Making the right noise! : Unpacking Longitude Latitude 4
First off, the bottom-line: Longitude Latitude 4 (LL4), organized by Shehzad Choudhury et al, shall go down in our annals and almanacs, con bravura, as a zeitgeist defining instant. LL4 delineated important cultural real estate, attitude, mood and moments, reclaiming those from the narrow, psychogeographical and political confines they are often reduced to, in a barometer- and compass-less, transitional time. Mediated through LL4, the typically middlebrow and mild-mannered Dhakaites' id shimmered into a fine focus and brightly beaconed for a mainstream breakthrough. LL4 observed some of the symptoms of our here+now, outside the lame model upheld by the arts establishment, by monkey-wrenching the relationship of 'arts' and a vital demography of urbane populace; perhaps, not so ironically, LL4's influence is being felt, not as an intellectual aftershock, that some of the truly paradigm shifting art events – Mustafa Zaman's Regaining Unconsciousness, Ronni Ahmmed's MythoRonnia, Nirmalendu Goon's exhibition at the public library, release of Yasmine Kabir's My Migrant Soul, publication of Purba Banglar Bhasha or Farhad Mazhar's Ebadatnama incurred, but, as an emotional hangover… let me ease into that…
Now, what do you think, is LL-4 a 'Happening' as touted in its press release and all and sundry communiqué?
A Fluxus, Performance and Environment art pioneer and an 'happenings' impresario, who is actually credited to coin the catch-phrase 'happening' in the late 1950's, Allan Kaprow empathetically proclaims, '[F]orget all the standard art forms – don't paint pictures, don't make poetry, don't build architecture, don't arrange dances, don't write plays, don't compose music, don't make movies, and above all don't think you'll get a happening by putting all these together.'
Allan Kaprow, who, in the beginning, had worked very closely with the abstract expressionists, viewed art-making not unlike Pollock, as an activity where the process was just as important as the product and as a physical event rather than as a passive-aggressive process of the production of object and tableaux . He was heavily influenced by D T Suzuki, Allan Watts and particularly John Cage's brand of Zen and how it fomented the protocols of chance as a premise and an organizational force in art. Like Cage, he had mobilized events that provoked controlled accidents by creating nonverbal and operatic situations in the midst of which artists functioned with performative agency; the position of the single artist-genius was de-emphasized as the creative response and participation of the audience-members became vitalized, and the demarcation between everyday activity –as it had seized on special lyricism – and ritual disappeared.
The first such work, 'Eighteen Happenings in Six Parts,' occurred in October 1959 at the Reuben Gallery, in Manhattan. Kaprow's early 'Happenings' were unscripted assemblages of movement, sound, scent and light, with artists and viewers conjoined in a strange flow of actions and activities. In the October 1959 version of 'Eighteen Happenings in Six Parts,' the audience moved, taking cue from the artist, to different parts of the gallery to experience a woman squeezing oranges, artists painting and a concert played on toy instruments. Eruption of absurdity and outrage – premised on politics and irony – was never afar, e g Kaprow, in 1970, with the assistance of viewer-workers, built houses from ice in Southern California and constructed a wall of bread with jelly as cement near the Berlin Wall.
Other artists involved in inventing happenings as a form: Jim Dine, Red Grooms, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Watts and Robert Whitman continued to use it in the similar vein even though Kaprow eventually stopped creating large 'happenings' in favour of what he called 'activities' – intimate, personal pieces for a small number of participants: people in pairs, for example, would breathe into each other's mouths, or make love in a glass bath-tub, etc.
David Antin, a poet, theorist and a long time associate of Kaprow, describes a piece, from Kaprow's late 1980's works, that required a participant to carry cinder blocks, one at a time, up five flights of stairs, then down again. The number of blocks corresponded to the carrier's age. Antin said, 'I know that Allan sees his work as 'un-art', and wants to see its separation from art, envisioning it as simply an articulation of meaningful experiences from ordinary life. I'm sympathetic to this intention, but I find it hard to distinguish the existential power of this piece, which now exists only in the telling, from that of any other great work of art I've ever encountered.'
LL 4's reenactment of a 'happening' missed these point(s) so completely that it not only not corresponded to the range of responses and (re)actions had been defined by Kaprow or other habitués of the form but also failed to, what Antin refers to as 'bringing art into the intimate realm as an everyday experience' or most importantly got totally off the mark about the importance of audience being involved to place-making and art-making: LL4 atrociously forwarded the structure and the model of 'exhibition' it – and some of us, as well – had been attempting to dislodge.
Let's put out in platonic/dialogic formulation why I made the previous statement:
- the curator(s) in their ignorant attempt to catalyze a 'Happening', in all actuality, worked as party organizers – yes, LL4 was not an exhibition; it was a 'Party' which used 'Art' as a vehicle and tool to raise fund, gain respectability and generate buzz – who half-assedly showcased some art works (of Ronni Ahmmed, Naeem Mohaiemen and Yasmine Kabir's) paired with some seriously kitschy and bad derivations (Ayesha Sultana, Wakilur Rahman's) and some 'things' pretending to be arts (Salauddin Ahmed, S Dia Alam's) and commercial photographs directly lifted from some Drik graduates' portfolio, as it were, where the curatorial criterion was confused or non-existent and most of all, was beset by moral hazard and adverse selection, making it grossly inefficient/ineffectual.
- The modes of production of signification – on the display grid – and problematic syntax ensured the aesthetic ground consists of unsure hierarchies and it was evident that, the curating criterion franchised the economies of proximity, scale and misguided directives which initiated the most conventional mode of engagement and in most cases viewer-frustration.
- The most baffling issue was the venue of this 'Party'; choosing Beauty Boarding (BB), it seemed, was a deliberate switcheroo from LL4's history and concept of a venue 'A space- in transition, as spaces are always in transition…. So we pick these spaces in transition and make them temporary Art Hubs. Be it an apartment that will be shifting tenants, or a house that will be broken down to make way for new apartments or just a space that had been sitting empty…' – which is no big shakes but, Beauty Boarding, a site of layered histories, is an emotive minefield, an active force that leaves its traces on the subjects corporeality and to host, here, a certain form of 'festive disorder' with all its joys and pains had to expand the role in BB's built environment and acknowledged it as what, Rem Koolhaas calls, a Friction Zone, in a stochastic process of activity to shaping and reshaping the same space to create a hyper-articulated physical experience that bring a tension out between the build and the 'natural' and the possibilities of new relationships! LL 4's polite and socially conformist discourse–conveyed in a mix of halting and unidiomatic American+Advert lingo– and middle-class 'party' hullabaloo, buy into the sacredness of BB's past and the dominant rhetoric of political exclusion, advanced by our 'art fraternity', had ignored the informal (economic) networks and relationships in the left over space, around BB , that remain marginal and invisible because of their dysfunctional or chaotic nature and, which on the surface represent the failure of our post-colonial city and, where dweller and scavenger defeats, regularly, the city planner, the bureaucrat , the artist, the curator and the place-maker; LL 4 disenfranchised the immaterial organization of spatial social and environmental structures, of BB and its vicinity, that can be defined as that which forms a language that unfolds a phenomenon of individual customization to create a framework to re-conceptualize human-landscape practice to encourage the appropriation and activation of public space for arts and exhibition-making that would constantly remap, reorganize and rewrite emerging relationships and the city as a protean force.
Yes, Longitude Latitude 4, organized by Shehzad Choudhury et al, shall go down in our annals and almanacs as a zeitgeist defining instant, when exhibition-making and party organizing, art and entertainment, poetry spewing and pot smoking, opera and omelet, cliché and cost-accounting overlapped and English-medium salopes and few mofiz(s) from mofussil alongside some chic Dhakaites inaugurated a fluidity of definition, domain and meaning, and when scores of sweet middle class kids came out to Old Town to party like it was still 1999 and, damn it, it was a great party too!
Every event should work out its own story.
LL4 worked fine as it was; LL4 didn't/doesn't have to steal stories from Arts to justify its legitimacy, politics or provenance…. Partying is OK as long as you, to regurgitate the immortal words of Beastie Boys, make the right noise and fight for your right to party! Amen…
LL4 was a two-day event starting from May 5, 2011.