POWER PLANTS PIANO, 2015, Installation, Culver City, CA. “Death of the Artist” installation involving Blue paint, two square mirrors, 8 potted palms, 7 potted mums, a tree bench covered in epoxy, Casio piano on stand, skylight, and participation Note: Play the video with sound on to receive the “that’s too real” conversation. A text and HC Andersen story follow the mobile phone video documentation.
After appreciating Roland Barthes, Death of the Author, I wondered how this can apply to other vocations including that of the artist. The “Death of the Artist” installation involved a wall painted blue; an aqua reminiscent of the colour chosen as the painted bottom of a pool, or the backdrop in a butterfly enclosure. 8 Palms lined up in their shipped pots, spaced with 7 chrysanthemums, sided by a log bench covered in epoxy, an electric Casio piano facing the audience of plants, two mirrors in each corner reflecting sunlit shapes. The sunlight streamed through a cutout in the roof of the building made by the artist inhabiting the space prior to the current installation. The piano was left plugged in and on, and was played by whoever wished to. Instead of a pianist, or a painter, or a performer, the viewers became the witness to the Death of the Artist. While the elements in the room were chosen somewhat autobiographically, the awareness such identity really did not matter was a focus. As the exhibition was situated in the graduate exhibition event for the college, in Los Angeles, a city noted for a wave of artists working in Institutional Critique or Social Practice, the installation made evident of conceptual art requiring some kind of mental game within the viewer or participant of the art. Mind Art.
What does “artist” mean, seems to have become an eye rolling question or something that must be treated with deep suspicion. Perhaps no one will agree on what it means today, and so we will learn the limits of difference and wonder about the detriments and virtues of consensus. There was a time, the artist meant becoming incredibly skilled and creating something deemed valuable to either the ruling class, the people, or both.
Thanks to modern and postmodern theory, the ability to think about the structure of life based on a multitude of awarenesses became available to anyone who wanted to find out. The demand for degrees of Master and PhD became a badge of eligibility to teach or attain certain jobs. The dandy uprising of the alternative or outsider artist burgeoned as a reaction to various dynamics within institutional models. As that dynamic could be a cookie all it’s own, this one will skip ahead to the identifiable social phenomena: artist as an identifiable myth. The story of where the artist came from and how that is tied their practice (as if in a perpetual state of never becoming a professional), is not only assumed to be the way for an artist to carve out a career but if a person making art goes against it, they may be cast aside from the “canon.” This identity focus in art was taken up both by the pro and anti institutional positions. And so as ideas themselves may not not inherently good or bad, meaning fruitful or destructive, the rise of confusion and emotional posturing has become clearly more prevalent.
In this perspective, art and myth of artist became both advertising and war. This was widely written about the use of artists as a tool of propaganda. And instead of a ballistic material, the art object becomes a transitory object of the artists’ identity, weaving a web of alliances, quite literally around the globe. The notion “anything can be art” widened the field of art as to making anyone questioning the blatant obtuseness of artist productions subject to being labelled in a sociologically negative way. And a label today mirrors that of the deployment of Brand. The layers of meaning within a Brand are something almost everyone is familiar with. Audi, Hermes, Target, Marlboro. So what happens post-branding? We are living in that now. Perhaps a nostalgic return to the labels formerly known as bad, such as “rural”, “dull”, “unsophisticated.”
These idealogical apparatae are increasingly apparent thanks to social media, the internet, as people found ways to weaponise media. The media itself is blamed, understandably as what information can come to pass before someone’s brain is not an area without bias. But the information on the internet is out there. The key has often been within the questions. So the blame cannot really be passed onto a media entity or this or that being evil or bad; the responsibility for knowing is within the individual. And that’s a tough task. In this way, there are no bad questions.
Moving along, as images are finally being embraced as the fictions they are, the documentary and referent qualities still exist. Humans are being forced to live with cognitive dissonance, and realize the idea anyone with a mobile device may be an unprofessional videographer, photographer, podcaster, editor, reporter or journalist, and that really creates a different quality to culture and life than when there was professionals. However, in the collapsing space between abject emotional experiences to public viewership creates clouds of confusion with people quick to tribally align, we have in our time a great fruit for understanding and clarity.
Instead of the obtuseness of “art” and the silencing nature of “ssshhhh, you shalt not speak unless degreed” scenario as written by Tom Wolfe in The Painted Word, we have means of voicing and creating harmony or discord at our individual will. As the Painted Word is a bit of a complicated version of the children’s story, The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen; why not actually say the emperor has no clothes on, be daring and actually say it.
Roland Barthes, Death of the Author, sent forth the notion the author is not the matter in the book. The reader takes from the signs on the page and imagines scenes and recreates a story that may or may not be related to the authors intention. The focus on the nuances in temporality may lose the attention of some readers yet clarifies an important aspect into the way the idea an artists’ history and identity is taken up by society. If the Artist becomes a signifier of class or virtue; sucking the air out from the post-modernist ideals of agency, authorship, and freedom, the slide into social justice authorship is not a long one. The other aspect of post-modern ideals is the denial of any objective truth or reality, and the deployment of technology and the science as avenues for power. The logos of post-modernism becomes a rhetoric unto itself, a closed loop or solipsism, a monocle with which to see the world simultaneously promising rewards (work or income, food and housing) for some, while disregarding and disposing of the bodies and identities used.
In this way, Artists and their works become stones at which gallerists and societies throw at the other, and the generative energy Art has loses to nihilism. It’s really not terribly melancholic as it might seem. The difference is in the mind, and the monocle becomes multidimensional glasses, and we come back to embracing multitudes of voices and discerning that which generates thought, care, joy, play, commitment, fruitful work and meaningful life. Art doesn’t have to be social justice, or propaganda, but it would help if we opened up the minds of people to allow them access to the controversial perspectives in history that led to the creation of where we are today free from blame and accusation. This requires a bit of faith and belief in each other’s ability to become literate and behave as mature adults. And I feel we have the time. And it’s a great time now.
The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen
Many, many years ago there was an emperor who was so terribly fond of beautiful new clothes that he spent all his money on his attire. He did not care about his soldiers, or attending the theatre, or even going for a drive in the park, unless it was to show off his new clothes. He had an outfit for every hour of the day. And just as we say, “The king is in his council chamber,” his subjects used to say, “The emperor is in his clothes closet.”
In the large town where the emperor’s palace was, life was gay and happy; and every day new visitors arrived. One day two swindlers came. They told everybody that they were weavers and that they could weave the most marvellous cloth. Not only were the colours and the patterns of their material extraordinarily beautiful, but the cloth had the strange quality of being invisible to anyone who was unfit for his office or unforgivably stupid.
“This is truly marvellous,” thought the emperor. “Now if I had robes cut from that material, I should know which of my councillors was unfit for his office, and I would be able to pick out my clever subjects myself. They must weave some material for me!” And he gave the swindlers a lot of money so they could start working at once.
They set up a loom and acted as if they were weaving, but the loom was empty. The fine silk and gold threads they demanded from the emperor they never used, but hid them in their own knapsacks. Late into the night they would sit before their empty loom, pretending to weave.
“I would like to know how far they’ve come,” thought the emperor; but his heart beat strangely when he remembered that those who were stupid or unfit for their office would not be able to see the material. Not that he was really worried that this would happen to him. Still, it might be better to send someone else the first time and see how he fared. Everybody in town had heard about the cloth’s magic quality and most of them could hardly wait to find out how stupid or unworthy their neighbours were.
“I shall send my faithful prime minister to see the weaver,” thought the emperor. “He will know how to judge the material, for he is both clever and fit for his office, if any man is.”
The good-natured old man stepped into the room where the weavers were working and saw the empty loom. He closed his eyes, and opened them again. “God preserve me!” he thought. “I cannot see a thing!” But he didn’t say it out loud.
The swindlers asked him to step a little closer so that he could admire the intricate patterns and marvellous colours of the material they were weaving. They both pointed to the empty loom, and the poor old prime minister opened his eyes as wide as he could; but it didn’t help, he still couldn’t see anything.
“Am I stupid?” he thought. “I can’t believe it, but if it is so, it is best no one finds out about it. But maybe I am not fit for my office. No, that is worse, I’d better not admit that I can’t see what they are weaving.”
“Tell us what you think of it,” demanded one of the swindlers.
“It is beautiful. It is very lovely,” mumbled the old prime minister, adjusting his glasses. “What patterns! What colours! I shall tell the emperor that I am greatly pleased.”
“And that pleases us,” the weavers said; and now they described the patterns and told which shades of colour they had used. The prime minister listened attentively, so that he could repeat their words to the emperor, and that is exactly what he did.
The two swindlers demanded more money, and more silk and gold thread. They said they had to use it for their weaving, but their loom remained as empty as ever.
Soon the emperor sent another of his trusted councillors to see how the work was progressing. He looked and looked just as the prime minister had, but since there was nothing to be seen, he didn’t see anything.
“Isn’t it a marvellous piece of material?” asked one of the swindlers; and they both began to describe the beauty of their cloth again.
“I am not stupid,” thought the emperor’s councillor. “I must be unfit for my office. That is strange; but I’d better not admit it to anyone.” And he started to praise the material, which he could not see, for the loveliness of its patterns and colours.
“I think it is the most charming piece of material I have ever seen,” declared the councillor to the emperor.
Everyone in town was talking about the marvellous cloth that the swindlers were weaving.
At last the emperor himself decided to see it before it was removed from the loom. Attended by the most important people in the empire, among them the prime minister and the councillor who had been there before, the emperor entered the room where the weavers were weaving furiously on their empty loom.
“Isn’t it magnifique?” asked the prime minister.
“Your Majesty, look at the colours and patterns,” said the councillor. And the two old gentlemen pointed to the empty loom, believing that all the rest of the company could see the cloth.
“What!” thought the emperor. “I can’t see a thing! Why, this is a disaster! Am I stupid? Am I unfit to be emperor? Oh, it is too horrible!” Aloud he said, “It is very lovely. It has my approval,” while he nodded his head and looked at the empty loom.
All the councillors, ministers, and men of great importance who had come with him stared and stared; but they saw no more than the emperor had seen, and they said the same thing that he had said, “It is lovely.” And they advised him to have clothes cut and sewn, so that he could wear them in the procession at the next great celebration.
“It is magnificent! Beautiful! Excellent!” All of their mouths agreed, though none of their eyes had seen anything. The two swindlers were decorated and given the title “Royal Knight of the Loom.”
The night before the procession, the two swindlers didn’t sleep at all. They had sixteen candles lighting up the room where they worked. Everyone could see how busy they were, getting the emperor’s new clothes finished. They pretended to take cloth from the loom; they cut the air with their big scissors, and sewed with needles without thread. At last they announced: “The emperor’s new clothes are ready!”
Together with his courtiers, the emperor came. The swindlers lifted their arms as if they were holding something in their hands, and said, “These are the trousers. This is the robe, and here is the train. They are all as light as if they were made of spider webs! It will be as if Your Majesty had almost nothing on, but that is their special virtue.”
“Oh yes,” breathed all the courtiers; but they saw nothing, for there was nothing to be seen.
“Will Your Imperial Majesty be so gracious as to take off your clothes?” asked the swindlers. “Over there by the big mirror, we shall help you put your new ones on.”
The emperor did as he was told; and the swindlers acted as if they were dressing him in the clothes they should have made. Finally they tied around his waist the long train which two of his most noble courtiers were to carry.
The emperor stood in front of the mirror admiring the clothes he couldn’t see.
“Oh, how they suit you! A perfect fit!” everyone exclaimed. “What colours! What patterns! The new clothes are magnificent!”
“The crimson canopy, under which Your Imperial Majesty is to walk, is waiting outside,” said the imperial master of court ceremony.
“Well, I am dressed. Aren’t my clothes becoming?” The emperor turned around once more in front of the mirror, pretending to study his finery.
The two gentlemen of the imperial bedchamber fumbled on the floor trying to find the train which they were supposed to carry. They didn’t dare admit that they didn’t see anything, so they pretended to pick up the train and held their hands as if they were carrying it.
The emperor walked in the procession under his crimson canopy. And all the people of the town, who had lined the streets or were looking down from the windows, said that the emperor’s new clothes were beautiful. “What a magnificent robe! And the train! How well the emperor’s clothes suit him!”
None of them were willing to admit that they hadn’t seen a thing; for if anyone did, then he was either stupid or unfit for the job he held. Never before had the emperor’s clothes been such a success.
“But he doesn’t have anything on!” cried a little child.
“Listen to the innocent one,” said the proud father. And the people whispered among each other and repeated what the child had said.
“He doesn’t have anything on. There’s a little child who says that he has nothing on.”
“He has nothing on!” shouted all the people at last.
The emperor shivered, for he was certain that they were right; but he thought, “I must bear it until the procession is over.” And he walked even more proudly, and the two gentlemen of the imperial bedchamber went on carrying the train that wasn’t there.