“So, after abstraction, the monochromatism of, say, Yves Klein and the advent of imageless painting, when nothing more can get to us, really touch us, you no longer expect some brainwave of genius, the surprise of originality, but merely the accident, the catastrophe of finality.”
“Expect the Unexpected”
Art As Far As The Eye Can See
By 1960 Abstract Expressionism was done. Pollock was dead. Most of the artists of that movement were sliding quickly into alcoholism, depression and decadence, or worse, mannerism and academicism. But by 1960 a new art world was forming, one that would be determined by the onslaught of the electronic world. In quick succession Art moved from paintings to objects, from ideas to concepts, from abstraction to images, from the avant garde to the in-crowd and from the material to the immaterial. The old visual world was now irrelevant. Speed would determine the outcomes and influences in our culture. Speed which would be documented by the camera and the program. And with that, we get the installation, the cibachrome, the video and the transformed object. All of these new art products are the outcomes of not an aesthetic dialect, but instead, an aesthetization of the culture of speed, the documentation of violent transformation. By 19 Sixty we had entered the age of Hyperaesthetics.
Throughout the 1950s the “advanced” nations were spending huge amounts of capital to find a new viewpoint. The race to space was predicated on two things, the divisions of the world after WWII into Cold War states, and the need to find a global delivery system for the atomic bomb. All through the rise of AbEx painting, Cold War nations were hard at work increasing the velocity of their cultures, particularly in aeronautics and communications. The earlier advances in film and radio simply could not supply enough information, they were too slow – both were still grounded in human interactions, storytelling and mythologizing, and both were limited by their delivery. What was needed was another delivery system of images and words, one that could be instantaneous and far reaching. Lens based television quickly filled the bill. But still these televisual studio perspectives were not enough, they were still grounded. For the Cold War to be understood the new instantaneous image would have to be from above, a birds eye view of the world below, able to parse and parcel huge amounts of optical information up close and in detail. In order to accomplish this new aeronautical and astronomical vantage point the sound barrier first had to be broken. “…Chuck Yeager was credited with being the first man to break that sound barrier in level flight on 14 October 1947, flying at an altitude of 45,000 ft (13.7 km).” Level flight meant that an engine had been developed that was powerful enough and fast enough to project an airplane beyond the speed of sound without using earth’s gravity to create a dive of death. Speed freed us of Newtonian physics. Soon these new velocities would take the lens outside of earth’s boundaries providing new perspectives on human interactions.
The lens followed and recorded every movement, every advance of this new culture in real time. Every new speed record, every step into space, and finally, the plethera of images and information beaming into our living rooms, have been dictated for and documented by the lens and the program. This new velocity was also working its way into our physical selves. We began to accelerate and pump our bodies and minds with new pharmacological potions designed to take us along with this new velocity of life, change our basic human structures, in order to play a part in this hyperactivated culture. The first drugs were designed to control our sleep, alter our thinking patterns and change our relationship to pain. And with the pharmacological hyper-activization, we began remaking our physical selves so that we might exist for this lens culture. Optical reassignments or “lens ready” images have created a proliferation of new plastic surgery techniques and medical innovations that have changed our bodies inside and out. We no longer look in the mirror, we must appear on camera. As we have progressed from 19 Sixty these changes have quickly eroded our connections to Pollock’s natural man, and have created a new kind of artist, one plugged into Warhol’s machine.
“It is a sense of being in communion with powers greater than yourself and intelligence which far outstrips the human mind and energies which are very ancient. You have a sense of being brought in to God’s workshop and that the veil is pulled away and for the first time you see how things really are.” Timothy Leary
The faster our culture speeds along the more we vanish into “God’s workshop.” Artists now leave digital trails of ephemeral happenings, theatre sets that held performances and ghosts mirrored in optical glass. But with our disappearance we remain in stasis, caught in an endless loop of repetition and ennui. For example – the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields” is a 1960s prototype for what would become a vast cultural imperative. In the video we see performance art, a theater set piece, camera trickery, quick cutting, overlays and montage. It predates all of the televisual editing tricks and installation techniques that are the hallmarks of Postmodern lens culture. In this culture we must become hypnagogic in front of our screens, and like Salvador Dali, remain awake to encounter the hallucinogenic visions playing in our brains. We are somnambulists and voyeurs, lost in the hallucinatory world of light-speed and lenses. We are no longer grounded. We float in the digital subjective, our voices not quite our own, because we have merged into the great electronic collective. We’ve tuned in, turned on and dropped out. We have found that it is only through our absence that we are allowed to become transparent, and with that transparency, we can be “seen” by everyone. We lack depth and heft. We are light as a feather on the breeze – a world of Forrest Gumps. Artists don’t make things anymore, we find things. We capture images rather than draw them. We scan rather than read. We signify rather than converse. We develop games rather than create poetics. We program applications rather than create mythologies. Our vision determines nothing in the free floating vacuum of space.
Happiness Is a Warm Gun
After the bullet – we find our bliss. The ironies unfold into infinity. Speed, violence, and disappearance all converge in our consciousness, and then, we find our happiness. Once we are gone all that remains are the endless loops of lens captures and empty rooms. It’s not death – no, that is physical. We “move to another level,” we are “no longer in pain,” and “we’ve gone to a better place.” That was the feeling I had in the recent show at the New Museum. It was all about art that had “gone on to a better place.” Jerry Saltz was correct in his estimation, that the sublime has become us…”These young artists show us that the sublime has moved into us, that we are the sublime; life, not art, has become so real that it’s almost unreal.” Life attains this unreality when we see it from the other side, when we are no longer “alive.” We crave the warm gun, and fashion its likeness into our electronic devices, each one delivering us to that other side. From that vantage point it all becomes clear, transparent. We can dream of our physical lives in bliss, we luxuriate in the nostalgia of a fleshy yesterday now that we are free of the struggle of gravity and flesh. We have attained the sublime. “We see how things really are.” We are happy.