Dissent as an Event in Art

Carla Lonzi, Art Critic – Autoritratto (Self-Portrait) – An Excerpt

It wasn’t an interest in art, my interest that is, at the beginning, I have to tell the truth, if I retrace the steps from the very beginning it comes out that I immediately had this existential feeling, like a warning from within, but my interest was in humanity in general, since I was a girl, of strong possibilities, rich possibilities, of great moments of exaltation and happiness, of opening, as if extraordinary things were possible between beings, and then I felt, instead, the frustration of closed situations, where I didn’t understand from where it came, where I felt limitations that cut off all pleasure. So, I, from this existential feeling, I began to look, being certain that it was expressed somewhere, that it would be manifested somewhere, a potentiality that I felt humanity possessed. I knew I had it and that I felt that it belonged to everyone, no matter who they were … Besides that I considered myself, let’s say, someone on the border, who hadn’t yet entered into the country, and yet, I knew this country existed and I surely had periods when I said, “I will spend my entire life here at the border.” So, I thought that to find this path, would require actions that would smash this environment that was keeping me out, and I took these actions, one after another, as you know. Then, I understood that these actions corresponded to a kind of initiation. This seems like a fact to me … For example, I had a religious period, from age 10 to 13: it was extremely important for me. I definitely won’t manage to explain it because it isn’t as interesting as other periods … but, I understood that … I didn’t rebel against culture, this is what I want to say. For me, culture wasn’t the cure-all, neither was religion, but in the religious experience I understood that an initiation in other layers of reality that I related to was possible, in line with my aspirations, and it helped me understand how humanity was actually something, let’s say, bottomless and without real distinctions, which is how I felt about it. I arrived at art when, having passed through my religious experience, I found in the artistic experience an activity that didn’t require belief, which hadn’t really interested me anyway, but satisfied an analogous need. That’s how I came closer to art.

Then I thought that, since … then, I finished university and, for me, university hadn’t been very satisfying, I mean, it was a bureaucratic fact, of culture, rather repressive … even philosophy hadn’t enthused me, but my excitement for art continued to grow, visual art to be exact. And, so, I set about to concern myself with visual art. To concern myself … let’s say, with spending a great deal of time reflecting on these facts, and later, needing to find an occupation, a profession, I decided to become an art critic. But not thinking that this activity corresponded to judgment, to an acquisition of power, to a social maneuver, or to the work of the historian or the event organizer. When I found myself working as an art critic, I saw that it was a phony profession, completely phony, that it had … maybe 90 percent, let’s say, was the university. And so, I kept away from the professional aspects of the activity of the art critic and little by little individuated the elements that for me, are completely intolerable. The most intolerable is this: that there should be an activity that calls for itself individuals, like myself, who wanted to have a deeper initiation into what is typically considered culture, right?

The critic has an awkward psychological makeup, along with a sense of exclusion. In fact, critics are all … they’re not very friendly people, I mean, psychologically, they aren’t commendable, in the sense that I don’t even like how I started out. Yes, I had this sense of being an outsider, very strongly, in worldly things, and I think this came from a childhood experience, feeling excluded from something … And it is probably this that brought me to be interested in artists, because they seemed to me those who had the least of these characteristics: they are the least detached, I think, they have less of a sense of discord … I don’t know. For which, then, my behavior as a critic coincided with a need to interfere in other people’s situations. If I have to identify a moment in which this disposition manifested itself, which would then lead to becoming an art critic … since I was little, in public gardens, if I saw other children, for example, with an adult watching them, I went over to play with them, I remember this sense of not wanting to go back very clearly, of wanting to be a part of something of the other. For this reason, I think, that at age nine I wanted to go to boarding school, to choose a situation that belonged completely to me, and in the end, I blended into that way of life to the point that my father, when he noticed, brought me home right away. If I think back on my life, there are many of these moments.(L. Cossettini, Milano: Ricordi, 2010, pp. VI-VII.)

Then, I remember in middle school, when I had to write an essay about what I wanted to be when I grew up, I wrote that I would conduct interviews, I even remember I said I wanted to interview Laurel and Hardy, specifically. I think all critics have this element, this desire to interfere in other people’s lives. Naturally, it isn’t so pleasant when, from this rather interesting beginning, it isn’t good or bad, it is a fact, existential, then it becomes a profession, an institution, so, there, it becomes something that is no longer justifiable, and at the same time, no longer even benefits the critic, because the only thing that benefits the critic is this meddling, to be able to continue to do this, to keep doing it to the point that one isn’t conscious of it and does it without any qualms, well. Instead, then, to turn it into a career, to work from a position of power, this is a crust that develops over it and doesn’t really have anything to do with it.

The critic, with this need to interfere, is the most likely to initiate things or experiences around the business of others and this is necessary to maintain, because, for me, it is very important that a part of society, small as it may be, is close to artists and this should be the group most willing and interested in them. And artists should keep these people close, that in a certain sense, present themselves as something artists need and represent, in a way, the needs of society. But, this, should be maintained in a norvigian art magazine pure state, not as an institution because once it is made into an institution, it takes on all the vices of the institution and all its ideologies. The critic, rather than being he who is accommodating and in need, becomes he who judges and creates a hierarchy. And in this activity he ends up carrying out, he erases the point of departure from which he began, and becomes a completely inauthentic person, no longer authentic.

There was a moment when Rimbaud said: everybody will be a poet, there will be a world in which everybody is a poet. So, what does this mean? It means it isn’t possible, no, no, it isn’t possible, from my point of view now, since we are talking about criticism, that this … Ultimately, a part of humanity produces things, okay, a creative part, a totally separate part of humanity comments on these things, Now, how this commentary functions for society, that expounds on art, seems to me quite useless and in the end becomes damaging because that part of humanity that produces things should, I think, inspire another part of humanity to absorb and to produce. Not to produce in a specific way, with paintings or making objects, but to produce movements of life, as beings … to develop a creative condition in people, to live life in a creative way, not in obedience with the models that society proposes over and over. That everybody will be poets, artists, not in the sense that everyone will paint the highways and apartment buildings, but that people will live in a creative way, to live in a way that isn’t detached and in peace with themselves, that is alive.

Because I cannot understand the way critics talk about artists, and then, they have such a phony life or they are phony when they talk about artists or they’re phony when they’re living their lives, because you can’t understand a person who’s so disconnected. How can a critic, who should be writing or speaking in a way that is a testimony to his way of life, but he lives in another way … like a little bureaucrat, a little careerist, an industrious person … who from that little territory he possesses, trespasses onto things that humanity has toiled at much more and much more deeply, and says his piece and then he returns to his small-minded things. This seems strange to me. Then it seems that … since humanity has no shame in commenting, yes, this I need to understand, how humanity isn’t ashamed of passing its time blabbering on about things that should shock it, disturb it, that should help it, that should … but instead humanity chatters, and with this chatter neutralizes art, exhausts it.

Luigi Nono’s Political Thought and Musical Activism

La fabbrica illuminata (The illuminated factory)
La fabrica illuminata is a composition for voice and four-channel tape to texts by Giuliano Scabia and a fragment of Due poesie a T. by Cesare Pavese. Composed in 1964 for the inaugural concert of the Premio Italia, and dedicated to the workers of the Italsider factory in Genoa-Cornigliano, it was not performed on that occasion, because it was censored by the management of RAI television because of its highly-politicized texts that were considered offensive to the Government. The first public performance took place in Venice on September 15th 1964 at the XXVII International Festival of Contemporary Music – La Biennale, performed by mezzosoprano Carla Henius with Nono directing the sound. The work was commissioned to Nono by RAI television while he was working with Scabia on Un diario italiano, of which La fabbrica illuminata was to be an episode. The original project, later abandoned, was based on the idea of politically and socially committed musical theatre, inspired by the Soviet avant-gardes (and authors such as Vsevolod Emilievich Meyerchold, for example), and by the political theatre of Erwin Piscator. (L. Cossettini, Milano: Ricordi, 2010, pp. VI-VII.)

Nono’s suggestions about the art of music
  • It is natural that if one does not study and analyze my compositional practice, including its relationship between technique and ideology, but remains conditioned by traditional and nowadays conservative beliefs concerning either technique or the ideological moment that becomes music, one falsifies and equivocates my active position as a musician who is totally engaged in the current political struggle.
  • When we talk about “commitment” in music today, it is often at the theoretical or technical level, but rarely at the ideological level. Contrary to what many believe, these two forms of commitment are not incompatible. Starting from the most everyday reality, the most current one, relying on the great impulses of rebellion and hope that shake our world, one can, out of all immature realism, realise an imaginative work that satisfies as much the progressive support of contemporary thought as the great masses. The relationships between the creator and the masses (of the working class in particular) must no longer be those of professor to pupil, of initiator to neophyte. They must first find themselves at the origin of the work.
  • My composition seminar took place in light of the cultural and political directions of Antonio Gramsci, Frantz Fanon, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, and of the resolution of the Cuban National Congress on Education and Culture of April 1971. We discussed the need to overcome and break both the myth of colonising Eurocentrism and the schematic application of European socialism, which almost never corresponds to the socio-economic cultural reality of Latin America. All technical analyses followed within that context.
  • We have to understand and appropriate any element and any technological advance that is actually innovative, that we differentiate and empower by our theoretical and practical conception of the present struggle. That we associate with our capacity for invention and creation for the hegemony, according to Gramsci’s term, of the revolutionary forces, in their destructive, constructive, and intellectual practices. An example: the development and application of electronic technology in contemporary music, the electronic studio. It is an advance and an unprecedented expressive possibility for musical creation.
  • I am convinced that with today’s music (independently of whether it is associated with a text or not) we can analyse, understand and intervene in our lives. (…) Not to achieve sectorial, technological, sociological or aesthetic recognition, but as a cultural-political choice that casts light on the use, the function and the objectives of the technical and expressive means that the musician has or ‘invents’.

Excerpts from A Note on Art in Yugoslavia, in The Fox, vol.1(1), 1975, New York

Zoran Popović and Jasna Tijardović

A lot of people in the West associate art in Yugoslavia with Social Realism. According to Western propaganda there is no free individual work in the “communist countries” and, since Social Realism is “official” in the USSR, it’s assumed all communist artists apparently must follow this party line. In fact, in Yugoslavia, and even Officially, Social Realism is not an ideology of importance. Today, social realism is a thing of the past, something nobody—meaning museums as well as artists—thinks about. […]

At the Project ’74 exhibition in Cologne, instead of art-as-art we got art-as-politics. But, when the museum declined to accept the latter, it was shown at the Paul Maenz Gallery. This is part of the quantification of quality. Reducing every “quality” to “quantity”, the bourgeois society economizes on intellectual activity. It understands “reality” at the lowest cost. It considers all aesthetical factors permeated with unmaterial essence. The “magnificence” and “richness of expression and form” of the artwork exhibited at 420 West Broadway are represented as an essence (of culture, of history, of art) which no other language can depict. Any deeper consideration is simply proclaimed pedantry; everything that seems so “natural” to the situation is only a factor of good-show-business.

During our stay in New York, we tried to talk with as many artists and students as we could. We talked about what we saw and what we know of the galleries as well as our experiences in Yugoslavia. That meant we spoke somehow differently and perhaps sometimes more fundamentally. We have the feeling that this sort of “deeper” talk was thought to be inappropriate or strange, or looked on as a reflection of something having its sources in the socio-political system that we come from—as if we were expressing no our opinion but merely the Official opinion of our State. It seemed to be considered that what we thought or did was not of ourselves but somebody else, that we were mere products, finally, of a Communist ideology—and it is well known what that means. It is equated, for one thing, with Social Realism and that means ‘poverty’ in art. In New York, it seems that everybody believe they are thinking freely, democratically, as if this thinking has no connection with the society they live in.

New York, New York—Belgrade, Yugoslavia

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