of new forms in art, I mean videoart, mediaart and the creation of virtual realities. I don’t feel like comparing what is going on in my country to what already exits outside Bulgaria either. And I have a very simple reason about that: as an artist involved in artistic and social activities I have at the same time to keep the position of an observer. To put it in a different way I had to keep a critical eye to something that is so close to my heart and eye, that the image is getting blurred. I think I share the effort of keeping the distance with everybody who is involved in the new technologies in visual arts and artificiality with their attempt to give it new meaning, new purpose and new name...and this attempt is still considered to be the core of true art. We don’t have the distance that time mercifully provides and we have to feel the sign behind the signified. That holds true for countries ‘frozen’ under particular social, political and economic circumstances for a continuous period of time. My country is one of them. We are trying very hard to catch up, to experience in several years only what had sprouted, grown and blossomed for quite a longer time, in fact for the proper time, trusting the rhythm of life. Our real time had been so compresses that the fruits of our effort got rotten, before growing ripe, we are breathlessly rushing headlong to take over shadows, born elsewhere, shadows that have reached us through TV, magazines, catalogues, shadows that are but reproductions of something...somewhere.
When it comes to action and artistic commitment which is not formal in character and purely aesthetic in nature, but generates meanings that provoke social response and relate to moral and intellectual modes of existence - well that is the other side of the coin. The artist works in a society of relict aesthetic values, where culture is institutionalized to fit the old and painfully known scheme. What the artist is trying to create is qualified as not standard, and that is the mildest way to put it. The artist is on the limit of what is expected and welcome, of what is normal and acceptable, the artist breaks through that limit . His actions are qualified as avant-garde, which is fundamentally wrong, and in the intellectual landscape of my country takes the shape of something inconsistent, strange, exotic and DIFFERENT. Yet at the same time the artist, willingly or subconsciously, follows patterns that were established and acknowledged somewhere else. It is again the interpretation of something already known, shaped and completed, that is at work. It may be a performance or a videosculpture, a multimedia installation or maybe a conceptual art - that makes no difference. The artist, following patterns that were formed somewhere else in some different historical, social and political time, turns out to be again the one to catch up but now he is also the one dismissed from true life here and now, lost in his barren world. On the other hand he can not feel the driving force behind the phenomenon of performance in the 60ies, its mutation to videosculpture, the growth if videoaesthetics, the creation of virtual realities, because they don’t belong with his world...And that is why what is going on in my country remains incomplete, inconsistent, haphazard, obscure, it remains chaotic and poor. Yet maybe this obscurity , the aesthetic and stylistic chaos lend him the freedom and recklessness to introduce new technologies in his art.
‘Anthropology of Everyday Life’ is the project I am working on at present. It is an attempt to formulate certain questions, to grasp and interpret meanings and clusters of meanings in the field of communication and information, defined as the subject of this symposium: it explores the relations between TV and Reality, Real and True, Action and Behaviour, Response and Policy, Ideology and Myth, Fairly Tale and History without claims to provide an exhaustive and final view on these issues. Not long ago I came upon a text that may be a good reason to start a discussion, to set thoughts free, this is a text and an inspiration, a point of creative departure to interpreting both the nature of phenomena and any particular phenomenon, a text that I intend to rewrite and interpret: ‘‘If we take the story of Borhess ( about the mapmakers’ at the Emperor’s court that make such a detailed map of the empire that in size it overlaps its territory, and the map grows wrinkled and stale with the empire’s decline till it is totally torn out and only parts of it remain here and there in the desert....) as an exquisite allegory of simulation, we will go back to the tale that is at present imbued with the abstract appeal of simulacrum of the second power. The space locked in the map does not exist before and after the map is made. From now on the map will precede space and if we are to tell the story again limbs of space will slowly disintegrate under the map in this story. Remnants of the real will be traced out here and there, and not in the desert of the Empire, but in the wilderness of the real....’ Jean Baudrillard To trigger further speculation I will afford changing this text a little. Let me replace the word map with the word television and see what will come out as a result: ‘The space locked in the TV does not exit before and after the TV is made. From now on the TV will precede space and if we are to tell the story again limbs of space will slowly disintegrate under the TV in this story. Remnants of the real will be traced out here and there, and not in the desert of the Empire, but in the wilderness of the real....’ The new realities: space of communications, the media, the satellization in communication technologies are part of this wilderness. The question is that Television prescribes norms. It has developed from a witness, a recorder, a transmitter of reality into our all-seeing “third eye” that makes everything to be accessible here and now on live. The particular, personal, daily life becomes part of the life of the big TV family: the world. And we have to obey the norms that it prescribes and we have to follow the unvoiced moral advice if we want to belong to that hyper-reality, that thousands of TV cameras produce every moment. We look straight into the face of “GOOD” and “EVIL”. No questions are to be asked. We believe all things are true. We follow the events with the eyes of a witness. We follow fashion, sports, the black chronicles, the gossip, the wars, and sinking deep in this hyper-realistic and hypnotic reality we turn into its consequence....Into a lifeless consequence. Flesh, forced into this hyper-reality, annihilates. the phenomenon of Television dematerializes and annihilates sexuality by creating electronic objects of desire. TV absorbs us in virtual worlds and makes us feel them as our real, precise and exhaustive world picture. What we lose, in the effort (and will) to trust this reality, is our ability for human contact. The TV image is possible, it is acceptable, it is intimate, it works. Yet it is not real, it is not vulnerable, it is barren: it is an image, a derivative of flesh rather than the flesh itself. The sacredness of human body and flesh is violated: any moment little hungry Etiopean children may drop in in your living room; or victums of disasters and accidents, run over bodies of peaceful citizens and soldiers...and at the same time we watch TV, munching popcorns carelessly, and may even swich from channel to channel to see Claudia on the catwalk, triumphant. We have lost the sacredness of the body. I don’t mean that we have become less vulnerable, I rather mean that irresponsibility has run wild into us, destroying our natural disgust against killing. That finds a partial compensation in the fear from law and legality...it is not the murder that impresses us, it is the trial at court that we can’t forget, that’s a TV performance on live, a real TV serial. In the long run O.J. Sympson was pronounced unguilty, but that can not make the dead, less dead than they are. .. Here comes the question: What is the essence of Humanism? It is a core of themes, related to judgements of value. For the purposes of this presentation and in general, I accept the definition of Humanism, that Foucault gives in his work: ‘Was ist Aufklarung. In it he traces out the relations among Christian Humanism, Theo-centric Humanism, the Sceptical Humanism of the 19th. century, Marxist Humanism and the Humanism of Exsistentialism. I would hardly make a mistake if I add the Humanism of Television. I wonder if Shakespeare will be too surprised to hear me say that the world is a television and we are part of it. We are obssessed with the global media system of values. The consistency in the chain of causality is distorted and closed in the endless cycle of meaning propagation. We can no longer ask the question: ‘Who creates television?’ without getting in answer: ‘You do: reality feeds television with evidence’. Tevelision creates modes of behaviour and reproduces them again, under the pretext that it reflects reality. The relationship Reality-Television-Reality is no longer valid. ‘Everything turns into its opposite through metamorphosis to live through its purest form’ Jean Baudrillard.
I would like to discuss the proposal of Maarten Sprenger and Maarten Ploeg for arranging a P.A.R.K. 4DTV workshop in Sofia under the title “5000 Second Show” and I have at least two good reasons to do it. the first one is that this proposal is about how to make TV, it about alternative one our artwork videofilms, transmitted on the cable network of Amsterdam TV. My second reason is that I find the attempt to disguise means of expression and present them as goals as symptomatic: it is a goal for goal’s sake and ignores the fact that a true manipulation may be at work . The more I read this text, the more suspicious I get: the authors pretend to present a ‘radical concept’. I can find in the text the key words that are supposed to express this radical feature: ‘pure form of sound and image’, ‘pure television’ and everything that may fall under this definition. Moreover - there is a suggestion in the text that the reader will find out about ‘how to work out non-standard television concepts’. To me ‘How to work out non-standard television concepts’ implies three possible interpretations: - to provide the instruction about working out non-standard television concepts; - to provide examples about working out non-standard television concepts; - to provide methods of working out non-standard television concepts. These three interpretations, in their turn, mean to provide a standard on non-standard television. The contradictions on which this concept is based are fundamental in character and symptomatic. Any attempt to give shape to the notion of OTHERNESS ( in my case this is the domain of new television) through defining it as ‘alternative’, ‘anti’, ‘pure’ and ‘true’ with the means of SAMENESS ( in my case this is the domain of regular television), leaves us within the well known shape of SAMENESS ( of regular television) and is doomed to failure. It is a variation, a play, an interpretation of SAMENESS. Consequently we can never more qualify this attempt to make ‘pure television’ as radical.
Historical memory is not bad enough to ignore the failure of surrealist revolt against the world, the attempt to force art into falling apart around its core and the failure to create art for art’s sake. ‘Pure Art’ is the attempt to reduce art to the limits of personal artistic gesture. But what makes this gesture artistic is the involvement of the public and the artists commitment to the social life of his work. In the world we live in, Creation is bound to be shared. And we have no other way to create things, but the way God created man: free to livbe and accomplish His Creation.
Let’s go back to the text now. I can sense a deliberate effort or may be a spontaneous desire to mislead: to usher the reader into the labyrinth of TV space without letting him know where he is...and what is television, anyway? The misleading chain of words goes like that: ‘P.A.R.K. 4DTV broadcasts anything that deals with the pure form of sound and image ....and is the solution to a black screen in the night time...’.And there comes to me another question, and another follows: How can the image be pure? Pure of what? How much pure? I can ignore them, it’s O.K. The question: ‘What is TV?’ never comes. I have the feeling instead that I can do whatever I want to on the condition that it will stand in opposition to the ‘black screen in the night time’ and will not be ‘a monotone bomb of infotainment and soaps’. I wonder which is the ‘purest’ form of sound and image at night time - isn’t it the black screen at night and the silence in the dark? Yet I have to show that this is ‘a work of art’. How to do it? I will not tell.
And back to the text, now. ‘...Television as sensual source of information...’. To me that implies: - a biased interpretation of information, that means providing distorted information, manipulating; - decorating information, providing information in make up to make it more appealing....and that is again manipulating....’and may be described as pure television’.
Television that uses information to manipulate is pure television. Television that replaces values with their is pure television. Television that forms and distorts mass consciousness is pure television. Brainwashing television is pure television. “Dallas’ Family Series is a television of the purest breed. We needn’t find shelters in barren TV domains, calling them TV artworks, we’d better take TV as what it really is and, in our turn, make our own manipulation with it. We have to tame television and this is our last chance to win our identity.
I don’t feel like discussing the technical issues in the field of media. I don’t care how to make television, I want to know what is television, anyway? I don’t care about the projections of virtual realities, what I care about are the modes of thought that these realities keep to. I can understand that the technical part, the formal one is important to the development of the artistic means of expression. Yet the essential part to me, as an artist, lies in what these means express in fact, how to use them and for what sake. Where are we as acting agents? Where is the world and how media describes the world, how media presents the world and can media encompass the world? Where are we, in the new realities we feel and try to articulate? ‘...When in 1764 Kant asked “What is Enlightenment anyway?” his question is about what is going on? What is happening to us? What is the world, the time we live in? Or to put it in a different way “Who are we? Who are we the Enlighteners, the witnesses of the Age of Enlightenment? Let us compare this question to the Cartesian “Who am I?” I as an individual, yet universal and nonhistorical subject. Who am “I”, because Descartes is everyone, regardless where and when. But the question that Kant asked was different: “Who are we at this particular moment in history?” This question analyzes both us and our historical situation....’ I can hardly make analysis of our historical situation, and I don’t mean to. However I can try and I will keep trying to adopt the position Faucault describes in his interpretation of Kant’s paper on Enlightment, published in 1784 in a Munich newspaper. When we discuss art issues, aesthetic categories and new technologies we are bound to answer one important question: What paradigms of thought lie behind? To what extent the new horizons remain within the routine of our world vision. And since we are discussing the role of virtual realities and cyber spaces in art we should first consider virtual realities in general. And that is to see what lies behind appearances, to what extent virtual worlds follow our worldvision and represent its consequence. , to what extent they are shadows of reality, the reality of our body and spirit, our banal everyday reality. Compared to the issues about the introduction of new technologies in art and the way they influence the aesthetics of the image in art the questions, mentioned above, are fundamental in character. Unless we make an attempt to answer them the only alternative we have is to apply the paradigms of thought we have already adopted to newly-sprout fields of creativity. But maybe this is the way to expand our worldvision and reach out to the horizons of the unknown. And of course that is neither evident nor promised. I was curious to find out the prototype of videoclips in the Fernan Lege’s film ‘Mechanical Ballet’, made at the beginning of the century and belonging to the Movie Avant-Garde. I dare say that the pictures of Man Ray lends brilliance and uniqueness to our idea about modern photography. It was as early as the works of Esher appeared, when the play with absurd perspectives was discovered for the visual arts. The two-dimensional space of Vazareli bulged in at the time when if men have had a word for computer at all, it should have sounded quite exotic. I can see that history is so rich and benevolent to interpretations, that we can not take much from going back to find examples that will prove the consistence of one notion or another. Because we will always find them. The important thing is the context in which we will interpret the examples. And again we come to the question about the time we live in, about our own situation. We are involved into a discourse of new technologies and technical progress as part of the West-European system of moral values and that is inevitable. That is an all-encompassing rationality, pretending to be universal and a symbol of Progress. It is a widely-spread notion that it is a question of time only for the Second and the Third Worlds to adopt that symbol as their own, to join consensus, democracy, happiness and welfare. Nobody takes notice of the dark side of optimism and technical euphoria. The essence of Islam remains a world of its own. There are countries where the cultivation of West-European values is not only incomplete: what has already been achieved is falling apart. Something went wrong somewhere, something failed us. We can put that as mediaeval barbarism, or maybe choose Islamic fundamentalism, it is up to us. Yet there is a incomprehensible resistance to the universality of that model. How can one resist rationality, progress, happiness? Why should anybody be doubtful to embrace them? Obviously it is the paradigm of power that has a finger in all this. And here comes the problem because we can not play the strategic part and hope to solve it with power. There exists the Western model of civilization, pretending to be universal ...and there are other models that will never join it. I believe this is an answer to the childish hope that it is a question of time and that we will live happily ever after.
Sofia, November 95 Ventsislav Zankov