Before the Revolution (All Tomorrow’s Parties)

Luigi Grosso

AvD: Recently I was slightly surprised by an art dealer making the statement that we need a revolution, suggesting that this was not only concerning the art world, but culture and society in general. And he was obviously referring to a fundamental problem of authenticity which, he thought, weakens any ambitious effort in terms of education as well as in terms of mere business. One could break it down to the notion that, if it won't overcome that crucial problem, the system will disintegrate, so that soon there will be no business anymore. I could only agree, but I find it significant that someone being quite successful within that very business comes up with such a clear judgement.
LG: People who are successful in their particular business, quite often make clear statements, and this clarity may even correspond with a certain authenticity. If we are talking about dealing with art, then the latter virtue is indeed not only a matter of general ethics. Not only that you have to refer and relate to artists, that is, people you expect to save some conceptual, or professional, integrity. The mechanism of turning an object, which may have a production value of 1000 $, into a marketable piece of work, which may then be offered for 30000 $, is defined and driven by a certain idealization, conceptualization, contextualization: the dealer has to make believe that this piece of work has an importance and a meaning equal to 30000 $ at the time he is talking to a collector. And the dealer couldn't be very convincing, at least not on the long run, if he himself wouldn't believe what he is trying to mediate. So, perhaps a bit more than in most other branches, in the art world trust and credibility is crucial. Even if you reduce believe to speculation, it becomes evident that one cannot separate the meanings of value for a long time. In the end it works just like in any other field: if you start to fool yourself, less and less people will believe you, and mere business as usual makes you end up being an amateur. That dealer you were quoting is right to worry.
AvD: You may add a simple calculation: When there is no following generation of artists, then there will be no future in which that speculation in contemporary art could turn into profit – unless art is supposed to become an antiquity business.
LG: Right. But what exactly is the problem, when speaking of authenticity? Or, what is supposed to be the subject of any specific truth or believe in the context of art? What is it that people have to believe in, that is, at first state, to expect, so that whatever meets that expectation would let you and me say that this is still true art?
AvD: As we're talking about trust and value, and as people who are supposed to buy art are part of a particular society, the expectation clearly says that within a predictable future there should be a society which still acknowledges art in general, so that the particular piece of work won't lose its value. After all, we're talking about future in general – which always means a realm where we can not only live on but recognize ourselves.
LG: If I may insist, I'd like to ask: How should we describe a situation in which, for example, that dealer thinks that a revolution is necessary? What is it that we're lacking and what we should go for – as if there had to be some goal or solution? … comparing our actual situation to the one of, let's say, 1967.
AvD: This comparison is rather embarrassing, because in this perspective we'd have to admit that now we don't see a future in which art and society will have a profound relationship.
LG: There is always a relationship. What you suggest is that there might be no understanding anymore.
AvD: If you put it this way, I'd say that misunderstanding has always been part of that relationship, and at times it might have been rather productive. But as soon as society induces more and more demands towards art, misunderstanding can turn into abuse.
LG: And it is a certain cynicism on the artist's side which would have to respond to that abuse?
AvD: I'm afraid what is more likely is that most artists can't even afford such cynicism, and that they give in by accepting the current stupidity.
LG: The current stupidity that I see is something I'd call hypocrisy.
AvD: But hypocrisy works mainly by playing the dummy.
LG: Not quite. It is – consciously – playing the naive. Of course, by the end of the game you won't be more intelligent than in the beginning.
AvD: I'd like to imagine that we –  people like us – are insisting on a particular, historically profound perspective, making us insinuate motives which are actually irrelevant to those people who will have to enact the future? In other words: What if their naivety is authentic?
LG: We have to be careful not to rely too much on those combinations: cynicism and hypocrisy, being authentic in terms of pessimism or in terms of naivety. And with »those people« you obviously mean the next generation. But, is it really the next generation that is about to enact the future? I'm afraid that, perhaps more than ever before, it is the elder generation which shapes the immediate future in a way that young people won't have much of a chance to enact anything at all. Instead, youth may end up being the victim – of so many wrong decisions which have been made during the last forty years. This doesn't mean that you and me have to feel personally responsible, only that we have to admit that we belong to the best-educated, best-nurtured, best-trained generation the human race had seen and that our heritage nevertheless is rather disastrous. Even if it were merely coincidental that, after our generation took over, the human race went into decline, we still had to state the fact. What remains, for the time being, may be some bottom line where we can see certain qualities, convincingly featuring the new generation – which is, to be more precise, our grandchildren rather than our children – and to try to figure out more exactly what these qualities are, and how to support it.
AvD: I think those qualities occur to me occasionally. But I couldn't describe more than a few impressions – of elegance, humor, a certain eloquence of affection. And we wouldn't consider these being real achievements, or assets: they cannot replace grammar, logic, skill and professional attitude.
LG: Maybe it's just hard for us to realize that those, let's say, secondary qualities already do replace what we once knew as primary criteria.
AvD: But these secondary qualities are mainly a matter of morality and psychology, they don't enable anyone to produce or perform anything; in other words, they are not constructive.
LG: This may be the key. These new human beings are not seeking for construction – which we both are still used to associate with art as well as with society; they just take advantage of a cultural system offering them enough tools, material and combinations. It's not about creation, it's about playing.
AvD: So, this new mankind is not interested in what we would call »new«.
LG: Not in terms of innovation, rather in terms of alteration.
AvD: Once more I have to be skeptical. I think I've got a very simple attitude: I accept development, modification, perhaps with a preference for evolution over revolution, and I try to adapt myself even to radical change, as long as what is supposed to change is a particular form, on behalf of any value, essential ambition, or just any new knowledge, some newly achieved state of the art; what I don't accept is anything that's only a new label on rotten stuff, or any concept which is incoherent. To make it short: I don't accept non-sense. And my experience – almost on a daily basis – with the two recent generations is that most of the people either don't know what they're saying, that is, the true meaning of what they're saying, or that they don't care whenever it turns out to be wrong. This may be an – all too stiff? – generalization. But I can give examples: Claiming an edgy approach, but when it comes to concrete production, asking for classification; or failing to keep an arrangement four times within twelve days and calling this behaviour cool; or pretending to have a highly conceptual method, but not being capable of discussing anything properly.
LG: Okay. I see what you mean, and I'm sure we all can tell lots of similar stories – perhaps even those people you are referring to. What you describe are symptoms of what we actually may call a mental disease, something like a multi-polar order. We're living in a fake culture – without tracking it back to an exact historical point: let's say, some time between the mid-eighties and the mid-nineties. And it's only logical that those two generations are influenced by this culture almost without any alternative, while you and me still remember a time when distinguishing between feeling and fact was considered to be an advantage. But there are enough people of our generation who have been affected to the same extent. It's in the air, and some people can protect themselves, others cannot. Coming back to the psychological aspect: If you have been grown up in a world where even the government employs experts for spinning the phrases and makes a fool of people who can count to ten instead of stopping at nine, you are forced to develop the mentality of a trickster. What made it a disease is that at the same time these people fed such a desire for integrity that it became almost unbearable for them not to match that ideal; so, it is the very disposition for falling apart which trained them in manipulating meanings and matters, so as to keep the feeling of getting it right.
AvD: We are about to design the 21st Century Schizoid Man. Now it's me who says, we have to be careful not to stick to dark patterns too long. Let us state that there are indeed a lot of contradictions – if not forms of hypocrisy; but then, let's figure out whether these contradictions all belong to the field of terms and concepts, or if some of them occurs only between words and actions. Perhaps one part of the problem is just that young people have difficulties with saving a certain coherence within their terminology while elaborating values they cannot yet name properly; or that you and me have difficulties with acknowledging those values because they are associated with something we are still used to underestimate. For example, one extremely smart and talented woman I met in her early twenties once explained to me what she called »fun-philosophy«, reducing every more or less noble motive I mentioned to that one syllable; then – ten years later, just when she seemed to take off – she stepped out of the art world, which disappointed me almost personally, until I came to think that for her profession might have been not the main thing, or that it might have been not necessarily connected with career. When we were twenty-five, even uttering the word »fun« would have been ridiculous, and the expectation that your work should make you happy would have made our fellows feel sorry for us. And the point may be, that right now we don't have to decide which of these attitudes is right; ours was right at the time, hers may make sense nowadays.
LG: Sounds good, but not convincing. We are not discussing people who prefer happiness to art; only those who are definitely not artists would suggest a profound conflict here. We are referring to the problem of claiming one value and – instead of perhaps achieving some other one – destroying the conditions and fundaments of that very value. And we are discussing this kind of schizophrenia – at least, it looks like some mad version of regression –, because it concerns an increasing part of the population, not only a few thousand kids who think they are artists while being arrogant amateurs. We're discussing it, because it concerns the whole society. So, when I spoke of the bottom line, it is there where we have to find, for example, forms of happiness accessible also for school teachers and bus drivers etc. – but without paying the price of becoming slaves without knowing, or exploiting numerous people on the other side of the globe.
AvD: Maybe I was not well-advised to introduce the idea of happiness here. But I find it interesting that you connect this with a notion of responsibility which to me seems to belong to the field of contradictions. I see more and more people – not only young ones, but these in particular – willing to take responsibility for big issues, while lacking the capability of taking responsibility for their own actions; we used to call this bigotry. In other words, globalization makes it easy to feel connected with any matter, but also to focus on super-structures while messing up any business within immediate contexts. It's like claiming the right to do wrong someone next to you, as you sense you have the right idea of what's wrong in the world.
LG: Again, I'd say, there are surely lots of examples for what you observed, but we want to figure out something like a shape to come.
AvD: Of happiness or of responsibility?
LG: Perhaps these are connected in a way …
AvD: They are, but in a way I can hardly appreciate. If you break it down to the most simple structure, then you find feeling. And it's not the great emotion, reflected as an idea; it's not love or hate, devotion or passion, generosity or lust; it is mood, affect, attraction – whatever makes it easy to make choices without reflection or responsibility. Reflection and responsibility don't refer to that feeling, that is, the original motive, but to some rather abstract interest.
LG: What you're talking about is the old mechanism of denying the actual interest and claiming the rather noble motive.
AvD: What is new is that the actual interest is to save the state of affectation; there is no particular cause or case, or these are arbitrary. Constant feeling has priority, and any matter comes and goes spontaneously.
LG: You describe the state of mind of a child.
AvD: What you called the mad version of regression, though it may appear to be quite natural. For example, young people often tell you about their work, their plans and ambitions, then asking your opinion; and they accept your opinion, even some advice, some criticism. But instead of processing what they accepted, they come back to you on the same level, telling the same story. Obviously, what they really want is that you care for them, the mere contact, the motion of exchange. It makes them feel good.
LG: So, any matter would be just a pretext.
AvD: That's what I see – almost as a syndrome.
LG: The question is whether they are able to do their work, or how many of them are successful according to the standards of their profession.
AvD: There is an economic system based on taking advantage of your feelings, of that very need for contact and exchange. So, people working for and within this system – perhaps they work even more efficiently when they participate in that kind of addiction.
LG: This is the concept of turning more and more people into slaves by making them believe they are masters of the universe.
AvD: We wanted to figure out new qualities and values; and we ended up at a bottom line which reminds me of the Middle-Ages.
LG: So, the shape to come should not be one of a revolution, it ought to be a second Renaissance.
AvD: I prefer the notion – suggested only by a few art historians, as far as I know – of Renaissance being just one episode within the truly representative style which led to modern times: Mannerism.