Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Pathos 2012

"Group of Mothers." Memorial sculpture by Fritz Cremer. Unveiled 1965.

It took me about an hour to read a 1,000 word article in Artforum – man, that shit is dense! – but I can proudly say, the subject made it worth it. Diedrich Diederichsen (of course that’s his name) considers an exhibition in Cologne entitled “Before the Law: Post-war Sculptures and Spaces of Contemporary Art” that brings together figurative sculpture from then and now, leaving out the transitional years in between. The earlier period puts forward pathos – humanistic compassion for the suffering plight of mankind – as a direct reaction to the shock and destruction of World War II. Think rough-surface bronze monuments of weeping mother figures. This pathos, as an approach to injustice, has become complex in contemporary art, and is replaced by the self-reflective, the ironic, or other emotional approaches like indignation or “the euphoria of counterculture” (I don't really know what that is). Pure pathos in contemporary times – like the work of William Kentridge – can come off as ostentatious (I agree). So the question is “What sort of feelings or moods should political art, or even any sort of serious art, engage with today?” Whether I know it or not, I think I might personally favor humor, but that doesn't mean disengaged irony.

Then the article considers “verticality” – literally the direction of uprising embodied in a standing figure. Is the vertical still relevant today? The conceit of new political movements, like Occupy, champions the horizontal. The horizontal steers clear of upright individuals and also voyeuristic culture that empties a single body. There’s no pinpoint focus. That can be effective. In my own work, I very much favor powerful vertical figures. It’s one-on-one viewing, body to body. But the question of vertical vs. horizontal has no set answer.

“It may be that all art, in encountering this problem, must ask itself what kinds of direct paths between affect and articulation, between reflection and revolt, it can still rely on – or whether the first task of art today is to blast away those very connections. “ I’m not totally sure what that sentence means, but I believe it enough to chew on it for a while.

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