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Sniffing for illusions…

Goal and direction hunger will always be felt in people, no matter the name it bears: truth, salvation, religion, morality, progress etc. In fact, John Gray states in his book about people and other animals – “Straw dogs”, that we are a species depending on wishful thinking. This obsession, to sniff and feed ourselves on illusions, probably distinguishes us from other animals, even if the author tends to compare us, in an Oriental philosophical manner, with a pack of straw dogs, at nature's mercy.

Technology is apparently the latest oracle towards which humanity directs its hopes and forces as well, acting up to the teeth, since progress condemns loitering. Everything is though an illusion, one that reminds us Sisyphus' progress: the slaves of action push infinitely the stone up to the top of the mountain and this rolls back down. In translation, no matter how much we produce, modify genes, globalize and so on, we remain the same human beings, whose needs surpass the concrete. So, the capitalism and excessive material goods production standard are encouraged by the request of interesting experiences delivery. Artists become suddenly orientated towards exterior, public whishes and this collaboration generates commercial relationships. Turning back for a second to our Sisyphus and his myth, we question the ability of non-stop activity as the only way of satisfying belief in progress. Considering the rhythms of evolution as in Bible, is it wrong to expect following after six days of toil a heavenly Sunday, when we just contemplate and relax? Progress made in too quick steps might after all affect us not always in a good way, so why should we get scared that a pause follows? Let's try to imagine a Sisyphus who allowed himself a moment of wise rest, when he got inspired and found a new trick, a new way to ease up or even end his useless effort, maintaining simultaneously his head up and stone, as well…

According to Ballard (that J. Gray quotes), we'll have enough time in future, only for leisure and that's because of the excessive production and progress accomplished in the 20 th century. The jobs and carriers of the developed world are going to fade away as things of the past. Of course, imagining that it's not necessary any longer to produce, but consume, places the Ballardian vision into utopia. Ballard talks about the classic script, replacing almost entirely work done by humans with that one made by machines. In this equation, people either retire after several years of work or live for decades doing nothing. The only possibility to still have occupations resembling work is to entertain each other professionally (the spare time design, tourism, planning sexual experiences and so on). Thus, art gets to be the source of the most efficient “antidote against boredom” and her messengers invent services and unusual happenings that fulfill the present need of “special and exotic”. Willingly or not, artists and their creations are already used as departure points for the mass entertainment suppliers (see “Big Brother”). Isolated performances or avant-garde experiments become all of sudden “pop” (ex: reality shows), expanding from the area of initiated groups to everyone. The old school artist (animated by anti-pop, purist, anti-commercial feelings) stumbles through his own freedom of expression and uniqueness (concepts that stirred battles in old times), because no matter what oddities or fictions he creates, there will be a market for these. Freedom in expression develops at the same time with taste liberties. Boredom represents the most fertile condition that makes public and artists to communicate, play and experiment. The more “original” the artist is, the better his chances to succeed in the “industry of new vices”. Art for art's sake (actually for the sake of a selfish, individual pleasure – if may I add) is getting replaced by the art for the sake of others, popular and professionally created. Technical jobs are replaced with “arty” ones, continuing the idea of progress. Art stops being a Sunday game, a frivolous occupation, pleasant personal experience and becomes “a more playful labor” (Gray). Action or contemplation, play or effort, art helps believe ourselves more than straw dogs. We must admit though, the artist shouldn't feel obliged to create as someone else demands. Once you feel you must , true pleasure and freedom to create are gone. The system that makes you at the same time feel free, but dutiful (mainstream) transforms the artist into a professional machine, indebted and serving commerce and public tastes. Art shouldn't mean only work and carrier, and the artist as a model employee for the firm of nicely packed and delivered pleasures into the lap of blasé consumers is a pathetic sight. No matter how useless or non-progressive it's sounds, the roots of creative experience still belong to the soil of detached play. In this respect, I wouldn't mind to believe that the “illusion” which concerns minds and wields souls of those living during this century is the art (as Ballard says it-) born on “billions of balconies facing the sun”…

Arty Fact, 2004

Copyright © Katiusha Cuculescu, 2004