Between the performative the abortive
‘Something has disappeared: the sovereign difference, between one and the other, that constituted the charm of abstraction. Because it is difference that constitutes … the map and the charm of the … real.'
– Jean Baudrillard in Simulacra and simulation,
originally published in French by Editions Galilee, 1981.
All bad art comes from returning to life and nature, and elevating them into ideals. Life and nature may sometimes be used as part of art's rough material, but before they are of any real service to art they must be translated into artistic conventions.
– Oscar Wilde
'Dekhloom aar akloom', or replicating in drawing what is right in front of the eyes, may lead to sterile artistic ends. Abanindranath Tagore's caution against the futility of making verisimilitude a central concern in art still seems refreshingly edifying. Though, one also remains alert of his nationalist bend of mind: by way of launching an Orientalist movement in art against European naturalism, he, at times, got bogged down in the trappings of a few chosen models of representation he thought best matched the traditional trajectories of the subcontinent where verisimilitude also played an important role. However, Tagore's theoretical premise saw art-making as something remote from organizing sensory data on a given paper or canvas. The 'real' must be recognized through what it never allows for – its true representation, its actualized mirror image. The gulf between the real and the artistic take on the real is the area through which both the charm of the real as well as abstraction (in art), Baudrillard's interjection, is preserved. The 'difference' becomes the filter through which to understand both the loci, perplexing as it is because of their overlapping interests and their simultaneous coactive and disjunctive relationship.
Making art is, in the main, a speculative enterprise. It is an attempt at capturing the uncapturable, principally expressed in dictions that are an extension of the exchanges and collisions between the conscious and the unconscious realms. Art, for each individual artist, therefore, is something of a mediation between self and Other, I and We, conclusively leading to an unfolding of a singularity that expresses a plurality, to borrow Alain Badiou's frame. To create is to co-create, and what is deposited or recognized as substance is the result of a successful transit through known and unknown processes of creativity to inscribe into the work some visible attributes – those that connect the intrinsic (the aesthetic variables or the imagery found in a work) to the extrinsic (the world external to the work) of any given specimen.
One makes and appreciates art as a member of the community – the aesthetic desire is a social one about which the asocial, atomized individual need not be concerned. Its staging is made possible following a string of engagements at the social and aesthetical levels. The simultaneity of the social and the aesthetical, the collective and the individual, are motor behind all cultural productions.
Yet art is not a form of social communication as it is not a mode of expression driven by deterministic goals. It is an invitation to curiosity, a rapture born out of life-experience and a rupture of the daily routine as well as an epistemic/aesthetico-political breach immanent within the stage of art-life nexus. Both along and against the tide of learned behaviour comes a new fruition. One may hypothesize that the complex causal relations through which to demystify artistic acts defies all attempts at framing predictive and prognostic narratives. Also, each attempt at generalization through reading art and writing on it is an exaggeration of any artwork's linguistic capacity to communicate. Though evidentially supported, such generalization often degenerates into epistemizing. The world of art and the world of words addressed to art stand at a distance.
All kinds of reading seem utterly inadequate as we attempt at unpacking works of art. The consensually arrived at verdicts on art and its relations to tradition, make a travesty of judgment. What some of the traditionalists mouth on a daily basis seems the most garbled form of reflection on art and culture – it is a reductionism that artificializes the relation between art and speech/thought. At times, Bangladesh cognoscenti behaves like freeloaders imbibing all the idiomatics from across the globe – lands that are near and far – without thinking much about what to give back, which makes this country a fertile ground for 'commonsensical' communication. One dominant rhetorical device is often framed as 'art of the soil', which seeks to give salience to situated art forms. Though, instead of performing an authentic judgment, it is employed mostly to celebrate a 'form' which embellishes imagery with certain fragments perceived to have a local origin. This is the kind of pseudo-analytical frame, which promotes 'judgmental biases' rather than initiate value judgment, always pushing for closure on discoursing. In reality, both art and its discourses are progressive and they best serve their respective cause when at their limits and when they keep colliding with one another.
Artistic production involves a movement towards the 'uncharted, – and there is continuous back and forth between situated and unsaturated knowledge, between presence and absence. Simultaneity of 'work' and 'play' – the two affinitive acts sometimes diffused into one another – is also another frame through which to understand artistic actions. And it is imprudent to frame them as opposites. The dialectical movement (between work and play) leading up to the final aesthetic solution may have been set in course following interiorization of some set rules but it often climaxes into a movement towards the 'uncertain'. The 'end' is thus never predetermined, especially when the process is performative. An authentic artwork, therefore, always comes into being as an action and is eternally in flight trying to move out of the orbit of 'learned behaviour'. Perhaps, learned behaviour influences its progression towards what one may assume as the 'end', but to attain the status of art – one which leads to spiritual-intellectual unconcealment at multiple levels – it must traverse uncharted terrains at some point in its life. When the artist is a gifted visionary, the end results lay forward a new beginning.
By being performative or force-driven, artists are able to circumvent the production matrix of power and authority. The force, of course, is related to both 'here and now' and 'nowhere', as the performative and the playful originate from both indeterminate motives and deliberate acts. All authentic art forms delimit the linguistic and perceptual unfolding set in motion by the performer choosing to act in a certain time and space, and this act is never morally neutral.
Authoritative idioms in art, on the other hand, take their cues from a fixed set of antagonisms in addition to a supposed neutral moral position vis-a-vis social relations. In the great constellation of failed art, form is pitched against content, the abstract against the figural, imaginative skill against the technical finesse. The geography of failure appears out of the unimaginative production matrix which zombifically reproduces the formal-objective attributes – those that are prioritized over the incalculable dictates of the performative. At least, most 'modern art' forms in Bangladesh as well as in West Bengal, India, are governed by such dichotomies accepted as constants.
The 'unproductive expenditure' that is art traverses both physical and metaphysical realms through the economics of spending without the expectation of profit. Unlike the Tibetan unproductive monks, artists sacrifice themselves to make happen what they live for – art which lies at the apex of all belief systems. The former failed the professed 'belief system' by extending their ill-intentioned governance exclusively to the realm of the physical to take control of the productive system: peasants tilling the land were forced into serfdom under a sham ecclesiastical order. Art, by contrast, is ungovernable; and when it is otherwise what remains is 'pretention to art'. To resist getting trapped in such deceit, art simply should be staged as an act of abortion. Aborting itself from history art should attempt an unraveling of the coming epoch, not only by choosing to be ahistorical in its spirit, but by displaying an ability to navigate the current epochal malaise and transcend the political mobilization in and around sectarian, geographical, and economical hierarchies which continue to defile our polity.