Moving And Shooting


a: “Contemporary Art” museums are terrible!
b: Why?
a: Because what we call contemporary art, which is nothing but an elite sequel of Modern Art, is strongly based on the sensation of “displacement.” To realize such a displacement, contemporary artists usually employ a few basic tricks. The most common of those is the multiplication of an image and the change of its scale.

b: How does this work?

a: It works because the art is exhibited in empty interiors. The idea of using empty space to help manipulate emotions goes back to the invention of perspective in the times of the Italian Renaissance. Using perspective’s laws, you can make an image that does not include yourself. Instead, your position will be the so called “vanishing point;” somewhere outside of the picture, in a similar way that God can be absent from its creation. In more recent times, Dadaists and their friends stopped framing real space - they broke the picture - and they reintroduced perspective. They did so by putting their objects in “position” and by applying some metaphorical sense over them. Ready-made and similar objects are entirely different than any sculpture, yet are still connected to the idea of painting.

b: Really?

a: You cannot appreciate a bottle holder or a bicycle wheel, until you’ve “framed” it with some empty space.
Even the existence of simple furniture in a room would disorient the viewer from having that exact amount of displacement that leads him to exclaim, “This is an artwork! It’s great!”

b: What do you mean by “Empty space?”
a: Wide empty interior space was not always available. In fact it is a new thing. It came with the Modern Times, along with the realization that everything on the surface of the Earth has been discovered, that our planet is nothing but a giant ready-made planet which we can observe from an available moon. It suddenly became evident that a naked room was now the only place where you could hide yourself. An empty room (four white walls) became the context. There you could make some magic spell, like Joseph Beuys; you could change something into nothing or even nothing into something. However, in that empty room you would still meet people and socialize.

b: You mean having parties?

a: Artists and their friends began enjoying their privileges and in the following fifty years (1950-1999) they created a society; along with a small, but nice niche market. In this new situation the artist became the guy who makes the “discoveries” .Together with his gallerist, they would invite other friends and foes to see the “exhibits”. Soon people without talent, but with the experience of May 68, (Germano Celant’s generation) joined the game and quickly convinced some of their old pals, successful politicians now, that this adventure could somehow be profitable. With the combination of public money and private funds, the friends of the artists (curators) started housing the most awarded discoveries inside of Museums, Institutes and Foundations. As the market value of the “discoveries” and the power of the curators increased, the fame and reputation of those institutions overcame the fame and reputation of even the most successful galleries. And why not? “Museums” were the emptiest, widest, and whitest of all spaces!

b: aha!

a: Before contemporary art, Museums were great. In the cities of our passive world they would function as virtual reality machines. They would transport you quickly and inexpensively to the most bizarre past or future. They were full of items disconnected from our time but also expelled by their times. A Roman sculpture, a Chinese vase, a Cézanne painting were not where you would expect them to be -respectively in a Roman courtyard, in a Chinese kitchen, or over the sofa in a Frenchman’s house. Instead they were positioned in alien displays and were together under the same walls, within walking distance from one another. The Museum would transform all its contents! I bet (provided the guards are asleep) that if someone took his clothes off in the Museum, nobody would object. People would exist there, not as citizens but as visitors. They were not supposed to watch each other. But contemporary art museums changed everything. They activated empty space: made a context out of it. They turned any object from the past or present into a concept.

b: I got it! But is it fun?

a: Not really.. Sex is fun. Moving into an unknown terrain can also be fun. Looking around and discovering places. Today, in front of a computer, you can do that with your fingers! New land appears on your screen while you are connected on-line or while you play a videogame. It’s a nice and clean land made by pixels. You can be with other humans there, but mostly you are alone This way it feels private, as nature is to an aborigine. Every game you play is a new experience which teaches you some recent patterns of moving and exploring reality. A videogame makes us enjoy life twice. We take pleasure from the “reality” of the game when pushing a button to open a door. And then, after we quit and are returned to the world outside where a door can be opened in an “analogue” way, we enjoy that old door too.

There is the same type of psychological confusion that exists as when we visit Venice for a day and then fly back to a big noisy city. The difference of the two Worlds makes both desirable.

b: yeah..

a: Another thing we really enjoy is destruction. It is again a matter of visibility; we want to break the appearance to see how something is composed or just turn everything into pieces as we move. In real life, the combination of moving and firing a gun can be a dangerous sport; while in a videogame it’s safe to perform violence. In shoot-em all videogames, such as Doom and Quake, a chair may fall into pieces but it may also stay there, indestructible. Destruction in a videogame is less predictable than in reality. By using the proper cheats, you can cross through walls or get unlimited ammo. Shooting becomes natural: another bodily function. You will still meet enemies, but the cheat of “immortality” will save you from the boring rules of death. In the videogame version of reality you are free to avoid death, this is what makes computer games as empty and as interesting as art: both ignore the “user,” even if they wouldn’t be able to function without him. They are both (art and videogaming) abstract!

b: Yes. Ok. Shall we play some SuperMario now?

a: I can’t. I am busy...



*Jean Francois Lyotard, Postmodern Fables University of Minnessota Press

Miltos Manetas, 1999, written for a show by Palle Torsson & Tobias Bernstrup called Museum Meltdown (22 May - 19 August 1999) at Moderna Musee, Stockholm Sweden.