De natura artis

De natura artis

Janko J. Zadravec, Katalogumschlag Art d'Eco, Ausschnitt, Maribor 1992

Janko J. Zadravec, Katalogumschlag Art d’Eco, Ausschnitt, Maribor 1992

Long before the transition from modernism to post-modernism we have instances of art being saddled with a variety of burdens. Taking a closer look at art’s capacity to carry such weights it soon turns out that the conceptual partner is not art tut that various unconscious or conscious reception mechanisms will send art on a (mental) course of testing and trying its weight-bearing capacity — a process that is highlighted from time to time. We thereby enumerate conditions and situations that will offen, like in the classic film genre, result in dangerous triangular relations where at least part of the constellations thus created will fall by the wayside. The classic liasons are: art and politics, art and nature and, more recently, art and ecology. As in the movies, disaster will strike when demands are made by one partner on the other, demands he deems necessary for the fulfillment of his own self-centered projections. Miles of celluloid have taught us that the natural urge of self-realisation should also be granted to the other. Against the background of a Symposium on „Art and Ecology“ in 1987 in Buchberg am Kamp, Lower Austria, which was to produce „materials for a latent art debate“,1See also „KUNSTFORUM, vol 83. Feb/Mar 1988. at least Austrian positions were heaped, along with strong emotions, on the testing scales.

These positions, however, are not merely Austrian, if one looks at the core of the matter in abstract terms. When ecology as a very young movement was faced with art as a time-honored set of cultural tools, there were demands and claims; good advice was plentiful and uneasiness at the door. Apart from this, it would have been a most unusual and noteworthy occasion: A group of people was looking for an vehicle to transport their ideas and believed to have found it in art – however, only in terms of confirmation, of a selfish projection of their own ideas on the other’s survival and realisation strategies. The outcome was like the end of an eternal triangle story in the movies.

Proclaiming the impossibility of any liaison, however, woul dbe a wrong resignative conclusion: a potential future, on the other hand, might be in the acceptance of an organically and spiritually vital body that has shed old skins for decades and centuries, a body capable of describing phenomena in a more than illustrative way, comprehending their complex structures in other than purely pragmatic ways. Not only because „art must be seen as a way of viewing and understanding that will not lead to the production of objects. Art can be seen as an attempt to make visible things that are there but might be overlooked; as a way of rearranging; of throwing light on certain arrangements; of recording, for a while, certain patterns or structures before they will vanish again. …The viewer’s brain becomes a place where Images are produced, take on meaning, are blended, where they will float or sink to the ground in order to be lifted up and carried on. A concept of art attached to objects has turned into a concept of art whose place is the individual and collective memory. But even this image has been shifting since memory has been dislodged.“ These Statements by Heidi Grundmann (in the 1989 publication „Ressource Kunst“)2H. Grundmann, „Beispiele aus Österreich, in: „Ressource Kunst. Die Elemente neu gesehen“. DuMont, Cologne 1969, p. 30-41 declare the process character of a certain notion of art, a notion that can be  principally added to the catalogue of questions directed by artists to their and our environment.

For „since memory has been dislodged“, since artificial intelligence and gene manipulation have become part of our daily reality, what we need is not new answers to old questions; rather, new questions need to be raised. It is no, longer sufficient to put the right complexion of a past whole world on a threatened environment; it will not suffice to decorate sterile public housing with turrets and motley colours or to bewail the loss of grown structures. This would be particularly ineffective in an artistic language of trivialisation, as if we were indulging in reminiscences, thumbing through albums of „counter images“, having left reality at the doorstep on a hard day’s night. When new realities are beginning to reach for our spiritual substance and to shape our lives without leaving us much scope of control, the artist is a partner in a future-oriented ecology (meaning mobility and orientation in our environment), who, by his own will, leaves the closed system of autonomous art and deals with the second nature of energies and technologies, of the scientific models of cognition and the steady approach to a variety of similar phenomena. The mourning of a lost past or the mere refreshing of memories will have a particularty retarding effect, once the artist „has become aware of the biotechnological scenario of a ’second creation‘ in terms of a total decomposition of the ‚first creation‘“3R. Kriesche: „Animal, Huminal, Digital“ in: „Animal Art“, exhibition catalogue, steirischer herbst, Graz, 1987. Also comp. W. Fenz:“Künstler und Modell oder Wie authentisch ist die Kunstwirklichkeit<?“ in: op.cit., as Richard Kriesche has unequivocally stated, and when he makes it the theme of his work.

On the strength of this definition, input into current systems of the respective presence – not only in the field of the „new media“ – becomes possible. On this depends the necessary congruent and offensive behavior of the artist: congruent in terms of linguistic register, and offensive in order to transfer the aestheticism of the familiar vocabulary to a new and yet unknown creation of values. The thought pro­cess and creative act expected from the artist cannot begin outside this constellation. Only if he can avoid rearguard action within traditional creative pattems of art and turning his back on reality, he can efficiently activate the potential of new artis­tic models. Their persuasive power is closely connected to a precise definition of time and place. The scope of action will be defined by the continually changing form of art, including the form of artistic processes, and by the motive of the artistic act. The action of setting signs — a re-action to the „oikos“ theme resulting in new reference points within a System of coordinates — will confront familiar image worlds with world images. These world images will be there for surveying and questioning beyond the familiar grand gesture of design and proclamation.

The impermeability of the great whole will be replaced by the principle of osmosis which resists the passive or hypnotic contemplation of any construct. How can this be done in a world characterised by a permanent flow of image production, where images are relentlessly used and used up? Adding more images is certainly not the way. The most stringent possibility is that form of designation which achieves reference to all potential signs it represents, signs that will now be perceived and interpreted. This, then, is not the one-dimensional procedure towards truth and beauty nor the „well-rounded message“ about the transitoriness, impairment or destruction of our living environment, whenever an irritating work is staged. Such irritating impulses lead on to spaces of new experience where everyday facts and norms of the new sign are being articulated, since this new sign is familiar and unfamiliar at the same time, and since it can be traced back to a practice of life, or, in other words, the practice of life appears as the reference ofthe sign, whereas autonomous works of art avoid this referentiality, leaving index traces only in their own hermetic sphere of action.

Even if we cannot preclude valid references of metaphoric content being evoked by an autonomous work of art, it can be expected to refer to the familiar values of immobility and order, dynamism and motion, to modulations of form and space, and so on. In contrast, art that actively participates in shaping and, even more so, in the reception of our present living environment, maybe characterised by its ability to find yet unfamiliar values, of their possible status and their networking into pattems of aestheticism and thought. By this reference to the immaterial, which was assigned to art long before modernism, it has become capable of integration into the structures of our lives. On ist path of progress and perpetual rephrasing and re-evaluating of this attitude, however, art has, by and by, lost its integra­tion partners – even those on the social level. Without conjuring up theatrical dramatism, it seems to confront the various modern systems of power openly and unprotectedly. The materiality of actualisation in all fields of knowledge, the pragmatism of necessity and practical possibility in all political systems and social groupings does not exclude art from its demand of achievement and production. All too offen it is reduced to a comprehensible and measurable market value – even at this present day, when, as an Instrument of principal questioning and as an extension of communication, as an Instrument with a mind of its own, it has a mission to fulfill on an almost solitary outpost, where it has to supply answers to the generally logos-oriented world explanation pattems of the power machinery, answers to make visible the mechanisms determining the lives of individuals. This, ofcourse, cannot be done with charts and illustrations, which would mean that any engagement, however well-meaning (and however urgently demanded by some) would be easily overshadowed by the equally fascinating standard of the everyday normative.

WERNER FENZ, De natura artis. IN: ART d’ECO, 4. mednarodni trienale Ekologija in umetnost, Umtenostna galerija Maribor, Maribor 1992  S. 19-21
ABBILDUNGEN: Umetnosta galerija MAribor
Beitragsbild: Andreea van der Straeten, Paralysed fertility, Art d’Eco, Maribor 1992

1 See also „KUNSTFORUM, vol 83. Feb/Mar 1988.
2 H. Grundmann, „Beispiele aus Österreich, in: „Ressource Kunst. Die Elemente neu gesehen“. DuMont, Cologne 1969, p. 30-41
3 R. Kriesche: „Animal, Huminal, Digital“ in: „Animal Art“, exhibition catalogue, steirischer herbst, Graz, 1987. Also comp. W. Fenz:“Künstler und Modell oder Wie authentisch ist die Kunstwirklichkeit<?“ in: op.cit.