From outside one will always triumphantly impress theories upon the world and then fall straight into the ditch one has dug, but only from inside will one keep oneself and the world quiet and true. /FK (Contact: TBONotebooks at fastmail.fm. The Blue Octavo Notebooks welcomes mail, although we cannot guarantee a response. Your email may be posted in part on The Blue Octavo Notebooks unless otherwise requested.) Please enjoy the notebook entries, and thanks for reading.

Monday, January 19, 2004

Regarding the recent incident of the Israeli ambassador to Sweden going berserk and destroying an art installation that featured a Palestinian suicide bomber—that is, he turned off a couple of lights and berated the artist (ah, the media)—a piece that centered around a flattering portrait of a Palestinian murderer who killed 21 innocent people, floating in a pool of fake blood, I’m reminded of two pieces: The episode of Beavis and Butthead when the dynamic duo deface a wall with heavy metal graffiti, only to have it end up in a museum; and an Art Spiegelman back page cartoon in The New Yorker magazine. The latter piece is entitled something along the lines of “Duchamp Is Our Misfortune,” and featured a sleazy looking skinhead spray painting a Swastika on a wall and slinking away. By the last panel, the Swastika has been transferred to an art gallery and the skinhead artiste is sipping wine and conversing with an admiring crowd. How quickly obnoxious vandalism and other philosophically bankrupt “bombs of filth” can become challenging avante garde paradigms, regardless of their intellectual and moral vacuity, when people are unwilling to look at what’s confronting them. But an artist should no more be allowed to parade around naked than an emperor, and in this case Swedish artist Gunilla Skold Feiler and her Israeli-born husband, Dror Feiler, simply skipped defacing a public space and instead went straight to defacing a museum space with their juvenile, naked obnoxiousness.

So in that respect, I guess if you’re going to stoop to making an art construction whose central image is a flattering portrait of a mass murderer who last October deliberately and savagely terminated the lives of more people than either Jeffrey Dahmer or Charles Manson did, not to mention all the people she maimed and traumatized, and with this installation include a maudlin, tendentious poem that suggests an allusion of sorts between this same mass murderer and Snow White, along with other quasi-political claptrap and implicit justifications for her savagery, you’d best be prepared for someone to call you on your garbage and all its grandiose effusiveness. The artists’ indignity at having the lights, quite literally, turned off on their little stunt is a bit much to take. They doth protest too much, to say the least.

Per Walter Benjamin: There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism. And just as such a document is not free of barbarism, barbarism also taints the manner in which it was transmitted from one owner to another.

The artists’ protestations to the contrary, I’d argue that a document—in this case, their art installation—which encapsulates the murder of 21 innocent people within a pretentious, controversy-courting aestheticization, politically and aesthetically, of the person who murdered them, is hardly a document of civilization but in itself is a document of barbarity. At best, it’s just a cheap shock tactic, and I’m somewhat surprised that a major art museum saw fit to display such a lazy effort. Rather than addressing any sort of reality at hand, this sort of cowardly, deliberately provocative artwork flees from any sort of meaningful encounter or understanding of the realities it purports to address. And rather than trying to examine the existential implications or ramifications of a mindset that allows one to strap on explosives, enter a crowded restaurant at lunch time, and detonate oneself so as to murder as many people as possible (or the mindset that allows one to support just this action, as did 75% of Palestinians in the territories), this sort of base artwork offers a framework of avoidance. That is, rather than addressing any sort of pertinent question, such as why, of all the people in the world who suffer, including those who confront far worse travails than the Palestinians do, it is only Palestinians who have adopted to such a degree this gruesome strategy of detonating themselves in civilian areas (the first time in history this strategy has ever been so widely employed), this display offers nothing but craven clichés and easy banalities. It reeks of intellectual and aesthetic bad faith, and it contributes nothing of any necessity or enlightenment, other than perhaps drawing (undeserved) attention to the artists. And, really, how long did it take for Gunilla Skold Feiler and Dror Feiler to think through, much less grapple with, the issues supposedly inherent in this work? Besides being emotionally cheap and easy, it’s an abuse of the deaths and the pain of innocent people, and this sort of anti-didactic smugness strikes me as reminiscent of propaganda, and rather poor propaganda at that. At least Beavis and Butthead and Spiegelman’s thuggish skinhead had the guts to display their imagery outside a museum setting rather than immediately hiding behind the pretensions and self-serving intellectual defenses of a gallery setting.

Imagine, if you can, a similar installation that posited this sort of self-serving, maudlin imagery and prose to another mass murderer of innocent people, namely, Baruch Goldstein, complete with a smiling portrait of him and a weepy exegesis of his hardships and his “innocent heart.” Is there any doubt that people, especially European politicians and activists of an anti-Zionist bent, would be falling over themselves to attack the installation and berating not just the artist but the institution sponsoring it? How many diplomats would attend an event that featured such an installation? Run away, then, you poor child, indeed. Yet for some reason people are shocked, shocked that an Israeli diplomat would take offense at a boorish, cliché-ridden piece of deliberately provocative art that exploits the murders of innocent people. Frankly, I’m a bit embarrassed for the artists that they even saw fit to offer this piece for public viewing. The banalities and clichés aside, it’s just not very good or interesting, and it would be too much of an understatement to say that the piece is as shallow (and fake) as its own pool of “blood.”

In this respect, I’m reminded of Jerry Seinfield’s comment about the Catholic dentist who converted to Judaism so as to take advantage of Jew jokes without being accused of being an anti-Semite: Jerry was offended at this conversion of convenience not so much as a Jew but, as he explained indignantly, as a comedian. Regarding "Snow White and the Madness of Truth,” one hardly has to be a Jew or an artist (or both) to be offended by the sort of sanctimonious, bloody drivel on display in Stockholm. The artists should be thankful for the actions of the Israeli ambassador in drawing attention to their piece, as otherwise it would have been even more quickly consigned to the dustbin of history, where such worthless, hypocritical efforts belong. I know several artists, all of whom are struggling to get by yet who remain honest to their work and to the subject matters they pursue, and so it’s a bit galling to see such exceptionally shoddy, boorish, and inferior artwork like this—gosh, a pool of blood and a suicide bomber: how magnificently deep and insightful, or something—garnering headlines and media attention.

The Swedish Foreign Ministry has said they will be calling upon the Israeli ambassador to explain his actions. Yet, seeing as how a pro-Israeli piece was excluded (censored?) from the exhibition at the behest of Syria, and that the “Snow White” installation in question was a blatant violation of an agreement to keep the Middle East conflict out of this particular conference, it looks like the Swedish Foreign Ministry has no small degree of explaining to do themselves.

A shame, of course, that the only people who will benefit from this incident are the artists of the idiotic piece, who are themselves already reaping international publicity, and those who would use the ambassador’s actions to defame Israel, as the artist Dror Feiler immediately and predictably did. Of course, nobody would be surprised if just this sort of convenient and manufactured controversy at the expense of Israel was a basic objective all along. As usual, so it goes.

Note: A few people have asked me when I’m going to post my updated account of attending the opening panel session of the Palestine Solidarity Movement’s Conference held at OSU last November. Right now, I’m thinking I’m not going to post it, partly because it was such a joke and posting more information about it would risk affording the event extra publicity; partly, as a friend and I were saying a few days ago, because the whole sorry affair seems like it was a long time ago and I don’t feel like dredging it up; and partly for some other reasons, including not wanting to pollute my blog with an extended post about the conference. I’m feeling rather jaded and reticent about delving back into that execrable mess, but I suppose if enough people express interest in reading the account then I’ll just go ahead and post it, or perhaps I’ll just email the information to folks who express interest in reading about it. That night at the Ohio Union does seem like a long time ago, though, the nasty “Yahoodi, Yahoodi, idol worshipper” filth and so on that was flung at me notwithstanding.

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