It Is What It Is (for Karen O and others)
So I was at an event last night at Trisha Brown’s loft watching Burt Barr’s film Aeros and having a glass of wine. I was thinking about this upcoming event at the New Museum where they were going to discuss how “performance and the visual arts in general have dropped their animosity toward theater and turned to it as a source of ideas, practices, adaptable texts, points of reference, and philosophy” – which is inaccurate for so many reasons I can’t begin to list them here. I was thinking about a conversation I had had with an artist colleague of mine who bridges theater and visual arts where he was posing, I think, a legitimate question about why people who make theater and/or performance event care about being acknowledged by the art world; I was thinking about this festival in Sydney that has a great program with Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner and Sufjan Stevens as well as Karen O’s show Stop The Virgens that I got so frustrated by at St. Ann’s Warehouse in October.
And so I was watching this film of Trisha Brown’s company projected on a wall in her loft, rehearsing and developing a piece back in 1989/90 with some Rauschenberg sculptures and a sort of ambient soundtrack and I found myself thinking “why is it that when the Grateful Dead plays feedback and makes space noises it is ‘hippie crap’ but when someone from Downtown does it it is art” and anyway I was there with a multigenerational group of artists in a loft in Soho and it was as little bit on the warm side and I’d had some wine and I was tired and suddenly I got unstuck in time. Everything kind of looped in on itself. I’ve been having a tough go of it lately, a lot of work, not a lot of sleep, personal issues, all kinds of stuff. And as I watched the dancers moving, and then the Rauschenbergs flicker on and off , projected on the wall and then images of this futuristically beautiful statue of Yuri Gagarin in Moscow and I felt the iron bands of frustration and anger and resentment and striving and feelings of negativity and resistance and under-recognition and being silenced that had been tightening around my body and mind suddenly let go as I unfolded into the endless stream of time and thought that extends outward, not in a bi-directional linear way connecting past, present and future, but in a disk-like way, a concentric way, where the moment of the ever-evolving NOW is in the center and all times and possibilities extend outward from that center in an impossibly horizontal plane and like some kind of voice or more like some kind of animated three dimensional hologram with sound, it all came together and I broke through into this space, it came to me more clearly than ever before – it is what it is.
Who am I to judge what Karen O does? It was a fun rock show. So call it an Opera, whatevs. Mariangela Lopez is a good choreographer, she does what she does and it is fun and spectacle-y, so right on. I haven’t enjoyed Adam Rapp’s previous work but that shouldn’t have bearing on this work. I like to rock out and why should I let the fact that she called it an opera reduce my enjoyment of a good rock show? People use words to point to things all the time, to create meaning or defy meaning, but it is a game, a trick, a distraction. If Marina Abramovic wants to build a theater and call it something else, fine. It is what it is. And not in some cynical, dismissive way, but in a deeply positive Zen way. Creativity exists and people put things out into the world and each thing, while existing in relation to all things past and future and in juxtaposition to other things, ultimately, is a thing unto itself. It is only what it is and exactly what it is. All the naming and classification and taxonomies and attempts to narrow the categories through which something can be judged are just illusions – apparatus for creating “value” in a commodified culture. But on some level the notion of value exists only in relation to the perceiver. Charlie, the torn up stuffed alligator that I’ve carried around with me everywhere I’ve gone since I was 4 years old, has no value to anyone but me. But to me he is priceless. Value as an identifier, as an attribute, is an illusion. In a way, value is related to attachment and desiring, it seeks to quantify the amount of desire or attachment we develop in relation to an object, an experience or an idea. But if we were to move beyond attachment and desiring into a plane of pure being, we would not assign value, we would exist with the thing co-equally in space/time, beyond judgement, beyond measure.
All hierarchies are illusions – there is no high art, there is no low art, there is no visual art, no music, no theater. There is only reality and the illusions we play with to find new ways to look into reality. These discipline boundaries exist to allow us to share technologies of creation, ideas and nomenclature. They exist to allow us to share knowledge and pass down experience through time. But they aren’t essential to value. And ultimately there are no boundaries, there isn’t even good and bad. Not really. There are things that you personally value and there are things that you don’t. The task of the so-called critic is not to posit absolute value but to sustain a thoughtful conversation about why something is important to YOU. Over time you build up trust with your readers, they learn what you like and if they generally share your outlook, then they can trust what you say. This used to be easier in a much more clearly bounded Western world. But we live in a new world and so we’re working to develop new frameworks and new values.
Then again, it was Burt Barr’s nonlinear film of Trisha Brown’s dance company working alongside their collaborators that drew me in and pointed my thoughts in that direction. So there’s value in art that can do that.