Guilherme Gutman writes critical reflection about “The Spectacles, the absurd and helplessness in contemporary art”, by Luiz Camillo Osorio

Member of PIPA 2016 Nominating Committee, Guilherme Gutman is an Art Critic and Curator, Psychiatrist, Psychoanalyst, Professor at PUC-Rio and at Visual Arts School of Parque Lage.

In the text below, Gutman reflects and comments on the critical text “The Spectacles, the absurd and helplessness in contemporary art”, written by PIPA Institute Curator Luiz Camillo Osorio and published exclusively on PIPA’s websites in August of this year.

Read the full text below:
*Translated freely from the original*

“The art that comforts is not the same that causes anguish: some reflections on ‘The Spectacles, the absurd and helplessness in contemporary art’, by Luiz Camillo Osorio”

By Guilherme Gutman

The art that comforts is not the same as the causes anguish.

Helio Oiticica used to rest from his own work by staring for a long time at the monochromatic rectangles, which he would put together by the bedroom’s skirting.
In The Language of Psychoanalysis, Laplanche and Pontalis postulate that “the state of helplessness is the prototype of a traumatic situation that generates anguish”.

In less complicated terms, what could the experience of helplessness be other than the consequence, as natural as terrible, of a condition in which the subject feels as if he’s the object of a partial, incomplete, insufficient love? Or even of no love at all?

In order to elaborate what represented the trauma to the subject – and trauma is always some kind of disparity between how much one loves and how much one is loved – it is always necessary to build, to unbuild and to rebuild a narrative in which the very trauma is enacted.

In other words, for any mediation to be possible, it is vital that trauma becomes a paragraph, a sentence, a word as it may be, inside a weaving of words. Only then it might stop being a burden on the language mesh; a weight, a somehow disturbing presence, because it is a signifier disconnected from other signifiers and, as such, can’t even curl up into the “meaning nest”.

On that matter, Hannah Arendt precedes us when, stating that ‘all sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them’ and ‘storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it”, she envisages ways of life.

All of us, neurotic individuals, are drawn to the sometimes pleasing, sometimes inglorious exercise of looking for meaning regarding what we already know that, in the end, has no meaning at all. Nothing is more effective than melancholia to remind us that a certain play of meanings eventually achieved from an exercise of interpretation (in psychoanalysis as much as in art criticism) is always only briefly calming.

In the text “The Spectacles, the absurd and helplessness in contemporary art”, published in his column at the PIPA website, Luiz Camillo Osorio retells a remarkable episode that happened in the new San Francisco MOMA: “Nothing, however, attracted more attention during the museum’s opening period than the unexpected “performance” by two young, unknown (until then) boys from the neighbouring city of San Jose, who were visiting one day during the first weeks. One of them took off his spectacles, cap and jacket, and positioned them in various places around the galleries, as if they were “works of art”. The first item, the spectacles, caused a frisson. People gathered round to observe them close up, to discuss and photograph them. The trap had been set. This is art, art is this… We’re all fools, capable of being taken in a by a childish prank!”

We can imagine the prank spectators, living the both brief and eternal drama of, in the eyes of each other, slipping into either the category of the exhibition habitué or of the fool who “can’t quite get” contemporary art.

Both these hypothetical characters may not know that the experience of anguish in the face of a work of art that doesn’t quite fit any previously written dictionary entries is also the strongest experience they could have; an experience that forces them to truly make an effort.

Osorio goes on: “Dealing with this sense of helplessness, acknowledging it and confronting it, makes criticism more complex than mediation or interpretation. It is not that criticism does not seek to interpret what happens when we are introduced to art. Interpretation, however, is a displacement, a desire for meaning in search of a language that can translate the untranslatable. Critical interpretation is, thus, a translation without the original text – a construction that displaces and recreates that which moves it: the work.”

Peter Schieldah, Art Critic at The New Yorker magazine, without intending to “solve the matter of the San Jose teenagers”, was as brave as a critic should be and faced the risk of putting what happened into words: “[glasses are] an object manufactured to enhance seeing, presented as something to see. By being underfoot, the glasses were divorced from their function and protected only by the don’t-touch protocol of museums.”

It’s disturbing to think that both when the teenagers’ prank was revealed, as well as in Schieldahl’s interpretation – in which he bets people would have noticed art in what was never meant as such – our comfort is only partial.

There is an embarrassment in realizing – since Duchamp’s inaugural act – that art also becomes art because a museum or a renowned critic enunciates it as such.

Just for the sake of provocation, let me recall artists such as Bispo do Rosário, who never thought of himself as an artist, but beyond the work os his delirium – he sensed that his mission on Earth was to present the world to God in the Judgement Day – he has carried out a visual work of great impact.

Differently from the “childish prank”, delirium is par excellence the work in psychosis, corresponding to the seaming of a new world and a new “me”, once the experience of going crazy has dismantled, split, put in derision what had once been the world in which the psychotic used to live. The narrative fabric of the delirious construct holds relevant connections to some forms of creation.

For Bispo, the mission of presenting the world to God, performing for such the psychic tour de force that every delirious and systematic narrative construct demands, came from a kind of commandment-vector, that compelled him to work.

As Helio Oiticica once told Lygia Clark, the strong visual artist has got no option: there’s always something that will impose itself as work to him. The artist is constrained to creation, to the bottom of his wishes, to what remains as the most idiosyncratic, most particular, even if at a high price.

Just like the delirious man, the artist is an artist and dedicates himself to his work because it would’t be possible to become any other thing.

Read the original text “The Spectacles, the absurd and helplessness in contemporary art” by Luiz Camillo Osorio.

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