Art, for me, is thinking about and responding to life or better ‘the whole existence’. The work of former artist Tehching Hsieh helps us to navigate through the universal circumstances of human life. His performances investigate ‘the whole existence’ by cutting up the passing of time into components and variables.In his artwork called One year performance you see him punch a time clock every hour on the hour for exactly one year. By dividing his life into units, giving his life mathematical parameters, he visualizes the passing of time.
Tehching Hsieh on One year performance: “One year is the human calculation of life, in basically one unit. And this (Wasting time) is the earth around the sun-one year. So it’s a very good way in a piece of art to talk about what life means. To me, in my philosophy of my whole life’s work. I would say life is a life sentence. Life is passing time. Life is free thinking.”
(DasPlatforms. (2014, April 30). Tehching Hsieh – One Year Performance 1980 – 1981 [YouTube]. Via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvebnkjwTeU)
Although he talks about his work as a philosophy it is interesting that he starts from non-philosophical situations in his performances; living on the streets of New York, tying himself to a fellow artist for a year, jumping out of a window from the second floor of a building and voluntary isolation. All these performances show how Tehching Hsieh tries to find freedom. Today he has found his freedom: “I don’t do art anymore. I no longer feel creative. I don’t want to do what the art world expects me to do. This is my exit. This is my freedom.”
(Marks, K,. (2014, April 30), Tehching Hsieh: the man who didn’t go to bed for a year. Via The Guardian)
Grayson Perry: An artist as an anthropologist in search of middle class taste. I want to share this video as an example of how artists can make things visible that are invisible. It is interesting to see how the people of middle class that Perry visits fear choices. The middle class will go for the ready-made ‘no choice left’ houses. “It is restful to buy a show flat, a new house is like a blank canvas and people don’t want to get it wrong”, the interviewed woman explains.
Perry nails it when he refers to this ready-made utopia created by brands as “the esthetic duvet”. The middle class is able to afford to buy the dream that brands offer. This phenomenon is aptly described by Perryas: “A potent symptom of modern capitalist hyper consumption and hard working middle classes and what they have to do to be happy.” The rules about taste are shared and people know what not to do.
But within the middle class there are different tribes. When Perry visits an other middle class home, not far from the ‘esthetic duvet’ tribe, class is not about money but about cultural capital, “the sum of all the knowledge, education and culture these people worked so hard to accumulate”, according to Perry. However because historically the middle class are not the workers and not the landowners, they are therefore unsure of their place in society. Paradoxically people are very well aware of the tribe and the rules they belong to or want to belong to.
Perry visits tribes like the ‘esthetic duvet’ tribe, the vintage loving tribe, the classical academic tribe, ‘green bling’ tribe. Belonging to a tribe means that people validate their choices by TV chefs, glossy magazines, philosophical book shops or organic markets. And within the tribe everybody is seeking for kudos (=respect and recognition) from their fellow tribe-members. Kudos is obtained by not trying to hard or otherwise you look desperate and you are out. There is also something that all tribes of middle class have in common, that is they are self made and highly consumerist.
Perry’s conclusion at the end of his anthropological quest about middle class taste is that each tribe has a different version of saying “I am a good person“: I am doing alright, I have dragged myself out of working class or look I have a shiny house and a shiny car and wife or I am a respectable citizen, I contribute to society and I know the rules or I am groovy I know the rules but I am going to send them off or I want to save the planet for my children.” Between the tribes and their moral reasoning stands a huge wall.
The six tapestries that Perry has set out to create on middle class taste will have to represent precisely these moral varieties mentioned above. When he writes “I think boundaries now [in relation to anything can be art, so what is art] are sociological, tribal, philosophical and maybe even financial.” (‘Playing to the gallery’ p. 42), this implies that for the tapestries to be art they have to fallwithinaphilosophical framework that does justice to these moral varieties without condemning them. Condemning the rules of the tribes will overshadow the (incomplete) meaning behind existing moral varieties within middle classes. The meaning of the condition of the middle classes is that there are a lot of agonizing choices out there. “You become more and more aware of these choices and that is a blessing as well as a curse.”, says Perry at the end of video talking to the woman who bought the show-house.
Perry decided to call these tapestries on middle class taste ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’ and combines them with biblical scenes. For example in the tapestry ‘Expulsion form number 8 Eden Close’ the character Tim Rakewell (computing student at university) and his middle class girlfriend are send away from the tribe that sells into ready-made utopia, into the tribe of classical academia like Adam and Eve are being expelled from paradise.
What is striking is that people who have been interviewed by Perry as part of different tribes feel both validated by his tapestries as well as uncertain about whether they are being belittled. Perry ensures them, being part of the middle class himself, that he loves there homes, that “he toke it on board”. So what is the meaning or the message of the tapestries? Perry’s answer: “The desperation to be an individual.”
Pottery by Perry is now at display at the Bonnefantenmuseum until 5 June 2016. The exposition is called: ‘Hold your believes lightly’. I went and I thought it was beautiful. On the way back in the train I read Perry’s book ‘Playing to the gallery’. (I wish the book had been available when I graduated from art college, I should have stayed on the fucking bus.) In this book Perry gives a definition of art which I really like: “[Art is]…indeed an onanistic experience, to detain and suspend us in a state of frustration and ambivalence, and to make us pause and think rather than simply react.” (‘Playing to the gallery’ p. 70)
In this beautiful video the artist Jannis Kounellis talks about his work, art, humanism, cultures, current time, participation, globalization and more. I love to hear how he talks about the reason why he became an artists instead of a sailor like the rest of his Greek family: “Why does someone become a painter at that moment? I don’t quite remember if it was morning or afternoon. If the sun was shining when an image hits you.”
It is interesting to hear how heviewsglobalizationasrepeatingthe same everywhereas opposed todealing with diversity. Kounellis: “We [artists and designers] should listen and participate without interrupting the relation established by the people with the land.” In this light he prefers Picasso when he compares him with Mondriaan because it is Picasso who let’s himself be influenced by war in his work [literally by painting Guernica] and Mondriaan doesn’t use the bombing of London in his work. Even though I agree with Kouneliss idea of respecting diversity I wonder whether the work of an artist who follows his personal path of investigation, whose work is separated from events in society, participates less in society than an artist who does?
Living in his studio that looked like one of his paintings, Mondriaan wants to reveal what has always been there, what he sees and what others don’t see, a world of perfect balance. As a consequence of this idea a balanced world wouldn’t need art because we would be living in art. In this sense it is notsurprising thatrealismforMondrian was out of the questionbecause realism for Mondriaan isto fall back onthe existing visible world which is in unbalance. However Mondriaan isn’t a pessimist, although he considers art in his time as being in isolation, art will eventually reunite with life.
I can imagine that the work of an artist who responds to events, globally or locally, has an obvious link with society. But the work of Mondriaan, as an investigation on understanding the world, represents his idea that (abstract) art equals living. Finding and visualizing this perfect balance through art would show the structure beneath our world to the world. And although Mondriaan refers to the world as a linear system in his work and not so much to the systems of societies, I think Mondriaans work of perfect balance can be used to show unbalanced processes that are still invisible in society. Mondriaans work is a canvass of life striving for balance which therefore can operate as a reflection on the events occurring in our society and personal lives.
As Picasso painted the result of war in all its immensities, Mondriaan tried to construe the system or rhythm of a balanced world that would overcome an unbalanced life that leads to catastrophic events. The latter takes time to understand, as Mondriaan was well aware of.
Karin – Filterdesign & University of Applied Science Amsterdam