Ever since the industrial revolution made it possible for sense impressions to be recorded and reproduced, life has been characterized by an increasing atrophy of experience. There is no photograph of that which one could call the primitive, 'organic' experience. The senses are undivided. It is the here and now of the world; like coincidence — unrepeatable — like the circumstances which bind together our inner disposition and a blossom, a face, a city, an event. In organic experience, to see is not to draw boundaries, to aim, but part of the discovery that something exists (perception). It produces pictures within people, not outside of them. It is positive, this overpowered separation, this simple connection to the irretrievable, this love of vanishing.
Formerly, one could be called experienced if one was well traveled and had been through much. In modern life objects come faster for men than men to them. They move about in the form of reproductions, are indifferent in time and place. Pictures observe pictures, everyone observes everyone. For what are they good, the pictures and sentences? What meaning do they have for our existence? Their reality is redundance — the profusion which is empty, inseparable, unstoppable, indistinguishable movement. Their function: to make people forget in the same instant what they just saw. Pictures for an evening, safe defence lines of the status quo. It is the domain of aid, of insurance societies, of the leaders: Ne vous aventurez pas! Man has become spectator to his own labor pain. What was meant for an emergency has become commonplace. Life as reception. The world as non-picture.
One could understand the art of what we call the moderns as an effort to invent literary and artistic techniques to restore the experience of the senses which have been numbed in the mechanisms, and to make all reproductions forgotten. To free tongue, nose, eyes, ears and hands - to move them, to keep them supple for the momentary, the transitory, the pulsation of life - to counteract the atrophy of the organs. Since the time of Mallarme there have been authors and artists who see their task to be, above all, in keeping a clear outlook on the dwindling 'organic' experience of life, through the construction of the silence, the void, the absence among the dividing walls of the reflections. The cubists were perhaps the first, after the appearance of technical reproducibility, to produce — no longer replicas — but autonomous pictures: constructs which are assembled out of tangible objects, concrete illusions and autonomous painterly forms. They had rediscovered the tradition of pre-photographic art. Their pictures are nothing spontaneous. They are put together, arranged, construed. In such a process photography can be an aid. It can arrest things and situations which only flash in experience, which are out of our reach before they are emotionally assimilated or which are overwhelmed by seemingly incomprehensible or inscrutable shapes. This construing uncovers relationships between people, perceptions and events which are not coherent for the eye and for habit. It loves to cross over boundaries. It knows neither borders between the individual kinds of imagery such as video, photography, painting; nor between picture and text or speech; nor between picture and real space and action.
No matter which of the two dispositions it may fall under, it realizes itself today in an art system which has itself become a generator of redundance. We are experiencing a mass-production supported and encouraged by the state and the art public. The pictures in exhibitions do not differentiate themselves from one another in terms of their reception, from the exhibition of images in the kiosks or on the walls and television sets in living rooms. Here just as there, the same flooding of the world of feeling and thought, the same dilution and leveling, the same redundance.
Maybe the explosion of images, experiences and theories in the art system of the last fifteen years will bring about an implosion. Its center could be the endeavor to find something on this side of the words and pictures which justifies their use. The emphasis would be put less on what is consolatory in art as on reality: less on projection than on its origin. The liquification of the senses and of consciousness and of the images in which they are frozen, would come about only as the impulse of desire for the alteration of the conditions of existence. Perhaps only in action can the indifferent cycle of images be brought to a standstill. If the old avantgarde at one time was forced to exist on the edge of society by repressive art politics, it is perhaps necessary now to proceed voluntarily and intentionally to that place. The threat today appears to come less from outside (as repression) than from inside (as corruption). Possibly the avantgardist of today is the artist who attempts to work with images where their mission is not separated from his engagement — in a limited, impressionable segment of direct experience and action.
See catalog page 19.
Copyright 1982, Bermuda-Forum and by the authors, Kassel 1982