Al Razutis (Jan-Feb-Aug, 1998)
IMAGINATION rules the arts;
RISK rules the avant-gardes, conveyed by all the courage that 'risk taking' implies.
Courage to risk 'art'.
Courage to risk 'invention', 'vision', 'conviction'...to risk 'failure'. Courage to spray political graffiti and risk 'arrest' in any police-state, political and/or cultural.
Imagination and risk produce the conditions of change - not to be confused with 'progress', a creature of ideological assumptions specific to our modern civilizations. Not to be confused with 'theories of the NEW'. And not to be confused with cultural commodity, and all the black-leather jackets, cool glasses, that such posturings employ.
And certainly not to be confused with 'academic discourse', offered in the confines (read 'prisons') of 'proper analytic methodologies':
('Let's FOOTNOTE, this': Don't like 'rules'? Prefer the discursive 'informs'? Prefer 'art is the medium for...'? This is about ideas and actions. Appropriation and hegemony. This is not a 'conversation' (a 'paper') in the Platonic gardens and libraries of Academia; and we have arrived at our first stop: 'the MALL'...
Insert 'provocation', 'bombs along the railway tracks'....insert your own semio-text accordingly.
'Modern' or 'Post-modern'? According to the 'method'. But let's not quibble about 'subject positioning', just yet.)
IMAGINATION rules the arts; RISK rules the avant-gardes, conveyed by all the courage that 'risk taking' implies. Courage to risk 'art'. Courage to risk 'invention', 'vision', 'conviction'...to risk 'failure'. Courage to spray political graffiti and risk 'arrest' in any police-state, political and/or cultural.
Imagination and risk produce the conditions of change - not to be confused with 'progress', a creature of ideological assumptions specific to our modern civilizations. Not to be confused with 'theories of the NEW'. And not to be confused with cultural commodity, and all the black-leather jackets, cool glasses, that such posturings employ. And certainly not to be confused with 'academic discourse', offered in the confines (read 'prisons') of 'proper analytic methodologies':
('Let's FOOTNOTE, this': Don't like 'rules'? Prefer the discursive 'informs'? Prefer 'art is the medium for...'?
This is about ideas and actions. Appropriation and hegemony. This is not a 'conversation' (a 'paper') in the Platonic gardens and libraries of Academia; and we have arrived at our first stop: 'the MALL'...
COMMERCE-DRIVEN CULTURE in North Ameri(K)a has an appetite for BIG, FAST, RECYCLED, GENERIC, NEW(s). It has an appetite for 'bloatware' and the Ameri(K)an public is 'obese' with media excess, hard/soft ware, and its 'priveleged' view of what constitutes the 'NORM'. It is the protagonist in its own version of progress and history. It is the star of its own world-wide 'specials', the 'top 100 films of the century'. And it is in a 'hurry', because the 'future' has ceased to have meaning.
This consummer-driven ideology has done more to stifle imagination and risk than its citizens can imagine. (Imagine how? When reference is fleeting, gone.) The obsession with the disposable 'new' has displaced the memory of 'past'. In the Disney-Universal-Spiel-burger cultural malls of Ameri(K)a, with its legions of lawyers, publicists, promoters and poll-takers, a SEMIOTIC WASTELAND has developed, full of GENERIC signposts, EMPTY (yet LOUD!) SIGNIFIERS, safe disposable arts... a wasteland where IMAGINATION is VALIDATED by commercial success born of exploitation, appropriation, substitution, and simulation.
You've seen the 'Hollywood' sign, seen the Academy Awards on TV, driven the freeways. But have you seen any 'art', particularly film art in that very place. Or was it surrounded by barbed-wire, presented in a special 'once-a-year' festival, an 'archive'.....maybe in Venice....beach.
Yes, this is 'North Ameri(K)a, with a suburb named Tokyo, and a beach named Cancun.
'Is this real?' you may wonder. Yes, this is a 'very real' wasteland of diversions, a free-play of signifiers, avatars 'doing lunch', a meaningless-real, away from 'the real'; a wasteland of 'simulations' and LOUD assertions, repeated in 'updated'/modified form, with 'block-buster SEQUELS' replacing new works of art. This is the simulated, appropriated, 'virtual' replacing 'the real'.
This is 'MACWORLD', the cultural burger-ville, fast, disposable, timely -- a 'K" mart mall of consummer 'styles' and appropriations of all previous cultures, from all times, from all corners of the word...homogenized by 'success'. This is Disney, theme parks, special effects rides, Las Vegas hotel 'habitats'.
And in this wasteland, the North Ameri(K)ans - the 'K'-mart new immigrant crowd, the suburbanites with tech media toys, the educated with time on their hands, the corporate with no time on their hands, the 'religious right', with their 'family values' and RELIGIOUS FERVOR, they are all PLUGGED IN TO THE COMMON MYTHOLOGY: 'WORK WILL MAKE YOU FREE!' ('to consume', 'to upgrade', 'to be in debt', 'to yearn for more'.) And art, imagination, risk? Whatever 'sells'...
A 1997 web-creation from this author, 'Doing_Time' re-virtualizes (with Surrealist and Situationist influences) the plight of the common consummer-netizen whose operating systems, browsers, and internet service providers, are slowly taking over his/her life. Check it out, 'and let it work for you!'
Successful 'mass marketing' is predicated on selling each and every one of us (consumers) the 'uniqueness' and 'originality' of a given product. In these promotions, valuations and marketing, there are two factors which our MACWORLD culture tolerates, if not celebrates, the first one being 'THE THEORY OF THE LIE. This theory in practice is known and accepted as 'advertising', with its hiring of actors to make claims, to 'cite statistics', to persuade with 'techniques' (the forms of which are stripped from (artistic and historical) content.) It is no wonder that many of the most successful audio and visual 'techniques' were once 'innovations' in the arts. And while bank commercials these days use 'revolutionary' slogans towards the accumulation of more capital, any protest about 'meaning' fails to have any impact, buried as it were, beneath the tide of repetion and 'mass marketing'. (A 'theory of repetition' promoted in the infamous Mein Kampf, refined by 'montage' theories of Leninists and Eisensteins, perfected in 'advertising', and re-quoted in 'Doing_Time'.
The 'truth factory' - whether it be in ADVERTISING, EDUCATION, ENTERTAINMENT or the INTERNET - requires PRODUCERS, TEACHERS, LAWYERS and MEDIA EXPERTS to tell the 'public' 'what's what', 'who is important', 'what's coming next', 'what happened in history, today, what will happen 'tomorrow', etc. In other words, 'THE MIDDLE MAN (or WOMAN)' as propagandist/functionary.
Anyone who has dealt with 'producers' in the 'film industry' already knows about the 'MIDDLE MAN'...anyone who has dealt with curators knows about the MIDDLE MAN...anyone who has had their work 'judged' by a jury, before it is shown, knows about the MIDDLE MAN-WOMAN, anyone who has been to court knows about the MIDDLE MAN, and if you are educated, then the MIDDLE MAN-WOMAN gave you a 'GRADE', and you received a piece of paper, a diploma, saying 'you graduated' and became ONE OF THEM. You pay them. They give you the 'goods'. And they don't have to tell the truth; they only have to be good at 'convincing' others (on what you presume is 'your behalf').
Play the game? Dropped out? Doesn't matter. The commerce-machine just keeps on going...
Slow down. Re-think your role, as consummer, as creator, as both. Re-consider your response, recover the courage (that middle-age denies) to engage imagination without 'compromise'.
Of course, the creative producers, curators, lawyers, teachers and promoters, those that value truth and beauty, and the 'marvelous', who are not 'depressed', 'cynical', who support courage and honor (not to worry, it hasn't 'expired' yet), ingenuity and vision -- those 'promoters of creative principles' who would rather 'quit' than 'retire', they are most certainly out there......even if in minority. Find them. And it is on the 'backs' of those with a sense of 'history' that we got to 'this place' of critical contemplation anyways. Without inspired teachers, visionary entrepreneurs, dedicated curators much of what we see around us 'would not exist'.
To know and/or acknowlege them, however, is not to excuse the majority of others who sit in their 'priveleged' perches in cultural and entertainment industries world wide....waiting for retirement.
We're getting there...
You will read in upcoming publications on this site specific mentions of good and bad, historical articles, manifestos, criticisms, written and collected and over the years in the many mediums that I am familiar with: film, video, holography, virtual reality and theory/criticism. Some of the chronicled accounts will seem 'familiar', some will be 'repetitions', some things 'never change'. In each medium, 'isolated' from the other by history, by language or by practice, there are similar strategies at work: 'imagination' struggles to exist while 'MacWorld' malls serve up the latest re-packaged 'blockbuster hits'.
In Canada, the hegemony of 'Academia' over experimental and avant-garde works was best illustrated in the decade-long stranglehold that the writings of a certain R. Bruce Elder and Bart Testa - both Torontonians - had over cultural exports and experimental film production in the 80's. Their activities are perhaps similar to activities of 'dominant curators' in other countries, but the lessons here bear some mention. In the 1980's they dominated Canadian experimental film shows (curated and exported), dominated the organization of conferences (1989 Toronto Experimental Film Congress), effected multiple Canada Council grants for Mr. Elder (who also sat on the Council 'Advisory Arts Panel'), and precipitated the demise of organizations like the FUNNEL (experimental film theatre - Toronto), all within a singular 'agenda' of promoting 'Canadian' experimental film culture.
This joint-venture career (Testa wrote an abundance of philosopohical 'platitudes' about Elder's work, denounced or trivialized the works of others; Elder wrote essays such as 'THE CINEMA WE NEED', along with 'strategic' curating statements) reached an apex in the late 80's, facilitated the careers of others (Jim Shedden at the AGO), and has been strangely SILENT for the last ten years. Perhaps this silence betrays a 'satisfaction', as the 'fruits of their collective labors' (the near-end of experimental film in Canada) finally resulted in the 'wasteland' of the 90's, a wateland leaving their work as the 'final commentary' on expired 'Kanadian Art'.
Before you think this is a 'personal' gripe, read the Manifesto/Response to the Experimental Film Congress organizers, signed by 76 film-makers, and recall that this response was 'timely' but ultimately 'too late' to have any effect on the government sponsored 'bash'. (Yes, the fat cheshire-cat can disappear, leaving only the BIG 'published' academic smile behind...)
Read also, Shedden's Recommended Film Theory Texts for a glimpse into what constitutes 'official positions' and my Razutis - Aside on (K)anadian Film, to see why the 'nexus' of influence persists, over a decade later, having grown fat in the absence of opposition.
Every culture, nation and time period has its examples of the 'Salon', the Academia, and those that overcome the conceits, the threats, the intimidations of those in power. We learn from past examples to identify the present hegemonies. And these examples must be communicated by whatever means, including the internet. The fact that 10 years after the 'Experimental Congress' in Toronto we have a scattered experimental scene that is barely viable in Canada is something that could have been predicted had the information gotten out....and in this regard, better 'late than never', the various reviews/correspondences and manifestos will be re-published.
SO WHAT IS LEFT? Politically? Artistically?
The orthodox 'LEFT' is......not what it used to be. The failed Soviet experiment and its millions of victims made sure the end was 'irreversible', and all that old Marxian socio-political analysis has expired and become irrelevant. Irrelevant but not extinct! The remnants (of the 'academic Left') remain entrenched in their academias (yes, take a look around!) while collecting royalties from required 'reading lists' which have now become apologies for terrorism and anti-semitic hysteria.
The Anarchist media 'left' - the one that should not be confused with the window smashing and masked impersonators wrapping themselves in black flags - is dedicated to 'independently' engaging IMAGINATION and RISK, and creating works in all mediums, by whatever means, and distributing these works in a world-wide (and changing) network of artists, avant-gardists, criticis, historians, the public....
And the anarchists have little use for 'the power of the State' (cultural, religious, nationalist, ideological conceits included). And you won't see them tenured at MIT or Berkely.
From the roots in the 60's, the theoretical battles of the 70's and 80's ('physchoanalysis of the cinema', 'marxian materialist cinema' etc.) we arrive at a new 'LUMIERE's TRAIN STATION', celebrating 100-plus years of CINEMA and PRAXIS.
Leftist-academic criticism (let's not even talk about the Communist-Soviet-propaganda versions or Eisenstein's revisionism!) is quiet, along with the French-inspired Freudo-Lacanian and Semiotic-Structuralist schools of 'theory and criticism'. The avant-garde is not dead. It's only Old Academia that has abandoned it for the pastures of 'retirement'.
A lot of academics who profitted from the psycho-social 80's are now entrenched, tenured, published, and typically go 'on tour' once in a while to satisfy their department promotion committees.
They are now irrelevant, especially to the FUTURE.
Avant-garde praxis and 'anarchist' sentiments persist in Europe, in havens in North Ameri(k)a, in the THIRD WORLD, typically in the hands of the young, and these efforts continue in what is becoming a CYBER-CINEMA -- one that is free of established venues, curated conceits and canons of prescriptive art, 'pedagogical value'...free to 'burn the past' in favor of an unpredictable future.
Today's cyber-cinema 'counter culture' is equally inspired to create with whatever 'production technology' that is cheap/affordable. Check out, read/view and support the works of people WHO CREATE living culture, even if sometimes it is called 'art', and for virtually no $ gain.
If we are to make ANYTHING out of this CYBER-VIRTUAL-CINEMA, it will be on the basis of MULTI-MEDIAS, free from the prejudices ('one media is better than the other') that divided the MEDIA ARTS in the past. And whether this inter-net based CYBER-VIRTUAL-CINEMA has a future is not to be judged by its present low bandwidth, low resolution and size,; rather, it is to be judged by the aspirations of its artists and their pursuit of a cyber-cinema. In the next years, the BIG problem for digital media artists will be one of RESISTING the pressures of commercialisms, the pressures of selling out for the buck, the pressures of conservativisms, in academia and in reactionary curating circles.
There's nothing 'theoretical' in these battles between the new and the old; they are waged on a very practical front: economics and power. And the RESULTS ARE WHAT WE TERM 'CULTURE', and the ARTS.