Wednesday, June 28, 2006


More my little ponderings (or perhaps, more like it: repetitions) about the responsibility of an artist... to take un-granted those things that are usually taken for granted. To question people's perceptions and the ideas they might think are "true" and unchangeable.

It's true a visionary artist might have a perfect hold of his/her Zeitgeist, have "a finger on what's happening now", but I think this is not enough yet. One has to go and see beyond one's own time. Beyond what is deemed fashionable. To challenge people's tendency to hivemind thinking. And act accordingly, with one's best abilities to contain this vision of "what's beyond" in one's work. This is what I have previously described as "people who live on the edge", and what I have also considered potentially extremely dangerous.

First, because it might be socially awkward and even unacceptable, because it might not exactly be "politically correct", because one might appear behaving as if one has not received a proper house training. And it might even be not too clever, so don't get me wrong here. There is an honest endeavour beyond the limits or constraints of everyday thinking, and then there is honest stupidity. Finnish artist Teemu Mäki probably tried to make a sort of an artistic statement in 1988 when he created a work of video art called Sex and Death where he killed a cat with an axe and masturbated after this act. Consequently, Mäki was punished for this at court and this incident will probably shadow his artistic career to the end of his life. Did Mäki "go beyond" here, in the way I have described; was his act a visionary one, revealing some unseen aspects of society, did it contribute in some constructive way to our general understanding of it and our lives?

I'm not trying to defend any pathological behaviour here, and I have seen enough homegrown Nazis and other psychopath/sociopath characters who try to justify themselves with these sort of romantic ideas I have described above. I'm not telling anyone to throw their moral judgements away, since it might be me who gets his throat cut by these people next. All I'm trying to do, in my clumsy way, is to figure and outline some sort of vague model for the people who "don't fit" because their vision exceed those of so called normal people. Anyway, at its most harmless, one might be considered an eccentric freak, though tolerated by one's environment if one is lucky to live among people who are understanding in their attitudes. It can get gradually worse, though.

Of course, if our edge-dweller is extremely lucky, s/he may find a beneficial response to what s/he is doing, and even make a fortune with what s/he is doing -- the most banal example of this might be Salvador Dalí, a.k.a. Avida Dollars, an immaculate showman who turned his art and eccentricity into a big buck and got expulsed from the circle of Surrealists.

So, the prospects might look pretty grim: life as a struggling outsider artist, village idiot, lunatic, bully, substance abuser, suicide candidate -- or a sell-out.

This is all just some romantic, simpleminded and clichéd babble, isn't it?


mipko said...

You mentioning Teemu Mäki made me want to post this little clip of an interview with young artist called Xu Zhen.

Imagine what a moral panic this would cause in finland, if some artist would use arguments like these...

CW: In one performance with the title "Throwing a Cat" you killed a cat. Could you explain the performance?

XZ: I didn't kill the cat, it was already dead. In a small room I bashed the cat against the ground for 45 minutes.

CW: Why did you choose a cat?

XZ: I think cats are sexy.

CW: If you think the cat is sexy, why did you torture it then?

XZ: At that time I wanted something sexy, but I couldn't find anything to fulfil my desire and I got frustrated. In order to release my frustration without violence towards the public, the cat was a substitute. The cat was already dead, but to me it was still sexy.

CW: If a woman were sexy, would you do the same thing to her?

XZ: No, I won't do that to a human being. A cat is an animal-totally different. I personally dislike cats. The reason for choosing the cat was that it gave me the very sense I wanted. Other animals weren't suitable. A dog cannot express my artistic feeling. The cat is hot. I actually had the idea in 1997, but no chance to actually do it. Finally I did it, but only once, and I'm now past that stage.

CW: What kind of feelings induced you to do that?

XZ: Every person has different feelings at different times. I just followed a flash in my mind.

( Passing Time with Xu Zhen
by By Simone Schiefke and Starfruit Liu 2006 )

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