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“Eternal Performer” and her/ his position within the context of the contemporary world - Milan Kohout’s reply to Wladyslaw Kazmierczak’s text <i>Performance-education-fiction</i>

“Eternal Performer” and her/ his position within the context of the contemporary world - Milan Kohout’s reply to Wladyslaw Kazmierczak’s text <i>Performance-education-fiction</i>

“Eternal Performer” and her/ his position within the context of the contemporary world - Milan Kohout’s reply to Wladyslaw Kazmierczak’s text <i>Performance-education-fiction</i>

“Eternal Performer” and her/ his position within the context of the contemporary world - Milan Kohout’s reply to Wladyslaw Kazmierczak’s text <i>Performance-education-fiction</i>

“Eternal Performer” and her/ his position within the context of the contemporary world - Milan Kohout’s reply to Wladyslaw Kazmierczak’s text <i>Performance-education-fiction</i>

“Eternal Performer” and her/ his position within the context of the contemporary world - Milan Kohout’s reply to Wladyslaw Kazmierczak’s text <i>Performance-education-fiction</i>

“Eternal Performer” and her/ his position within the context of the contemporary world - Milan Kohout’s reply to Wladyslaw Kazmierczak’s text <i>Performance-education-fiction</i>

“Eternal Performer” and her/ his position within the context of the contemporary world - Milan Kohout’s reply to Wladyslaw Kazmierczak’s text <i>Performance-education-fiction</i>

“Eternal Performer” and her/ his position within the context of the contemporary world - Milan Kohout’s reply to Wladyslaw Kazmierczak’s text <i>Performance-education-fiction</i>

“Eternal Performer” and her/ his position within the context of the contemporary world - Milan Kohout’s reply to Wladyslaw Kazmierczak’s text <i>Performance-education-fiction</i>

“Eternal Performer” and her/ his position within the context of the contemporary world - Milan Kohout’s reply to Wladyslaw Kazmierczak’s text Performance-education-fiction

Milan Kohout, 2012-12-12

Before we investigate the position of artists within the contemporary world, we should first define what is her/his historical role within society. According to my definition, art is an endless Aristotelian circle (wheel) with three rotating words in it — art is politics is life is art is politics is art.1 Of course the word politics is understood as the derivation of the old Greek word “polis” being the city state, where politics was perceived as community anchored care about the common welfare.

Therefore I have always taught my students not “how to make art” but “how to be artists”.

There are three basic faculties defining art: esthetic, cognitive and ethical. And the latter one is absolutely superior. I have been using the metaphor of “eyes” which see just the surface “esthetic” beauty and “brain” as the cognitive processor of the “cunningness” of the work of art. But above all these the most important is “heart” which is caring ethics —morality —which makes us human.

And it is the artist whom I call “The Eternal Performer” who understands this function of art through the ages.

• The Artist - “The Eternal Performer” working in media of his/her historical period and always the indicator of the presence of any ethical decay within a society.

• The Artist - “The Eternal Performer” who is constantly fighting everlasting stupidity of any people's formations and their social systems.

• The Artist - “The Eternal Performer” who from the outset of tribal times, using the artistic and therefore the most communicable tools, always woke up the given community and warned it about the danger of the power deviation created by some of the members of that community.

For example, consider some power-abusing religious shamans, by god-chosen religious lunatics, everlasting Galigulas, Popes, Hitlers, Blairs, Bushes and all the way to Czech Kalouseks, Klauses, Dukas and a never-ending line of others. My “Eternal Performer” came into existence delivered by the very community organism and served as the self preservation and immunity building element essential for the survival of the given community.

We have some by the history of human kind preserved examples of these “Eternal Performers”

Let us present some:

• Fourteen thousand year-old hand imprints of prehistoric performers of the Stone Age in Altamira cave.2They intended, according to my understanding, to display the power of the people fighting the attempt of some members to dominate the group.

• Diogenes of Sinope3 who, using ingenious performances, criticized the governing Athenian rich twenty-four centuries ago.

• The Bohemian “Jamnik” group4 and other performers connected with the Hussites’ fifteenth-century uprising, who protested against the attempt of the Catholic church to establish totalitarian power over the society.

• The performer Don Quixote created by Cervantes in the seventeenth century, who was ready to die in the fight with the society-windmills and who knew that the artist must even put himself into the battle, knowing that they are lost before one starts to fight them.

• Inuit artists who saw the process of art making as a superior task and when they finished the artifacts they immediately threw them away.

• Performers from the Dada5 movement who were trying to turn all the cultural “values” of the Western world upside down, because they were disgusted by hypocritical European “cultural and moral superiority” — “superiority” which started the idiotic First World War for no reason, during which millions of young men died like pigs in a slaughterhouse.

• Alexander Medvedkin6 and his “Agit Train-Kinopoezd” from the nineteen twenties, who used the ordinary Russian villagers to shoot films and immediately process, edit and show them on the spot.

• Joseph Beuys,7 a performer from the latter half of the 20th century,
who considered teaching at a university as the ultimate Performance Art piece, which passes ethical values on to the next generation.

• The Situationist International8 and Letterist International9 revolutionary art groups, known for their use of “Detourmement” tactic, which turned expressions of the capitalist system and its media culture against itself.

• Otto Muehl10 and his upset of the bourgeoisie and its pro-fascistic morality in Austrian society

•Augusto Boal11 and his “Theater of the Oppressed”

• “Provo”,12 the Dutch anarchist counterculture movement from the mid-60s that focused on provoking violent responses from authorities using non-violent bait.

• And last but not least, the movement of “Eternal Performers” which was a “Second Culture”13 in the Czechoslovakian underground of which I myself was a part.

And it was this very “Second Culture” movement which set the basic ethical art values for me. There, the wheel with the rotating words— art is life is politics is art is life— started to rotate for me.

During the time I was teaching classes at TUFTS University in Boston dealing with this movement, I originated a list of basic values of “Second Culture”.

Let me present few examples of those values which are not compatible with our ethically-decaying capitalist system, which is waving and completely controlling a red mullet with the name of “democracy” on it in front of our eyes:

• Creating a parallel world (polis) with a different culture and a different scale of values (“Second Culture”)

• Creating art outside of the official economy, no art for sale

• Better to do no art than to let your art be co-opted by the establishment

• Stressing authenticity in life, stressing authenticity in your art

• Deciding to be free now and behaving immediately in that way

• Not suppressing any thoughts, saying what you think

• Not wishing to be a part of cultural history

• Not competing but rather collaborating

• No elites or classes among the members of the underground

• Constantly socializing

Now, after the previous short explanation of my understanding of the role of art and artist within society, we can proceed to a more detailed description of the position of the artist within the context of contemporary society. Since I spent the second half of my life in the USA, it would be most appropriate to talk about the position of the artist there.

When I arrived in the USA in the eighties, the process of social “normalization” was under way. Art tended to lean toward the commercial side with the aspects of esthetic objectification, “cognitivifictation” and commodification being emphasized, while its ethical faculty was neglected. The echoes of the disillusion from the artistic revolution of the sixties14 were still being heard more and more. The latest attempts to use art for social change were paralyzed by the revolutions in Eastern Europe and their uncritical and blind embracing of the capitalist political and economic social order— the capitalist system against which the previous American artistic resistance was directed.

We can say that the developments in Eastern Europe literally took the wind out of American artists’ sails. They were loosing confidence because of being overwhelmed by the arguments mostly from Eastern European artists, who strictly refused engagement of their artwork in any way whatsoever connected with subjects containing a “social” aspect.Most American artists during that period of time resigned their role of “Eternal Performers”. They, under pressure of disillusionment with their dreams, forgot that selling their art is artistic prostitution.

Of course, whoever is not critical of prostitution, if it is a voluntary activity, as my position is, should be aware that intercourse with the market has no connection with real love, with love for other members of society, with love of art and love of the art of “Eternal Performers”.

After the Twin Towers in New York were destroyed, instead of a wave of art for a social change which I expected, a resurrection of an era of vacuous apolitical, non-ethically engaged art was unleashed. Many of the artists succumbed to nationalism, and it gave birth to new wave of fascism, religious dictatorship and emptiness of the commercial entertainment industry which was based only on the vision of profit.

The period of the last twenty years has been marked by the crises of the presence of the ethical faculty in the creation of art. It is a period which is shouting in vain for the re-establishment of political engagement of artists. It is not a coincidence that during this absentia of “Eternal Performers”, American society let the arrogant economic function climb to the top of the power pyramid— the economic function, which started to dictate its arrogant and selfish “moral” rules.

The artist, who was suppose to warn society about the blind direction of the dictatorship of empty and fraudulent economic numbers, was herself/himself exposed to cruel economic pressures, and for the sake of basic survival and avoiding becoming homeless, was forced to participate in this suicidal social madness.

The community in which she/he was living drove away her/his role as the indicator of social decay and forced her/him to be mostly an empty entertainer.

Most of the art students at that time, including mine, were marching in lockstep with the commercial Hollywood and television industries, creating endless heaps of entertaining artistic emptiness, which after being consumed are immediately dumped so that a new serving of demagogic and soulless stuff can be consumed the next day.

The advertising industry swallowed another part of the art student body, who, paradoxically, were using their sensitivity to transform advertisements into formalist “artistic” work in the same way that artists were used in medieval times for creating “advertisements” for religious organizations, which can be seen today in cathedrals all over Europe.
The result was that their artwork became art prostitution, with the same social value as phone sex or porn webcams, which cannot produce a real live human baby.

In those times (the last twenty years), the artist was trapped by the cage of the market, serving in the role of an entertainer for a still shallower and more stupefied American society.

Meanwhile, the leading economic class, supported by the religious organizations, completely took control of people's minds and without significant opposition, started a series of wars using propagandistic lies, created paradoxically by the army of captive “art slaves” working in the propaganda industry.

I myself have to admit that I worked for many years in one of the American television stations.

The American governing cohorts took a lesson from the nineteen-sixties, when art activism and social engagement prevailed and the cohorts partially lost the control. During that time many unwelcome and taboo-breaking changes were introduced.

Thanks to help from “the Eternal Performers” of the sixties and seventies, the emerging feminist movement was launched, the anti-Vietnam war movement and the fight for the emancipation of Afro-Americans was energized, many labor laws were enacted, the dictatorship of religious organizations was reduced, many secrets and documents from American history supressed by the government were published (like the scale of the holocaust of Native Americans,15 which was most probably the largest holocaust in human history, crimes during the slave trade, illegal medical research on humans, racist eugenics programs, concentration camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II, etc. etc.)16

After learning from the above-mentioned experiences with art for social change, the leading economic class, in order to prevent the repetition of the same uncontrollable situation, developed the tactic of co-opting progressive artists, drawing them into the commercial and election industries and in fact safely neutralizing them.

The leading economic class was also working on other counter-progressive art actions. For example, it succeeded in drastically slashing the funding of the only government-run endowment National Endowment for the Arts (NEFA). Helped by Senator Jesse Helms, who cited the fact that religious organizations were “offended” by the art of the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who was trying to present the culture of the New York gays,17 conservatives de-funded NEFA during the so-called “culture wars.”

I have been a member of the oldest organization of experimental art, Mobius18 19in Boston, for almost twenty years. At the beginning of nineties we had a small black box theater, gallery, rehearsal studio, and office for administration. We were producing dozens and dozens of art programs every year, and we hosted many of the top experimental artists from around the world.

But during that time American society started to orient itself toward the dictatorship of the financial industry and the general desire for making a quick buck. As a result we got less and less support from society (we lost also a grant from NEFA). We were forced to move our organization to smaller and smaller places and finally we ended up in a tiny gallery in Cambridge.

We, like other “Eternal Performers” who were working in the field of art for social change, had to narrow the scope of our operation.

During the two decades after the falling of the Berlin Wall, the bubble of political and economic emptiness, which was controlled and challenged by nobody (including the “Eternal Performers”), inflated to such a degree that an inevitable systematic implosion had to happen.

As everybody knows, in 2008 a terrible collapse of the banking industry20 happened. The crash was comparable to crash of the thirties. It was the very financial industry which mirrored the ethical values of the majority society during this period. The following economic crisis hit millions of Americans, who had been till now losing their jobs and the roofs over their heads. The fallout of this is being felt around the whole world, including here in the Czech Republic.

The whole decay of ethical values in society was not prevented by artists in time. They missed their social-warning-art function because this function was in the preceding period suppressed to the minimum by the dictates of the market. Most of the “Eternal Performers” were sleeping and partying at the gates of Wall Street during that critical time.The greed of the mostly elite part of society reached extremes and even art let itself be intoxicated by the chimera of the self-regulated and contolled-by-nobody “market”.

“Eternal Performers” failed and forgot their irreplaceable historical role as indicators of the coming earthquake.

But recently we can observe some signs of the revival of a healthy art process.

The spontaneous movement Occupy Wall Street21, which was initiated mostly by young “Eternal Performers” and later spread to more than three hundred American cities and other cities worldwide (in the Czech Republic in Olomouc) shows that at least part of the body of artists are returning to the circle of art being politics being life being art. Hopefully in the United States we can see a new breed of the “Eternal Performers” who perform a social function. “Eternal Performers” must without rest rebel, disturb the peace, insult, scandalize, disgust, upset and make society uncertain and not to be afraid to serve society its own shit on white china plates.

If nowadays entire armies of “Eternal Performers” do not wake up, we will not be able to prevent the future global catastrophe which the whole civilization is heading towards, dictated by a blind and greedy arrogant capitalist society. And future generations of our children living on our spatially-limited little sphere in the universe will be cursing us while wrestling with extreme ecological conditions.22 — conditions which they will inherit, caused by our endless gluttony.

Rightfully they will be asking: “Where were those past ‘Eternal Performers’”?

Pilsen, September 11, 2012

read Wladyslaw Kazmierczak's tekst Performance-education-fiction

1. http://www.kosmas.cz/knihy/158648/proved-vola-svetem-volem-zustane/
2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cave_of_Altamira
3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diogenes_of_Sinope
4. Josef Dobrovsky Pojednaní o Jamnících
5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dada
6. http://www.chrismarker.org/the-last-bolshevik-by-chris-marker/
7. http://www.theartstory.org/artist-beuys-joseph.htm
8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Situationist_International
9. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lettrist_International
10. http://vienna-actionists.webs.com/ottomuehl.htm
11. http://www.ptoweb.org/boal.html
12. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Provo_(movement)
13. http://www.ustrcr.cz/cs/historie-ceskeho-undergroundu
14. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1960s
15. http://www.unitednativeamerica.com/aiholocaust.html
17. http://www.publiceye.org/theocrat/Mapplethorpe_Chrono.html
18. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobius_Artists_Group
19. http://www.mobius.org/blog/11
20. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007–2012_global_financial_crisis
21. http://occupywallst.org
22. http://www.ucsusa.org/ssi/climate-change/scientific-consensus-on.html

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