There is this story about a painting in some museum in St. Petersburg. The paintings portraits the master-saloon of Lenin’s summer house whatever that’s called dacha, but there is also Lenin’s wife together with a handful of big shots from the revolutionary government all engaged in group sex. Nothing graphic but still without doubt an orgy. An American tourist looks at the paintings. Reads the wall text “Lenin in Moscow” and steps back again, now inspecting and inspecting again. Sherlock-expression but still confused. The tourist, a guy from Boston perhaps, now walks up to the guard – bored as usually – makes an attempt to communicate and when the guard has, asks: “But ehh where is Lenin?” and the guard responds with a smile “In Moscow”.
Maybe now they have taken down the painting. Although this one is rather sad it’s always slightly comical with these kinds of semiotic glitches, but what both the American and the guard is missing out is how they both transform the painting into a set of information. Or that they together transform the paintings from art to culture. In a way they close the painting which now becomes subject to an entirely new regime of judgements. Did the painting communicate what it intended in a positive, clear and efficient way? More over is this an information that we consider valuable and positive for the community that visit the museum or should the painting be taken away because what it communicates is inappropriate?
Art is not information and it must not be. Think about it. An art that informs? Why on earth would I go to a museum to look at mostly square flat things hanging on the walls if their purpose was to inform or enlighten me? More over if that was the purpose what would the difference between an actual Daniel Buren and a reproduction be? Or, wouldn’t that make Isa Genzken total shit. Barbara Kruger too, not to mention, well all the good ones.
If art was a matter of information nine out of ten artists should probably just get a haircut and another job.
If art was a matter of information how would we consider contemporary chamber music or the work by e.g. Steve Reich.
Information is always directional, it tells us something and should be doing it well. Information is not seldom a matter of prohibition, from gendered toilets to no trespassing or worse. Information makes the world smaller. A toilet door with out a sign is, so to say richer than one with. An empty space on the ground floor is an opportunity until there’s a sign informing the world that KFC is moving in. Cock.
Art has another job. Instead of diminishing what something can be isn’t its job to augment what is possible, what something can become. Information in this sense coagulates whereas art is more like turpentine – it’s job is to make something thinner and even better unclear, vague, dynamic and unpredictable. One thing is for sure information was never meant to make you dream away and trip. I mean who reads the New York Time in Berghain, when you can take MDMA and look at something nice Wolfgang Tillmans.
Next chapter. Information is there to make sense and be useful. Arts job can not be to either or. Sometimes art mesmerises me and I fall for it heads over heel. I tell you information nah, I never found myself contemplating a piece of information. Sorry. It goes without saying that art should keep away from anything useful. And again, simple differences, information is good for what it makes clear not in itself – there is no intrinsic value to speak of -, with art the situation is reversed, art is not good due what use it conveys but due itself. At least me, I look at art because what it is not what it does.
Now, there is a complex differentiation to make, which in a way is what is in the e.g. painting and an art works context and surrounding, actual and symbolic. Here Roland Barthes essay “The Death of the Author” proposed something prominent as the authors death also meant that we should check out the art not the authors biography, identity and background – for art critique this was central – but one can also read Barthes from the other end as consider that when the “genius” dies then there is only context, identity and background. And it’s of course great, okay and wonderful to be informed about something through art but that’s not the art.
Isn’t the worst in the world exhibitions that tries to educate its audience about something urgent. If it’s a matter of learning something about the art and the artist almost fine but art historical rigor is a very different thing than a group show that wish to enlighten the viewer about the social situation so and so. And who is the artist, who inscribed in the art world always capitalise on suffering, no matter what. I want to learn a lot about social situations and so much more but if it’s about learning is the museum, concert hall or theatre stage the place to learn? Wouldn’t it be better if we sat down and talked about it and skipped the art part or the aesthetic all the way? Because this is the worst right, art that wants to inform but package information a little bit poetic. Djzouz, oh yes I can totally support that information and knowledge often is strongly inscribed in western determination but we don’t overcome that through packing western knowledge with colourful poetics.
Art’s job is not the same as the job of an institution.
Nor is art’s job the same as the artist’s and they shouldn’t be mixed up. The person the artist is obviously responsible for the world like any other person. But her art can not be accountable for saving or not the world. Art’s job is to be good art not a service for somebody/thing else’s struggle. How an artist is accountable for his or her work is a hard nut and ambiguous but it is definitely of importance to step away from a causality between the artist and the work. If so, artist could possibly only make nice and good art with friendly people and sympathy. But non of this doesn’t say that the artist is not also the person making decisions and deciding if or not something should be shown for an audience.
It’s heart breaking to over and over again experience how art is made into culture, how art is made into information and service, and how art, exhibitions and even the experience of art and an exhibition should be useful. Consider that you exit the Venice Biennale and some fonctionnaire pushes a questionnaire in your face: In what ways was the exhibition useful for you? In what ways has it increased your knowledge about… exactly what is supposed to happen then, about what.
Even more, if art is a matter of information who is to decided what is good or bad information? Maybe the artist will have to call the government or an oracle or so to find out? If art hooks up with information it becomes a service. In other words its the artists goddamn obligation to refuse to inform and insist on art, only then can art reclaim an autonomy, an autonomy that carries with it the potentiality to change the world completely.