The weird turn pro…

“The term comes from a rather interesting guy [Alexei Yurchak] who wrote about what it was like to live in the Soviet Union in the middle of the 1980s when the Soviet Union was collapsing. Because there wasn’t really any protest at the time. What he pointed out is that everyone knew that everything was not right. They knew that those in control had no control. They knew that those running the economy were not in control, that everything was corrupt and often completely fake because the leaders were pretending they were in control. Everybody knew this and the leaders knew that everybody knew this, but nobody did anything about it because there was nothing else. It was normal. And he coined the phrase ‘Hypernormalisation’ to describe this. Somehow, you knew that everything was a bit odd, and a bit unreal, and often fake, but because there was no other picture of the world, and you were so within this system you accepted it as normal and just went on…” Adam Curtis on Hypernormalisation.

Adam goes on to describe the rise of our economic world and its managerial tendencies. From Homo sapien to Homo economicus in less than 100 years. The marriage of the electronic world with corporate economic machinery has created a society driven by a deep need for endless profitability, stability and stasis instead of experiment and change. When the world turns weird…

Bernini Proserpina 1621-22

“I’ve been trying for quite a while to use film to invent a different kind of journalism—to do essays which tell stories, but their real function is to make people pull back and look at their time and to say: Look—in this age of the individual, where you are told that you are the center of the world, power hasn’t gone away. It’s just mutated and morphed into all sorts of different forms, some of which are good, some of which are bad, some of which have grave consequences.” Adam Curtis on filmmaking.

My new obsession involves the skill and observation that some old master sculptors used in creating their work. Most of us don’t really care about such things these days – we have machines and programs that do this kind of work in seconds. Additionally, Neo-Modernists plying their old school abstractions on the market still rail against such verisimilitude as if old masters’ art making is any less a “process.” This sort of reasoning is passé and part of the legacy which the acolytes of Modernism continue to invoke like evangelists at a tent revival. What once were avant-garde provocations for abstraction are now used to describe institutionally approved interior decoration. We have been deskilled by our beliefs, and we believe what we are told. So why not – when looking for inspiration – look elsewhere for something that… isn’t what we know or expect or even want. We only really learn, we only really question, when we find something unexpected – some thing to learn about.

Grim view of global future offered in intelligence report
“The document focuses heavily on the impact of the pandemic, calling it the “most significant, singular global disruption since World War II, with health, economic, political, and security implications that will ripple for years to come.”

Carpeaux Ugolino and His Sons1865–67

The problem of our time is this . . . how do you run a world of millions of individuals, millions of little squealing piglets — how do you herd them together? There is an argument that says it’s not the politicians’ fault that we got this desiccated managerialism — it was just a way of desperately trying to deal with us millions of little squealing piglets. We are little monsters. Seriously, we are. Adam Curtis in conversation with Miles Ellingham.

Even in the most ridiculous of art works one can find moments of pure genius and promise. Carpeaux’s Ugolino is horrendous – overwrought, over composed, over done and over the top (and not necessarily in a good way.) The sculpture doesn’t have an expansive Hellenism, though it sure uses all the classical clichés to try to get there. Instead this work is hampered by its 19th Century Salon theatricality and overwrought hysteria. It’s a product of its time. But if you move in to the thing you can still see bits of genius. This photograph has excised the overwrought narrative from the piece and created a more mysterious moment. What’s going on here? Why the tortured grip, the yielding flesh? This mystery hasn’t any direct answers and allows us a more open experience of the wonderful sculptural illusions in the picture. Sometimes it pays to isolate and concentrate on details.

What Is the Meaning of All This Money?
“In the absence of a hegemonic answer to the question of what money is to us, strangeness reigns. Even as money has been injected with new political vitality, its actual life has become more baroque. NFTs and meme stocks and cryptocivilizations aren’t just the products of new technologies run amok or old financial dynamics dressed up in new clothes; they are the morbid symptoms of an interregnum during which the role and identity of money in our lives and politics are shifting.”

Giambologna Sabine Women 1579-1583

We are living through strange days across Britain, Europe and America. Societies have become split and polarized, not just in politics, but across the whole culture. There is anger at the inequality and the ever-growing corruption and a widespread distrust of the elites. But at the same time there is a paralysis, a sense that no one knows how to escape from this. Even in America where there is now hope with the new president – there are also fears that despite the growing crisis that the system will just return to normal. Adam Curtis interviewed by Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode.

Giambologna’s column of heavy flesh sits high up on a pedestal in the Piazza della Signoria. True, this sculpture is also a bit overwrought, but somehow it’s not as off-putting as the Carpeaux. The figures in the piece retain some of the generosity of Southern Classicism. Our viewpoint of this action and the sculptural illusions of the figures keep us moving around the thing. Every angle creates a new vision and experience. Watching people look at the work is like a sport – they round it, their heads are thrown back, moving left and right – trying to see up through those angles. The work demands our presence – we must BE there – and that also feels ancient in a way. This idea of presence is something that we no longer demand of culture. From shopping to sex to war we’ve discovered that we can minimize culpability and accountability – nothing is physically demanding – and our consumer culture absolutely loves this idea. Money created from nothing but money – our world exists only through an electric connection and our unquestioning belief that the content on our screens is real.

Why the Artworld Loves to Hate NFT Art
“Yet contemporary art has, unlike many other subcultures, also developed an often-contradictory relationship with the oligarchical rich, and with the exclusivity and elitism that comes with it. One of the paradoxes of this is that while art has tended to align itself against mass and populist culture, it is a ‘subculture’ that has nevertheless become the culture of the elite. In recent years, the artworld’s otherwise privileged institutional world has taken to heart issues of social justice and environmental and ethical responsibility that characterise ‘progressive’ culture – a position that often pits it against the interests and values of the less-privileged sections of mainstream society, from the ‘squeezed middle’, disenfranchised working-class voters and others whose cultural perspectives differ sharply from these preoccupations.”

Michelangelo David 1501-04

We have no other picture of the future. That’s the problem. And the engineering system of the internet does not supply it. It’s beautiful in other ways, and it is great organizing people, but we need a picture of the future somehow. Engineering systems seek stability, that’s the whole idea if you’re an engineer. You build a bridge. You don’t want it to change. You don’t want it to fall down. You want it to hold together. So all the stresses and strains balance each other out. It is the same with skyscrapers. That’s how engineering works.
And the same is true of the Internet. What it’s seeking all the time is to find out what you’re like, find out who is like you and then find out what they want. They give you what they like so that everyone is happy.  And it begins to segment you into all these little groups that are like you, and then feed you the same stuff. That’s because it’s an engineering system, and it really likes doing it and it does it beautifully. What it can’t do – if you have a system that is constantly trying to manage the world by reading data from your behavior in the past – what it can’t imagine is the kind of future that’s never existed before. Because it’s always reinforcing you from what it knows you are and when, as I quote someone in the film saying, it’s actually a cartoon model of you, because all these systems online simplify you, and then they feed you more of that. But the main thing is it cannot imagine another future because it always has to look into the past. If you’re trying to change the world, of course you look back into the past, learn from it, but what you also have to do is make a leap of faith into something new. That’s what the Internet – I think – is a beautiful information processing and distribution system  -never does and to do it we’re going to have to transcend it somehow use it but transcend it.” Adam Curtis Top Quotes

After Michele every sculptor that we venerate through art history had to find a way to include and get past his genius. There are precious few artists like this in our history. Il Divino set the stage for centuries and our systems, our academies, created and maintained the idea of his divine contributions. The 20th Century was the breaking point – sculpture became something else because artists had had enough of what was. They wanted to get over the past and find new ways to create. Picasso, Matisse, Brancusi, Duchamp, Miro, Calder, Smith, Caro, Andre, Judd and Nauman, among others, challenged our history and broached new forms and ideas of sculpture. Tools and materials, abstraction and conceptualism were used to move beyond Il Divino’s tyrannical hold on our imaginations. And yet – that hand, Michele’s hand, from centuries ago – can still break your heart.

The Biden Boom Is Already Wild
“But watching the bizarre things happening in the worlds of art and finance, I thought of something I read in William J. Bernstein’s recent book, “The Delusions of Crowds: Why People Go Mad in Groups.” He wrote that one of the defining features of a bubble is that “financial speculation begins to dominate all but the most mundane social interactions,” and “stocks and real estate” become primary topics of conversation.”


  • gwh12

    The internet is not Science – it is Engineering, as you say. Science is the only parellel to art, in reaching into the unknown. Wasn’t Ceznne, then Cubism, a parellel development to the Science of the 19th century?
    Scientists are our only confreres now, again – even though we don’t speak, we are both reaching into the unknown – anyway, if we are worth our salt! .

  • Martin Mugar

    Yes! but what science? For Cezanne it was optics of the striate cortex that led to Cubism and that exploration lasted for awhile.

  • Martin Mugar

    Whitney Davis a prof at UC Berkeley had hoped as I did that David Marr’s work would provide the new science for a breakthrough in visual language but as his comments in “Farewell to Visual Studies” it is cultural studies that won out.

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