Jack Ryan: "Where are you taking me, Marty?"
Marty Cantor: "It's you who have taken us, Jack... "
-- Patriot Games
Yale said her project was a "hoax." She says they lied.
"Shvarts said her project would take the form of a large cube suspended from the ceiling of a room in the gallery of Holcombe T. Green Jr. Hall. Shvarts said she would wrap hundreds of feet of plastic sheeting around the cube, with blood from her self-induced miscarriages lining the sheeting." -- Yale Daily News - Shvarts, Yale clash over project
"...would wrap hundreds of feet of plastic sheeting..." Ah, how cutting edge. How avante-garde! How 21st century!
In the period of 1969-1971 I lived in a two-story green house in Berkeley, California, with a sculptor. I was, or so I claimed then, a poet.
The house had four small apartments. Ours was downstairs and in back. In the front apartment, a painter had reproduced Motherwell's Elegy for the Spanish Republic #110 at full size on his bedroom wall as a mural. Upstairs in the front, a couple would, from time to time, bring in a trunk and produce tens of thousands of LSD hits for sale throughout the bay area. Upstairs in back, an old gray man known as "Mr. Smith" would pursue his long affair with heroin. It was, by the standards of the time, a house fraught with art.
In a way I don't now recall, I'd come into possession of many end-rolls of clear industrial plastic. The rolls were some 7 feet tall and each had hundreds of feet of unused sheeting on it. During a long evening with the painter and my sculptor, we decided - in reference to the then obscure artist Christo -- we would wrap the entire two-story house in plastic. Which we did. I have, somewhere in my endless boxes, photographs of this "Happening" -- as it was then called.
Here's a photograph of the house that I took passing through Berkeley in 2005. As you can see, wrapping it in long plastic sheets 7 feet tall would not be a trivial exercise, but we managed it in an afternoon.
Today, I see that it was probably a mistake not to have harvested some menstrual blood from the sculptor to smear on my plastic-wrapped house. That would have been ever-so-much-more-artistic. The truth is that we did not think of it. The deeper truth is that we could not think of it.
Even a house deeply sunk in LSD, heroin, armed outlaws, bad poetry and the wholesale political-spiritual-aesthetic catastrophe of Beat-Hip lifestyles on the 1960s could not have come up with the faintest wisp of the thought: "I'll collect my menstrual blood, which might or might not contain a fetus, save it, then smear it on some plastic sheeting with some Vaseline to keep it moist, and wrap a cube in it, and proclaim it 'art.'"
Don't get me wrong. We liked the edge. We liked the drugs. We liked the pill. We liked the sex with everybody and everything. We liked "sticking it to the man." After all, he "couldn't bust our music." We liked thinking of ourselves as concept artists, as performance artists, as "beautiful losers." What we didn't think of was how we could get a major university to fund us and give us degrees for our "art."
But now, here we are, in a society that actually rewards the "expression" of a disturbed woman with both attention and fame. It will, I have no doubt, also soon reward her more deeply with grants and money from any one of a number of the more depraved foundations, such as DIA, that exist to aid us along the road of decline that leads forever down.
Somehow we've grown accustomed to that road. I walked along it for many years. In a very real sense I've done my part in extending and paving it until I decided, seeing at long last where it inexorably leads, to leave it for good.
The LSD dealer died years later in a shoot out. His girlfriend/wife lives in poverty now somewhere in the southwest. The mural painter moved to Japan and died early from AIDS. The old junkie, Mr. Smith, finally overdosed and lies in a pauper's grave. The sculptor whom I lived with and loved has had, the last I knew, several decades of increasing mental disorders. As for myself, I guess the best you could say is "I only am escaped alone to tell thee." Even now, though, I'm not so sure.
But I am sure of the road.
As it did for the outlaws and junkies of my old green house, the road that leads forever down has nothing but pleasures along the way, and there are never any real social consequences for taking it. We don't do "consequences" in this country any more. Instead we reward those that discover, as Shvarts has, new and ever more deeply depraved depths.
And don't think this little episode of glorifying multiple spontaneous abortions is the end. I often think "Surely, we've reached the bottom." And just as often I am reminded, as I am by the depraved Ms. Shvarts, that there really is no bottom; that an ever increasingly part of our "culture" (What a laugh!) has fallen more than half in love with easeful death, and will have it.
Commenting on the Shvarts episode today, Roger Kimball in Roger's Rules: Yale, abortion, and the limits of art remarks,
George Orwell gave classic expression to this point back in 1944 in "Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dali - a review of Dali's autobiography. "The artist," Orwell wrote,
is to be exempt from the moral laws that are binding on ordinary people. Just pronounce the magic word "Art," and everything is O.K. Rotting corpses with snails crawling over them are O.K.; kicking little girls in the head is O.K.; even a film like L'Age d'Or [which shows among other things graphic shots of a woman defecating] is O.K.
A juror in the obscenity trial over Robert Mapplethorpe's notorious photographs the S&M homosexual underworld memorably summed up the paralyzed attitude Orwell described. Acknowledging that he did not like Mapplethorpe's rebarbative photographs, he nonetheless concluded that "if people say it's art, then I have to go along with it."
This is the triumph of the lie -- the lie of the mind to the soul that we so deeply prefer above all other lies.
People have actually come to believe that labeling something "art" gives it a Get-Out-Of-Condemnation-Free card; that there really is some sort of immutable and unwritten social rule that if I say something is "art," then everyone who says what I am about is depraved, sick, and evil must simply back off. It matters little that time will consign the 'art' of Shvarts to the sewer of works that vanish. What matters is that in her little time here she has already managed to degrade the souls of others just a little more, just a little deeper.
In a healthy world, someone who puts on a performance like Shvarts would get a beating from her peers and then be shunned into obscurity. I'm predicting that our current 'art' establishment -- like the weak administrators at Yale -- will give her a pass and a grant. I'm predicting, and I won't be wrong, that her "show" will be attended by throngs and a major gallery in New York will sign her. Few of the people involved will have children. Childless and soulless are the hallmarks of that tribe. Such is the nature of the parasites we've allowed to infest us.
I haven't done any "performance" art in decades, but if I get back into it with some industrial plastic sheeting, I wonder if I could wrap and tape Aliza Shvarts in it, video tape her slow asphyxiation, call her corpse "art," and look for the edgy academic and art establishment to give me a "Get-Out-Of-Lethal-Injection-Free Card" and a grant for more "performances." That's really the next step, and only a small step at that. Isn't it?
I hope so. I've got a little list.Posted by Vanderleun at April 18, 2008 8:49 AM | TrackBack