Fugue State

Al Jirikowic

‘Dissociative fugue’ is a type of amnesia that is caused by an extreme psychological trauma instead of physical trauma, illness, or other medical condition. It’s severe, and considered rare.
If we review a few articles of recent Art News, clearly the main theme revolves around activities that provide for the Covid19 closed down art world, substituted for the old normal. A virtual experience is this new normal. The only art world in which we can engage, as opposed to being locked out. We may now experience art as a virtual reality and therefore be somewhere other than an ‘art space’ to partake in the provided art. Via a digital device as opposed to risking our lives to see an exhibition in person. We are still invited to peruse or witness or observe the art from our own selected vantage point, but now it is through our personal digital device. We consent to accept the digitized ‘trans-piction’, viewing the electronic mode of what is photo-electronically, selectively, (we can only see what is transferred) ‘shot’ on to our eyes, on a screen of some sort. We have no angle of option to view the work, or stance or perspective, no partaking in gallery circumstance or light quality or speaking to a guard or some other stranger who stands next to us, gazing at the same work. We only see what the screen allows. Hence, our subjectivity of experience is determined not only by the technology involved but also by the application of the presenter-camera view-choice he or she chooses for us to see, for better or for worse.
I would say ‘for worse’. It is useless to deny it is otherwise. There is no substitute for actually standing in front of an object you chose to look at, and take it in over time. This is the critical interplay that is absolutely vital in the experience of art and we are kidding ourselves to think otherwise. Why is this such a problem for us to admit? Why are art magazines just talking about art sales or hot ‘identitarian’ quasi political issues, as opposed to the nature of art, especially in this seemingly culturally restricted social environment? We had an art world crisis before the pandemic, without forgetting the social and educational crises that the wider society contends with.
We are enraptured, our physicality embodied in technology. This ongoing notion of technology has been crucial to the history of art. But why would we ever deny the current vantage point of technology when it is absolutely omnipresent in practically everything we do on earth? There is no way to vanquish our dependence on electronic trans-communication or data collection interface with our techno-directed lives in any aspect of living let alone the back burner of art. The digitalization of art and it’s selling did not skip a beat as suddenly we were able to partake in zoom art events or digital theatre or social media spelling out culture as Covid-19 swept the world. Yet there is something deeply wrong with this picture.
The irony of the coronavirus effect is the sunshine that plays over the condition of our depressed cultural behavior which existed before this plague. I would say we have been oblivious to our state of cultural disconnect and the banality of our art world for two generations. We just accepted whatever was presented to us. Our nameless cultural march was totally packaged, processed, commercialized and zoomed. We were full swing into techno-addiction, this mindless consumption, hollow blather imagery. Have you found anything important or with a sense of posterity displayed in the myriad of art on show in the last – oh I do not know how long. Too long. Of course this situation has evolved for many reasons. Covid-19 just pushed it over the top and onto the open ground of our very confused living. Are we waking up yet with egg on our faces?
There is no such thing as a virtual art world or virtual art. The word ‘virtual’ itself means ‘simulated’ or ‘in place of’. Our new normal is in place of art.
Researchers with the European Space Agency in Darmstadt, Germany, equipped with a Virtual Reality headset and motion controllers, demonstrated how astronauts might use virtual reality in the future to train to extinguish a fire inside a lunar habitat. It trains them for some of the possibilities. But it remains unreal, fake or substitute. Plainly stated there is no substitute for seeing and ‘being with’ art. We really cannot talk ourselves into that slog. If any-thing, we value the experience of art that is directly relational to ourselves partaking in an authentic encounter before we forget what the real is. Art by its nature, is in contradistinction to a virtual experience for it is direct, in-person with no techno filters and, moreover, a felt experience. It is like real life theatre and before you. This is how we may come to know ourselves, gauge ourselves. One can post many works of art online (I do) but that is no substitute for experiencing a work of art in person and never will be. At the New Art Examiner we do not allow reviews of shows that have not been visited in person. The value of the digital pictures online only remind me of their real existence somewhere in the world, that I want to see for myself. I am happy the digital images exist but they long for my viewing in person.
The issue with our fugue state of amnesias is very difficult and imposing. We have largely forgotten art is a reality afore us. Our long-term social memory forgets language and art. We have been with this dissociation of art for a long time, it’s implications and effects are becoming known. Of course this issue is long and complicated but popular electrolyzed culture, fragmented: whether on the reservations (museums), in holding pens (galleries), as prisoners of home decor, art school or academic constraint, on screens and TVs, it is separated and all over the place.
This latest lock down on living culture is our latest abyss. We yearn to get on with living. But the fugue state will claim many casualties on many levels. We should not pretend this is not so, we should not be in denial or pretend the desertification of culture does not exist. It does on many levels. But we know artists are out there and their art shall emerge despite the imposing constraints of techno man.
Let us view this era as an opportunity to reclassify or clarify what and how we revere our relationship to art. I predict, as in any period of human strife, art will re-emerge, but until it does we will witness many show trials, witch hunts, spooks and jokers…. and re-evaluations of what cultural sanity may be. It is a very long road. Maybe art will thrive underground. Maybe art will continue a sort of interregnum or flat period that has to be content with mediocrity. Or, perhaps, we just do not know when art will revitalize itself as opposed to becoming a market slave, advertising whim or pushed agenda.

Volume 35 no 2 November / December 2020

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