A Time Passed

Somebody proposes, and means it, that an artwork that cannot be understood and grasped under three seconds is rubbish. Somebody said that recently.

A car that doesn’t start in three seconds is neither very good. There is a difference however. After the three seconds it takes to start the car you go somewhere, maybe on an adventure. When it comes to artworks after three seconds you slide you gaze to the next piece, and go no where.

One of the best movie scenes ever when the three protagonists in “Bande à part” run through the Louvre in less then nine minutes. Smashing.

Only a socio-cultural context propelled by a performative regime can come to the conclusion that an artwork’s relevance decreases second by second after three. And only a context that mistake art for information can come up with something so clumsy and counterproductive in respect of the specificity and intrinsic value of art.

Although the deflation of indexical value, the exorcism of truth and the introduction of postmodern perspectives were all hunky dory and in many ways necessary it came with a price. When language took centre stage, supported by some vague kind of phenomenology everything’s attention turned to relations. And from attention the focus on relations has turned into obsession, first through identity politics but more recently boosted by both Latour and in the US by thinkers such as Haraway and Barad. Relations is everything and the more dynamic the better and everything things and objects are bad or dismissed as commodities. Although Nicolas Bourriaud made an attempt in his 1998 “Relational Aesthetics” it is obvious that the harsh attacks the books gained were shadowing an interest in commodifying relations, making them matters of affordance and investment.

Never mind since the late 60s we have experienced a deep asymmetry between what something is and what it’s effects are, which is to say a shift from being to knowledge, but since when was art a matter of knowledge in the first place. Never!

In any case this passage from being to knowledge, from things to relations further implies two things, first that aesthetics was replaced by spectacle, we could also say contemplation was swopped for admiration (not rarely monetary), and second that something laid out was exchanged for layout, or one thing after the other was replaced by coherence, or even worse dramaturgy.

Isn’t it embarrassing to hear visual artist claim their work to be time based. Really, and btw are you proud of it, dumbass. To define your art as time based is to pronounce that it has no value in itself but is the sum of its relations and on top to that spectacle. It’s not brave to announce one’s work as performative or time based, it’s to chicken out and escape both the possible consequences of announcing something actual – relational has no grounding but are always negotiatied -, something undeniable, but it is also to give up on the possibility of aesthetic experience as something relational simply cannot be contemplated (in the first place) and certainly not, which since Kant has been imperative – contemplated without interest.

Zooming out a little it’s easy to detect how this shift correlates with the shift form discipline- to control-society. Which is neither good or bad but as the name proposes control-society will by all means destroy any attempt to aesthetic appreciation or experience as these are phenomena that require a moment of sliding at least through if not out of control. Discipline is laid out whereas control always has layout. Something that has layout is relational and hierarchical, whereas discipline consist of strong entities that not necessarily are connected or in any way comprehensive at all. As semiotics would have it, discipline has strong entities and weak relations whereas control has weak entities and strong relations.

Dramaturgy is more or less a matter of managing intensity over time, it is a matter of controlling some kind of dynamic and making it efficient. One could say that dramaturgy is like a guide that through a play with dynamics, speed, placement etc. manage attention. Good dramaturgy is good in manipulating the viewers attention, and we know that this is again a matter of investment and affordance. Another way of announcing this would be to say, and this is a bit low res, that dramaturgy is controls soft versions of totalitarianism. It’s just a totalitarianism that you can’t really feel and more over that you can’t revolt against.

Sometimes it is proposed that theatre is totalitarian and exhibitions spaces where people can wonder freely around is not, which is to say they are liberal. Ouch. It’s nice to think about how one converse and look at art, spend time in front of something and make one’s own choices. Bullshit of course but at least it’s the illusion of personal choice.

But when visual art starts to talk about dramaturgy and conceive of exhibitions in respect of dramaturgy – at least considering a slightly more elaborate idea about dramaturgy. Because what dramaturgy does is indeed to confiscate the openness and chanceness that the museum room carries, carries in so matter that encounters and ways of navigating is minimally monitored and controlled.

And to us museum visitors please let’s not ask for relations, correlations or guidance. Instead let’s be brave enough to submit to a discipline of things and object between which it is up to us to create relations or not, because we can also just lean back and let time pass, unmanaged.

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