Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Dada Sculpture Today

above: some notable American Dadaist Sculptures

Today there is much talk about “our civilization” and how it is doing, whether it is in decline, under attack, or clashing with other civilizations like those two kinds of red you wore at that party because you wouldn’t listen to me. None of this is exactly clear on what our civilization is or is supposed to be. The Encouraging Voice is not an equivocal voice, though it speaks at all times at all points in the labyrinth: we know the name of our civilization and that it is flourishing as never before: for our civilization is one of Dadaism.

What is Dadaism? Dadaism is the operation of the random, the arbitrary, the incongruous and the supremely irrational in the service of creation, the creation of Dadaism, which is random, arbitrary, incongruous and supremely irrational. Dadaism, like différance, miscellany, and reasons you’re not married is a heterology, a sheaf or pile of irreconcilable differences unified only by the sign of inequality ≠. Dadaism is the little elephant inside of your teeth that makes the radio work.

The world in which we live is one of triumphant Dadaism. It is the basis of our absurd and luxuriously wasteful culture, our unquiet science, our unsatirizable Ubu Roi politics. However, like the reality of the devil and loose women, it’s existence is invisible to those who cannot see with the eyes of faith.

To examine this proposition, let us here describe some recent Dada sculptures you may have missed.

The Elevator

What else has a sliding stainless steel door like this? Answer: nothing. Stainless steel doors are featured on vaults, refrigerators and morgues all to signify the same thing: immortality, freshness sealed into incorruptibility, cleanliness. What has all this to do with vertical travel? Vertical travel is uncanny and unnatural. Vertical travel in an elevator is usually achieved by travel through a large dark shaft that no one ever sees. Travel in an elevator, therefore is most like being ingested and excreted, promising more oblivion and ignominy than death itself, which is why there is an effort to put the brightest best face on things with the stainless steel doors in the first place.

Once you enter the elevator you enter into a room, a waiting room, but a waiting room of all waiting rooms. The best have no amenities at all, no mirrors or advertisements. This is because you are only marginally ever in that room: it is a space no one really shares, but everyone inhabits, (much like death also -or life, if you prefer). It is such a wholly innocuous and nugatory space that an entire genre of music has evolved around it. This can be said of almost no other sculpture or installation today.

The sculpture works like this: you press a button; sometimes you have to wait. The doors open and sometimes people (apparently from nowhere) step out. You get in. You press another button (or like me, you press a series of buttons, because of your capacity for joy and button pressing). The room may even play music for you. There is a telephone if anything should go wrong during your short invisible journey. The doors open and you are somewhere else.

Lucas Samaras’ Mirrored Room never did as much for anybody.

What about glass elevators? Glass elevators are deviant exhibitionist visions of the elevator. Eschatologically speaking, they are clearly designed for and by people who believe everything is transparent and do not believe in any kind of afterlife, believing heaven and hell to be aspects of our immanent existence: an academic point since glass elevators exist only in movies and in the perverted mind of Roald Dahl.

The Highway

Highways are the ultimate Futurist theatre: performers are encased in glass, steel and plastic and outfitted with electric torches and horns. They accelerate to speeds in excess of 75 mph. The stage crosses an entire continent or even links continents. It is ideally observed from a plane or helicopter. The piece is performed twice daily and has a cast of most every able-bodied adult worker. They are occasionally be wholly immobilized because they all desire the same thing or for no identifiable reason. Arbitrarily, the performers are killed in random crashes, but the piece will not end until it is performed on every continent and all resources are exhausted with the additional effect of melting ancient glaciers and changing the climate of the planet itself.

The Land Mine

In the true Dadaist spirit, this sculpture is invisible; indeed it is carefully buried. Like many earthworks and installations, it may occupy a whole field and, like so-minded works today, indicate lines of control or areas of contention. It is an interactive sculpture, but unknown to the participant: the interactions include (but are not limited to):

The participant viewer missing the sculpture entirely.

The participant viewer is killed by the sculpture.

The participant viewer is maimed by the sculpture (in effect, remade or sculpted by the sculpture).

Or, most astonishingly,

The participant viewer becomes part of the sculpture, forced to remain motionless in order to stay alive.

A truly radical work in its unparalleled capacity to make the viewer into an object even without his or her even being aware of the sculpture. Global and inclusive, it is a public installation that men and women and children of all ages can enjoy, even for generations, until it becomes part of their landscape itself and their culture.

(NB: Like Serra’s Tilted Arc may be expensive to uninstall).

These are only the most cursory notes for what could easily be a comprehensive and apodictic program that I have only refrained from further elaborating because its thesis is so incontrovertible, trivial and self-evident. It is clear, just from these few examples, that Dada sculpture and art has never been as popular and prevalent as it is today, that indeed our civilization is dependent and even coextensive with its creations.

The question then becomes of how this total phenomenon has hitherto eluded any other observer to which we can make an equally unequivocal reply:
First, The Encouraging Voice is a tool of unusual acuteness and perspicacity.
Secondly, there is one all important index that seems missing from Dada sculpture and art, from Dada itself today, despite its total an global success: namely that none of the work of the great Dadaists and their legacy were complete without laughter, without the emancipation of recognizing the absurd and wonderful aspects of Dada creation. Like the Surrealists, the Dadaist creations were designed to be “useless for fascism,” but in their very inutility and absurdity, vehicles of great joy and promise. In a universe of highly Dadaistic creations, today’s Dadaist (in which we can include everyone) seems to have fallen deadpan into their creations and so we are faced with a gnostic reading of the Twentieth Century: a joke that has somehow been forgotten and mistaken for reality itself, that has fallen into the banality of everyday misery.

for you, V, not forgotten

WEEK: 47; WORDS: 51,510

NEXT BY 17 MAY 2006