Saturday, January 14, 2017

Life Vs. Art

 When we have seen all there is to see, haven't we then we set ourselves up to see something else that is new and brilliant, and completely unforeseen? Down the old road we have walked before, many times we wonder why Death is so prominent in art, which by most manifests on artistic merit seems to be about the best things in life, and that which gives it meaning. Although it flies in the face of whims and fancies about the nature of beauty, Death is a part of life so can not be apart from life, I would surmise. And it retains its own merit, and sense of beauty, if mostly in contrast.

I'm not sure why I am so attracted to this subject, perhaps because of its emotional intensity, but over the past months many times I have found myself thinking on this issue many times. Why would someone hang themselves right before their exhibit was launch in a 1997 exhibit (that shall remain nameless until I find accurate sources), in Regina, Saskatchewan? The mood was dark, outside the inner room, there were excerpts from The Marquis De Sades journals blown up and still on display, yet in the next room all was dark and the rest of the show was off limits, and remained so until its close. The faint scent of death lingered in the air, and all was black if you peered beyond the barrier. The sign read “Staff Only” like a curse. I'm not saying this is more than just a rumour but I heard through the grapevine that it was. The artist in question had problems with life, stresses, mental illness even. Perhaps it was only about herself.

But there are areas in art, particularly in the field of photography when these stresses build up in the sense that Life has a certain intrinsic value but one must question how one views the importance of Art in the world. Every war photographer who was placed in Vietnam (or other later wars) with a unit, and I do mean everyone with a camera had to pick up a gun and defend themselves, and in doing so kill someone just to stay alive. It is an air and a poise to think one can be on the battlefield of war and not involved directly in it or its consequences. The question has come up over the years, over the virtues of this type of photography when a girl trapped under debris from a volcanic lahar drowned over 60 hours. The National Geographic field reporter was Frank Fournier, who took a series of photographs of Omayra Sánchez Garzón in 1985. The girl died, but the photograph gained much praise, and won several notable awards. This is the photo

Also the placement of two rotting sides of beef in the National Gallery in London behind glass, which I can not find references to, but is said to have occurred in the early 90s as a reference to Francis Bacon's work “Figure With Meat, 1954”. Bacon had recently died, in 1992, and his art sold for more than any other living artist at the time. This iconic work, perhaps because of its profound emotional effect on many, created many references and nods in art. It can be found here with some of his other works:

Among those that reference this material is Nine Inch Nails video for Closer. And the German art movement, among them Joel Peter-Witkin that inspired this inspiration also reminisces on Death and the goriest parts of living frequently.   Bacon's art also shows us, the viewer, something very dark is very revealing about our inner nature. It was the most controversial piece the gallery hosted in years, however, I would say it could be outdone by later generations. 

The question in the end is how much value does Art have? If it can save a thousand lives and enlighten the world to bring in the kind of change required to improve the plight of a group of people, can the price be more than that of life.

Hotly contested is the series of art pieces in... involving a dog being chained up in a gallery in Nicoragua. The exhibit by Guillermo Vargaz Jiménez was composed of a chained up dog that was by some reports allowed to starve to death while gallery visitors walked by. Most do not mention that 175 pieces of crack and one ounce of marijuana were allowed to burn in the exposition. Outside on the streets hundreds of dogs were starving all the time. There was no organization or agency to deal with them, and this exhibit showed the need. Was it an immoral thing to do? Was art really worth the life of a dog, a very slow animal... if you had explained its role in life would it understand? Isn't killing a dog synonymous with killing a young child? In North America we don't use dogs as food, outside of the Inuit and Eskimo peoples in the far north, and are generally disgusted by this art that one terrorist/artist found appealing enough for his most note-worthy installation.

More questions arise than answers here, also.   Death in art is not always intentional in the harsh Northern reaches of Canada either.  While taking pictures of a newlywed in her wedding dress, in part of a lake in 2012, the photographer, Louis Pagakis, was startled to see Maria Pantazopoulos go out into deeper waters, and have the young lady from Rawdon, Quebec (north of Montreal) drown in the heavy weight of her dress, despite his efforts to pull her out and save her. (Montreal Gazette 12.21.2012) Pagakis was floored. On his facebook page he writes that his favourite quote is: “We shall be students till death”. And sometimes of Death, it would seem.

I would say to every person, artist or not there is a certain wavering line that can not be crossed in terms of deeming death as art. This sort of questioning can not be avoided, yet remains a frightening prospect for the future based on previous lassé faire appraisals that we all know lead from upright to corrupt, good to bad, Monarchist Democracy to Communist sentiment. Under the past ideology it would be okay to walk into a gallery and for them to show footage of an artist killing themselves, or partaking in an act of murder. I would think that some guidelines should be drawn up for this sort of thing. Although over-generalizations are of no help to anyone, some thoughts on the moral correctness of this behaviour towards death, and whether the public really wants to be exposed to visions of death and murder need to be addressed.

In the end Life and Death are subjective in value to the beholder, yet placing too much worth in one can devalue the other, which are inexorably linked. But the value of one's own soul is in the beholder's hands. If you don't like ultra violent activities then don't support this sort of thing, and join with the 4 million who wrote in to oppose Guillermo Jiménez. Support your own world and your own life, by taking part in activities that expand your consciousness, and open your horizons to the world. If you do like the Gothic darker side of life, you are probably in the right place if you live on the prairies, and you should experience that topic in art more. Please don't go out and kill someone because you think it is art however. Then I would have to kill you.