WHEN early 20th Century critic of psychoanalysis Karl Kraus proclaimed, in his attack against Freud and the Austrian school: “From now only piracy will be permitted,” he was merely answering the terrifying problematic which American, Ralph Waldo Emerson had previously
delineated: “It is as difficult to appropriate the thoughts of others, as it is to invent,” consequently all forms of appropriation, whether they be the outright theft of the remix pirate, the anti-hierarchic nomadism of the schizophrenic or the mashup culture of the hiphop musician, are all really just comments on the artistic process we call invention.
To be alive in the maelstrom of today’s insanely literary pop culture, to write about art, is to risk offending highbrow critics who maintain theory is the sole prerogative of the academic, that any discourse is invariably that of the Western Canon vs the Other and all activities, including the activity of art should, and can only be, understood from within the realm of polite bourgeois society, through a lens provided by domestic homeland safety security regulations, 2010 soccer stadiums and a city by-law prohibiting urination, belching, farting in public and noxious odours?
Take Zavick Zwaroff Botha and Ulric Roldenaus’ recent excursion into the public art arena. A series of washing lines that have appeared across the City, from Gugulethu to Thibault Square, The Kramat to Slave Monument on Church, echoing the earlier interventions by Garth Erasmus and Victor Peterson, who erected a simple Washing Line over a decade ago, during the 1996 District Six sculpture festival: “The need to remember every detail of what has been lost haunts those who have lost it: the instinct of the amputee to exercise the absent limb. The urgent desire to re-establish the security of what is known and familiar; of that which reminds you of yourself, and says to others that you exist.”(1)
“Fresh washing” by the non-existant, or the absent stage like Jan Van Schalkwyk’s landscape entitled: ‘Kassiesbaai Washing Line’, a poor imitation of an earlier Constable, who no doubt would also have issues with who did the laundry when, and in what order. Servant, worker, waterman, thief. Looking at art through detergent is like examining the proverbial water closet. How much has changed, in power relations and the strength of OMO, since the first troglodyte dreamt up this most laborious of practices and then proceeded to paint and sculpt the end product – forgetting about our rights to a living wage, or the problem of not owning the means of production which in turn produced what we like to refer to as visual art?
“In the Netherlands we don’t have laundry lines, says Ulric, over an Amstel at the Obscafe, here I encountered these lines again…” My carefully crafted notes are rendered into meaningless laundry list by a group art exhibition held later at Michael Stevenson, requiring the writer to decipher hieroglyphics, code by Sun Ra. “I have vandalised my work,” offers Zavick who expresses a penchant for quilting and embroidery.
Incisions into the cultural landscape of Cape Town that beckon us all to take cognisance of the process of bricolage, elucidated by the grand semiotician Roland Barthes in the Empire of Signs – the artist as revolutionary DIY, an eternally recurring and everpresent ‘nowever’amidst a clusterbomb of found objects or objets trouves. When all one has is a box of lion matches, and an Amstel, a bonfire will do. Rip, Stitch, Mix and Burn, with the type of arson that is required to turn theory of the haphazard, into chance, extraordinary aggregate of molecular love, incendiary performance art, nocturnal emissions of toxic fumes, the nightly annihilation of self practised by practitioners of Butoh and advocates of Zen.
I encounter the quilty duvet inspired: “Washing line”, (there can only be one, all of the rest are replicas) strung between two poles on Llandudno beach. Zavicks laundry is caught up in moral exegesis on the joys of igniting the Atlantic sunset with gaseous plumes, offending a bunch of art directors who are trying to shoot a Thomas Cook travel commercial. I am a tourist trapped in a Swedish movie by Russian film director, Andre Tarkovsky, you know the one – Sacrifice – all time best picture & f-ck Ingmar Bergman.
Superdog’s underpants are now being sacrificed with a long slow burn that is caught on multi-dimensional digital chips and filtered back to those of you who live in the future – Ozzy Osbourne burning a guitar like Jimi Hendrix in a remix scene from Francis Ford Coppolla’s Apocalypse Now — the attack on bourgois art theory has begun, still we are living in a pastiche of cross-referential excess. What one desires, or needs is 50seconds of WaWaWa, how many WWWashinglines were set on fire? According to Wikipedia Washingline fires have started to catch-on. The fire department is worried. The mayor is no longer taking calls, but wants a ban on laundromat bonfires in place before 2010.
With all this laundryline sampling art, what next? A soap commercial from Pears and Mary Quant? Could soap become the next bubble, as highbrow executive art galleries are doomed to reproduce in comic detail the artefacts of the day, (mortgage bonds, class traitors) what could be considered theatre in the round dished up to the well-healed, the sartorial few who live on sushi lunches and demand easily digested, and saleable pap for bread.
The only solution lies in a total denial of any form of representation. In the same way it is impossible to identify the water that forms a river because a river can only exist by the grace of its movement. The sphinx has spoken. To the death of art and an ode to its destruction.
Note: Irene, my Malawian housemate has hung her washing out to dry. It is in the street, outside the house where I stay. The neighbour has knocked on my door and she has gone to church. I pray that someday our nation will be free of xenophobia and filled with the kind of innocence that makes strangers hang out their washing in the harsh light of the African sun, to dry.
(1) Emma Bedford and Tracy Murinik Re-membering that place- public projects in District 6. District 6 Public Sculpture Exhibition 1996.
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