Pile it up and win

The wish for recognition in culture seems obvious, otherwise the creating of culture would – in terms of social success – not make sense. An artist’s survival can after all not be thought of as giving oneself away endlessly. As Boris Groys sees it, culture and its economic logic always strive for the re-evaluation of that which we have already seen and come to know, for going beyond the already known with something exclusively new. In general, the horizon is open to everyone.

While history shows that nothing is self-evident, substance is less important to the current economy of meaning mediation than the label which gets attached to it and might open the event to a broader public. The presented meaning is more or less easily decipherable. But a special situation arises when the public barely deals with or questions the meaning which is recognizable from the stage and that which remains unrecognizable. The point of the spectator’s apathetic response to what is presented is always near, its potentiality is always present. This situation is additionally reinforced by the fact that the contemporary consumer tends to buy above all that which helps him to compensate for his own personal deficiencies.

This seems to exceed pure enthusiasm about art. If we look at the example of food: the Folklor restaurant in Brussels (owned by a family of former Yugoslavs) adapted to the contemporary atmosphere of heightened consciousness by eliminating all saturated fats and excess calories from its menu which otherwise is part of your typical Serbian cuisine. However, by so doing Folklor has lost a part of itself: pleskavica is reminiscent of pleskavica but lacks its taste, while kajmak is like low-fat sour cream. After that, the guest is likely to expect an alcohol-free beer. One with alcohol is put on the table but, after the aforementioned diet, it is no longer appetizing. The imperative of a healthy diet, which tends to produce a correct simulation of the sinfully high-calorie diet, also abolishes the impression of being overfed which usually drove you away from orgies of a similar kind for a certain time. (Is this the vision of the future that is awaiting us?)

This episode reflects exactly that “resonating bottom of society” which is postulated in the writing of Robert Kurz who in 1999 deciphers the contemporary world as will and design (or “the will to design”) and senses the systemic economy of simulation as the real character of postmodern society – this is, however, directing critical thought into a dead end. The discussion context of this kind eliminates the problem of crisis and everything that seems disturbing/not suitable.

An impression hovering in the air says that the competence of media which promote the image and resounding of such (not only artistic) projects is fading or does not seem to be a realistic ambition anymore. Things seem to be connected. Reporting on the arts that relies on solid professional expertise is replaced by partially processed superficiality which to a great extent devalues its own self and perhaps calls for a benevolent not taking any notice of it. Still, it is here and can thus not be overlooked. The same holds for many announcements of cultural events or programme notes that get carried away into a verbalistic hypertrophy with no solid basis. Everything, including “merdre” (as A. Jarry put it in Ubu roi in 1896), needs to be wrapped up in a shiny package and a potential doubt of one’s own self cast away.

In this manner, art drifts into the sphere of PR practice which is mediated by unverifiable syntagms. In another case, travels around “dramaturgy of maps of the inner world” rely on the flexibility of words, exhibiting a verbal ballet, the aim of which is to pile up fascinating slogans and take up a resounding style of elusive vagueness. But while the text may sound grandiose to the one who offers it up, the receiver experiences it as incidental and fallible, as a synonym for something secondary. A spectator who is taken in by the PR is seduced into trying to discover artistic meanings where they are possibly not even present. Luckily, the citizen is tolerant – contrary to the “hard” critics’ line – and doesn’t oppose anything that he feels is “O.K.”.

In the climate of social chronicles, where the receiver moves from the role of user to consumer, professionalism of any kind is in a bad position. This observation is not new. The displacement seems analogous to the drowning of theory in the “neoliberal vulgate” (if I cite Marta Gregorchich in Chasopis za kritiko znanosti on Art, activism, spectacle) – all this in spite of the fact that media are tied to the alibi of getting closer to their user and his imaginary taste. One of the principal mediators of such a situation in the mediatized society is exactly that public service which has lived through the previous three years with such extreme balance and profit that a good part of relevant employees have left it. A programme by the name of Piramida keeps presenting famous next-door faces who are supposed to increase viewer ship and as competitors try to reach the end of the time for debate, often without content with which to fill those minutes – in this way, we suddenly go from a clash of arguments to the unnecessary exhibitionism of producing jokes, in an endless effort to be cute and ingratiating (as the main currency of a time which chooses to be tied to ratings) where the content of utterances is not important, but only the fact that something is being said.

It is through programmed maintenance of mediocrity that this environment tarnishes itself. Why feel compelled to escape the monotony when everyday practice preaches the opposite? It’s easier to pile it up and hope to win.

Published 29 April 2008
Original in Slovenian
First published by Dialogi 3-4/2008 (Slovenian version)

Contributed by Dialogi © Primoz Jesenko / Dialogi / Eurozine


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