- ALIENATION - 

 

An online exhibition announced by an indifferent essay as an answer or better yet antidote to the perks and ills of the virus whose name we will never forget. So let us start with a text to raise our spirits to higher realms:

 

“ As soon as this demon begins to obsess the mind of some unfortunate one, it insinuates into him a horror of the place he finds himself in, an impatience with his own cell, and a disdain for the brothers who live with him, who now seem to him careless and vulgar. It makes him inert before every activity that unfolds within the walls of his cell, it prevents him from staying there in peace and attending to his reading; and behold the wretched one begin to complain that he obtains no benefit from conventual life, and he sighs and means that his spirit will produce no fruits so long as he remains where he is. Querulously he proclaims himself inept at facing any task of the spirit and afflicts himself with being always empty and immobile at the same point (…)

 

He plunges into exaggerated praise of distant and absent monasteries and evokes the places where he could be healthy and happy; he describes pleasant communities of brothers, burning with spiritual conversation (…) Finally he convinces himself that he will not be at ease until he abandons his cell and that if he were to remain there, he would perish (…) Then he begins to look about himself here and there, he enters and exits several times from the cell and fixes his eyes on the sun as if he could slow down the sunset; and finally, a senseless confusion comes over his mind, similar to the mist that envelops the earth, and leaves it inert and empty” 

 

Just before the Covid-19 pandemic, we thought isolation had become a decadent outburst for the 1%. In a society where money is the race and oil its face, temporary segregation became a scarce commodity, only accessible to those who can afford it or have the balls to do so. Only those people can retire in peace and leave the world for what it is. Giving yourself permission to write or daydream or do nothing takes courage in our performance-centered society. You are temporarily unavailable to do something for money, for someone else, for 'society'. Too often we allow ourselves to be paralyzed by a fear of giving a new turn to our lives ourselves. Freedom and responsibility scare us: we invent external barriers to not doing it yet, and just as we wait for an external reason to eventually do it.

 

Like so many "ordinary" people, we are regularly stressed, we think to get away from the life that makes us tired and are romantically longing for a totality always absent in the present. In fact, we visualize ourselves in a hermit's nest in the middle of a melancholic landscape sketched by Caspar David Friedrich. A place where all our creative ideas are realised, a place where freedom reigns, a place where we turn inward to be able to give something outward, a place where we are at one with (our) nature. But while dreaming away a few questions creep in: Is the desire for seclusion a desire to be able to deal with the world? Or is segregation suspiciously selfish because you withdraw from the rhythm of constructed obligations? 

 

When the national lockdown was announced, on March 23rd, we imagined ourselves in a video game and rapidly decided to go to the South Island. During the long ride "down" strange conflicting feelings came up. On one side our romantic ideal of being snugly "locked up" in a place surrounded by aggressive mountain ranges was fulfilled. Though obliged, we did not have to look for silence anymore, it was simply granted to us.  But on the other hand, we couldn't help but ponder how artificial our system is. Like puppet players, where that gentleman plays a restaurateur and that lady the attorney (“because we chose so”), the theatre temporarily closed the play of life. Our role to the outside world was wiped out and the salvation of the collective is a fact. Since we are not essential workers, our never really defined role in society was also suspended indefinitely. But the division between essential and non-essential is a terrible idea. Do not get me wrong; it is fantastic that so many workers who are considered inferior by “society” are now the heroes of that same society. In the ideal world, these people should receive premiums of $100,000 and appear on Time magazine as person(s) of the year.  But for the rest of us, it appears that whatever you have done in the last 10, 20, 30 or how long, is not that important. A person actually only needs a few things: food and drinks made available and processed by the loyal multinational, medicines produced by pirates who have more lawsuits than there are Covid-patients, news impartially delivered by people who benefit from things gone wrong and social entertainment offered by the rock stars of Silicon valley. Marx’ concept of alienation, as nothing more than the social domination of private property and capital, resonates even louder today.

 

Thus in a nutshell, while almost arriving at our idyllic get-away I treated myself to a dystopian tale: why is everyone buying their last bottle of bubbles if this virus is heralding the failure of a system with a grim perspective of the future marked by economic recession, social awkwardness, total loss of privacy and the architecture of oppression? What I recall from watching a pandemic series on Netlfix many months ago, governments could have been ready for this but now it seems like, under the guise of fighting the virus, an irreversible redesigning of liberal liberties is secretly taking place. We don't believe in conspiracy theories however it is clear that because of Corona virus feelings of meaninglessness and uselessness are spreading throughout the world, creating despair and disillusionment with the accepted values. So either  “the world is waiting for a great movement of generosity or a great wave of death”[1].

 

Naturally after a few days in the lockdown, the media accentuated that this could be a moment of reflection and renewal for each of us. But extraverts like ourselves shudder at the emptiness that could arise. While we are not yet Tango dancing with the emptiness, there are two preliminary observations that can be made from observing the world from inside four walls and mainly from scrolling down our filtered phone: one is that whilst we are faced with the loss of control, the loss of certainties, there are plenty of reasons to hope that the world will be different after this crisis. In any case, wonderful initiatives are circulating to eliminate the inequality and injustice of the pre-covid system. Especially in those times, one should be a vigilant critic of political and social systems that fail us.   The silver lining in the cloud of uncertainty is that perhaps the emptiness can help us to turn our gaze inward and weigh up what we do and don't want to keep from the old world? 

 

The other observation is that relaxation turns out to be just as mechanical as the stress itself. From the first day I’ve been pressuring myself to read this or that book, watch this film, write an essay on those artists while continually repeating to my cerebral pan that this month is the perfect time to get everything on track, to be prepared for what is coming. And maybe writing this introductory criticism is just another distraction to not investigate my own “being’ and action. After all, this is the moment when you can't run away from yourself anymore, have to face who you intend to be. What if the real problem is that we are now alone with ourselves, can no longer flee into external obligations or distractions, and hear loud and clear who we want to be and what we should do? Or what if we feared the worst of revelations, that we really don't know what we want to do or who we are? The lesson is that my own idea of the world and myself is getting more absurd every day and without medication my own company can become as unbearable as that of others. We have been warned all a long  "it is not the consciousness of human beings that determines their existence but, conversely, their social existence that determines their consciousness[2]” Unfortunately, the voices of reflection and renewal are silencing somewhat: everyone is numbed by the gloomy tidings, the “future” workload, and the isolation. So the million-dollar question is: are we more afraid of the virus or ourselves?

 

At the very moment when my true self and social constructions surrounding a certain way of life began to emerge, we got the news that we are slowly getting out of the lockdown. Seclusion evokes many connotations, positive and negative. Staring into the void can be dizzyingly scary but also very liberating.  And it is precisely this ambivalence that has inspired many artists and writers over the centuries to create artworks of peace and hope, but also of loneliness and inner fragmentation. In this online exhibition we present an exploration of this ambiguity using an assortment of ironies and absurdities surrounding life and art. Expect repetitive colors, dark humour and loss of reason, no story, no recognizable setting, identity crisis, no progression and especially no resolution. The void aka beauty of meaninglessness (names are endless) is here, online, represented through a mix of artistic media evoking romantic and absurd figuration or abstract transcendentality.  The artist should not only paint what he sees before him, but also what he sees within him. Their work exemplifies the inherent tension between the structural use of the image as a function of the narrative and the image detaching itself from the narrative to serve purely pictorial and even spiritual ends.

 

However, revealing the beauty and horror of the modern human condition while simultaneously mocking this condition requires an enormous amount of self-reflection from both artist as spectator. First of all as a spectator you need to close your eyes and think about the lockdown before engaging with pixels of serenity. This set-up leaves the audience to search for a meaning or “special message”, when truly there is none. The advantage of the format is that it underlines how the spectator sees the world and in this way influences how he/she contemplates about the exhibited artworks. The basic purpose of this exhibition is to depict a sense of loneliness, a desire for rebirth, capture the tone of melancholy while commemorating the romantic (anti)hero.

 

But aren't we all in the same gutter? No, it seems that some of us are looking at the stars.

 


 

[1] Albert Camus

[2] Marx, K. (1975)., "Preface (to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy)," in Early Writings, trans. Rodney Livingstone and Gregor Benton, New York: Vintage Books, 425.

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