Our first meeting was Wednesday Oct. 25, 2017 2 – 4 PM
Facilitated by Petra Halkes
It was a buzzing, energizing first meeting. I’d like to thank the participants for your reading, your participation, your dedication. We’re off to a good start, but we must maintain our criticality in particular to our own activities and thoughts, so let me take some time to evaluate.
Why do I feel so positive about this meeting? The main reason, for me, was finding a group of people that acknowledge that climate change will change the world as we know it, and that only huge-at this point highly unlikely-changes in the capitalist organization of our globalized world can save humanity. Knowing that everything in the old order is dying, and not knowing what will be in the new order (if there is going to be a new order at all) is affecting all our lives in a very direct way.
So what I found most positive about this first meeting is the interaction with like-minded people, who feel the same need to learn about the issues, discuss them, and figure out what is the right thing to do, for each one of us, as people, as artists. The group’s attitude towards climate change is not based in pessimism, but grounded in political/scientific realism. The logic of capitalism, wherein money must always form the bottom line, blocks a necessary and speedy transformation from carbon-based to green energy; at the current rate of change, the end of the world as we know it is inevitable and fast approaching.
It is not an easy truth to accept, and so, in a way, our group functions as a support group, which can be a comforting, even necessary thing in these frightful times. But we must remember that our goal is to step out of our own little echo-chamber. Roy Scranton, in Learning to Die in the Anthropocene, reminds us that: “One of the most difficult aspects to deal with [in climate change] is that it is a collective-action problem of the highest order” (p.53). This collective action involves every person in the whole world, no less. It’s time to step out of our bubbles.
Birds of a feather group together, but listening to others, connecting with different-minded people should somehow become a mandate of this group, if it is to be reflective of a dreamt-of new democracy. Bees, rather than birds, may form a better metaphor for true democracy. Scranton writes of the bees’ democratic process, that precedes their move to a new home. They send out scouts who come back buzzing on different frequencies, attracting different swarms of bees. “Over time, a single dance grows more and more popular, until a majority of the bees are doing it. The swarm has made its decision and takes flight.” (p55)
Artists, using their imagination to model new ways of living together in the new world, are on a par with bee scouts. As art’s function in the new order is always in the background of this CCCC studygroup, I will collect the propositions and ideas regarding art that come up during our meetings. We live in a time that is, once again, ripe for manifestos. Perhaps we can put together our own through this process.
Here are some preliminary thoughts about art that came up in the meeting:
-Art remains as a way of thinking through complex issues, approaching emotional and intellectual problems through visual and tactile modes.
-Art remains as a way of keeping cultural memory alive, as a particular, emotional way of remembering what is lost, what is endangered, what should be saved.
-Art remains as a way of imagining a new order.
Imagining a new order is the energetic, embodied bee scout’s work. The group was fortunate to have Greg Ulmann participate. He showed us his van, in which he lives, travels and works: a subsistence life-style that rebukes our consumer culture in a most radical way. On the road he meets, listens and talks to people who live on the streets of cities or in remote Northern communities, people few of us ever get to know. He showed us that imagining stories other than the capitalist one can become alived work of art, beyond representation. Greg is off to Europe soon, but will return in April; we hope he will be ready then to share some of his writing!
Climate Change, Capitalism, Colonialism Study Group Meeting 2- presentation by:
Diane Smith – November 22, 2017
My personal thoughts about the state of the world, as related to CCCC
“They cannot take the land from me. The labor of my body and the fruit of the fields I have put into that which cannot be taken away. If I had the silver, they would have taken it. If I had bought with the silver to store it, they would have taken it all. I have the land still, and it is mine.”
“When there was rain and sun in proportion [Wang Lung] did not consider himself poor.” “The Good Earth”, Pearl S. Buck
My knowledge and understanding of Climate change, Capitalism and Colonialism is fairly limited, but I have my own observations and life experiences, especially in nature, and growing up in mining towns and coming from a family of miners.
What do I see as the future of we humans and “our” planet? There will likely be massive and catastrophic changes in the physical world well before the end of this century. Delicate balances in nature are being upset in too short a period of time for earth systems and humans to adjust. Much of what we take for granted (or not, in underdeveloped nations) will be increasingly disrupted – food production and water supply, travel, communications, health.
A minority is holding the reins – large oil and coal companies, banks, and governments, all of whom often aren’t looking after our interest. The rest of us may end up not being in control of our own destiny if we’re poorly organized and don’t have a strong vision, and especially if we don’t have a clear understanding of ourselves.
Everything that we do today – what we eat, what we buy, what we think and who we vote for – is our future. We must raise our eyes and look straight into our lives. Seeing clearly, as I’ve learned in my Zen practice, is necessary for making choices and living fully as a human being.
I find it difficult to be very optimistic about our future. I think we’re hugely unprepared, both physically and mentally, for the changes that are coming, and it would be very easy for chaos to settle in, as we saw with Hurricane Katrina for example. The systems and structures within which we live our lives are far more complex than most of us realize and could ever fully understand. Also, I think many of us are in denial of what’s happening and can’t conceive of how our lives will be impacted.
“I think our culture has this double think about this apocalyptic end to the world because we haven’t experienced anything on that scale and because it’s almost like a disaster movie so that it’s hard to construct a personal feeling, a personal sense of what that would mean for me. I can imagine what will happen to the planet when things fall apart and the centre no longer holds, but I can’t imagine what happens to me, what happens to my life.”
“The human brain evolved very nicely to deal with near-term predictions, near-term projections of possibilities. But the problem is the challenges we’re facing now don’t fit into that near-term prediction structure. They’re much longer-term problems, long-lag problems that our brain simply sin’t good at dealing with. We’re really good at dealing with short-term projections. Is-there-a-saber-toothed-tiger-around-the-corner kind of thing. “ – Jamais Cascio, Senior Fellow, Institute for the Future (CBC documentary “DocZone: Surviving the Future”, 2010)
“A lot of people simply don’t believe that the changes that are being described are actually happening. It’s extremely difficult to imagine what the world is like elsewhere when it’s 30 below and blizzarding outside. My inclination on days like that is to cheer for global warming. […] we are only evolved to experience what is in front of us. That’s fundamentally where our belief of the health of the world comes from, from the direct physical experience of the environment that we’re in at the beginning of the 21st century.” – Kari Shroeder, Science fiction author and futurist (CBC documentary “DocZone: Surviving the Future”, 2010)
My kids, who are around 30 years old, get uncomfortable and avoid eye contact when I mention climate change or global warming… and yet I know they believe it’s happening. I’ve asked them about it… they feel overwhelmed and powerless. I avoided the topic for many years… I felt overwhelmed and powerless. I now have a one-year old granddaughter. And it still took Petra’s email about the CCCC study group and a few coincidences to wake me up. My granddaughter will likely live in a dramatically different world and have to deal with really big problems… it’s hitting a little closer to home now. And so it seems insane to me now that we’re not dealing with the problems we ourselves have created.
We may or may not be able to avoid catastrophic changes to the planet, but we can learn how to live with and through them, at least for as long as we’re here. To do this we have to face what’s coming, we have to see clearly. This we can do. It’s our inherent nature. This is why I think Roy Scranton’s book is so important, and somehow even comforting. He explains that learning how to die is really about learning to let go – especially of the fear of death – in order to see clearly and to make better choices and decisions informed by reality.
As Naomi Klein says in the film “This Changes Everything”: “What if global warming isn’t only a crisis? What if it’s the best chance we’re ever going to get to build a better world?”… and I say: to become all that we are.
About Roy Scranton’s book “Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene”
What a great way to dive into the topic of climate change. Brutally honest, this book gave me an awful lot to learn about and to think about.
Roy Scranton says that we have to face the fact that death is an unavoidable part of life. There will be an end at some point to the way we live now, our civilization, and maybe our species … nothing is permanent. But our fear of death is preventing us from figuring out how we want to live the rest of our existence. And it may cause us to one day lose the rich resources of our cultural heritage.
He tells us that we must interrupt the social vibrations that prevent us from reflecting on our future. What he’s saying is crucial yet seldom (as far I know) talked about. I mean, these ideas aren’t very practical and they don’t fill us with any hope of escaping death. Of course we can still try to change things, correct our mistakes if possible. But right now is always the time for us to stop and examine who we are and what we want. This reflection and self-examination is, after all, what makes humans so resilient.
And so I want to focus on the learning-how-to-die part of the book, beginning with Chapter 4, The Compulsion to Strife, and particularly on his idea of the interrupter.
Synopsis of Chapter 4 – The Compulsion to Strife
Roy Scranton begins with stories about the Civil Rights Movement and labour struggles beginning in the late 19thcentury. He concludes and sums up his thoughts by quoting Heraclitus: “It should be understood that war is the common condition, that strife is justice, and that all things come to pass through the compulsion of strife”.
I agree that there’s no growth and therefore no life without the compulsion to strife… but is violence a necessary response to conflict?
People have differing visions and different responses to imminent danger – there’s looking away, denial and escapism. Perceived threats looming in our future raise aggression and fear which are displayed as restrained aggression, and a constant generalized anxiety.
Our fears and anxieties are fed to us daily in ever-present “problems”: the threat of terrorism, images and messages in social media, weather reports, security checks, and the constant reminder of our inadequate actions.
We deal with this fear and anxiety by discharging them and passing them on (re-tweeting, etc) or by simply ignoring them or losing ourselves in pleasurable activities. We lose sight of what we really want for ourselves and humanity as we become increasingly susceptible to the distractions of social vibrations. I find this line chilling: “As we train ourselves to resonate fear and aggression, we reinforce patterns of thought and feeling that shape a society that breeds the same”.
The machinery of capitalism allows for the balancing of fear against aggression and pleasure, which America’s social infrastructure allows to be channeled. But the social fabric is beginning to tear and Roy Scranton sees the possibility of chaos being unleashed in the form of rioting, rebellion, civil war… something we’ve already seen in parts of the world where there have been extreme weather events.
The political and social media through which we experience conflict are not neutral, they shape our perceptions and our consciousness. We live in a system of carbon-fueled capitalism which doesn’t behave in human ways and we are manipulated into behaviours and emotions that are unproductive or counterproductive. Ultimately, without self-awareness and self-reflection, we get stuck in a loop re-iterating the same messages, feelings, thoughts and behaviours. Instead of coming up with our own authentic responses and vision we continually propagate the same feelings of fear and outrage, which takes the edge off… for the moment… and then we go on with our lives. In any case, we’re stuck in a loop without political leverage. And it’s not easy fighting an enemy you can’t quite see. In fact, there’s no enemy out there… we, as a collective, are the enemy, the problem.
We are human animals with fight-or-flight impulses but we must interrupt the escalation of social excitation. Instead of reinforcing useless, mindless and harmful patterns we can interrupt the flow and our connection to collective life. We can sit with the social vibrations. We can reflect. This would allow us to respond freely and thoughtfully to the stimulation, refusing to take on others’ opinions and react to social excitation and pass it on.
I’ve been thinking: isn’t this what artists do? They stop and think deeply, mirror and reflect, re-interpret, envision different possibilities, different worlds, follow their own paths.
Synopsis of Chapter 5 – A New Enlightenment
Enlightenment is being aware of our limits, of our own death. With practice we can learn to let go and learn to die.
The total of human knowledge, wisdom and skills available to us is contained in our memory. Our cultural heritage is our gift to the future. It will continue to grow and evolve.
Roy Scranton’s description of the impact of writing and literacy on the human mind and society was fascinating. I’m not sure that I understand exactly what he means by “photohumanism”, unless it’s just about digital-literacy, the lit screens of our computers and mobile devices.
In this century we’re interconnected like we’ve never been before and have become vibrations and channelers par excellence. This could lead to dangerous hive mind. We must practice interrupting social vibrations through critical thought, contemplation, philosophical debate, and posing bold questions. In this way we can live up to our responsibility to life… to the life of humanity that transcends space and time.
Synopsis of Chapter 6 – Coming Home
When we practice interrupting our automatic reactions we understand that all things are intimately connected. The human species may have reached the limit of its knowledge and power. Or it may survive the Anthropocene. Either way, nothing is ever lacking and everything is always as it should be.
The question then remains: will we be all that we are?
Development of my art practice since joining the CCCC Study Group
My work has always been an exploration of the physical, psychological, emotional, and “spiritual” relationship of the individual to his environment, including the human (society and other individuals) and the world (the landscape, the planet, the cosmos).
I’ve long been interested in how we are living increasingly disconnected lives – disconnected from nature, from each other (ironic, as we’re more connected than ever with technology), from our own thoughts and feelings, from the present moment. Living disconnected lives allows us to be controlled by forces we’re often not even aware of such as technologies, capitalist systems or structures. It contributes to the difficulties we’re having in dealing with the overwhelming problem of climate change and why we take for granted all that we have: a natural world that many don’t experience or participate in regularly, a mind that we don’t exercise as we are constantly stuffing it with others’ ideas and opinions, the latent power of our feelings and thoughts because we don’t dare to own our problems.
At the time that I received Petra’s email calling us to form this study group, I was trying to find connections between various seemingly disparate projects or themes in my work that didn’t seem to be going anywhere. Since then my readings about climate change, and to a lesser degree capitalism and colonialism, have resulted in a focusing of my art practice and the unearthing of very interesting connections I hadn’t seen before.
Some of the projects and themes I’ve been working on:
– the human form: where I’ve explored our place in the world by examining my own relationship to the world and to other people
– colourful abstract drawings: an exploration of my own intuitive thinking as well as about finding or creating order and structure out of disorder or chaos
– mining: its impact on the landscape, on our lives and the lives of miners and their families
– climate change (very recent): combining colour drawing and the human form and mining equipment.
My work is transforming along with my research on climate change. Right now it’s an intersection of the psychological and emotional impact of chronic illness in my life, and the psychological and emotional difficulties we face living in a world increasingly impacted by our technologies and the crisis of global warming.
I’ve been trying to figure out what has been compelling me to explore the theme of mining for almost two decades without creating much related art work. The context of global warming has given me a new perspective on my experiences and conflicted feelings related to mining. It was after recently seeing Naomi Klein’s film “This Changes Everything” that I started making connections:
– a metal sculpture I made over 10 years ago of a scarred shell of a back stands on its extended spine in a box filled with slag from Sudbury mines
– photos which I’ve tried to work with for years, from when my Dad took me and my kids to an old marble pit where the land was cut into and then left, mutilated, because it had too many flaws and wasn’t good enough. I’ll never forget the contrast of the raped Earth and the beauty of the peach-coloured marble… and of my Dad and kids leaning against the beautiful marble, heedless of the fact that this sheer cut into the earth was made by humans for profit
– a visit to the Alberta tar sands where my uncle worked most of his life. The machinery and other ingenious products of human engineering, and the vast open pits were awe inspiring… and at the same time incredibly sobering to witness.
– in 2006 my Dad and I traveled me to the mine sites in Northern Ontario where he and my grandfathers had worked. I gathered stories and photos of mine shafts and scars in the landscape, but never could figure out what to do with them.
– this past summer I went up north again and took hundreds of photos of mine equipment. I remembered how my Dad marveled at man’s ingenuity while and how I felt vaguely uneasy about the plundering of Earth.
– when I was young and living in Sudbury, I thought that all rocks were black on the outside… now I know it’s the pollution from the mines that turned them black. And it was only when I moved away from Sudbury as a young adult that I noticed how much the air reeked of pollution when I went back to visit. I remember wondering whether this damage to our world was justified, did we really have to do this?
The very last work I made when I took a painting course 20 years ago at the University of Ottawa was a painting on the floor. I wanted to take painting off the wall, remove it from its hallowed place, and make it a response to and a part of the world we live in. I wanted works of art to literally be under our feet and impossible to ignore. When I found a photo of this work recently it got me thinking about what artists can do, how can art work “interrupt”?
I don’t know where all of this is going to take me. But I do know that making art work is helping me think about what we’re doing to our world and how we’re handling the crisis we’ve gotten ourselves into.
Discussion and Questions
1 – What do you think of the idea of philosopher interrupter, and of the artist as interrupter? Is it enough? does it matter? Is it only a part of the solution or a way of going forward or a way to just sit with the problem?
2 – Can interrupter-artists realistically effect change, and what would be the nature of this change? Roy Scranton seems to believe that collective action is futile, yet he suggests that a group of people can help guide us through upcoming difficulties
3 – How can artists get people to listen to them? How can we engage people? Do we need to think about changing ourselves and what we do, the art we make, in order to make more of an impact and to be heard? I’m thinking of the value of traditional painting, drawing, sculpture as compared to the newer forms of art such as new media, performance, collaborations with the public and “social activism”
4 – how has or could your own art practice be changed by this topic? Do you know if and how you’re going to respond to the author’s call to interrupters?
Naomi Klein, in her film “This Changes Everything”
“we’re just guests here and we can get evicted for bad behaviour”
Try to Praise this Mutilated World”, by Adam Zagajewski (trans. by Clare Canvanagh)
Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees going nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
Bibliography and reading list
– Learning to Die in the Anthropocene, by Roy Scranton
– The Good Earth, by Pearl S. Buck
– Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions, and Everyday Life, by Kari Marie Norgaard
– Neoliberalism, by David Harvey
– This Changes Everything – screenplay by Naomi Klein, directed by Avi Lewis (2015)
– DocZone: Surviving the Future – a CBC documentary (2010)
– George Carlin’s routine “the planet is fine” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7W33HRc1A6c
Some thoughts about the CCCC meeting 3, led by Dawn Dale
Last December 13, we discussed three pre-screened videos, provided by Dawn Dale, who led the discussion. The videos, Dawn emphasized, did not necessarily reflect her beliefs and opinions, and neither did the group agree with everything that was said. So the discussion brought up some important issues that are worth recounting here, and worth remembering for follow ups.
I regret that I didn’t tape Dawn’s recap of the session, which sounded great. I think that I will record some things and/or make notes the next time, so I can provide a more unbiased report. What happens now is, I am afraid, that my report here reflects mostly my own view, especially because I keep thinking about the issues longer, now that I need to write about it! Anyway, I’ll provide some Wikipedia quotes as well, perhaps that will provide some balance.
If anyone wants to add comments please do!
So here I go:
Dawn looked for, and found, videos that in one way or another included art as a potential means to instigate change in the exploitative relationships between humans and the earth that has led to our present global madness.
The third video, a short documentary about the Beehive Collective definitely received the most endorsement from the group, as a practical, art-driven way of raising awareness about specific issues relating to the global crisis by focusing on specific stories and (literally) drawing connections to bigger issues.
Wikipedia: “The Beehive Design Collective is a volunteer-driven non-profit arts organization that uses graphical media as educational tools to communicate stories of resistance to corporate globalization. The purpose of the group, based in Machias, Maine, is to “‘Cross-pollinate the grassroots” by creating collaborative, anti-copyright images that can be used as educational and organizing tools. The most recognizable of these images are large format pen and ink posters, which seek to provide a visual alternative to deconstruction of complicated social and political issues ranging from globalization, free trade, militarism, resource extraction, and biotechnology.”
Art Paradoxes Jennifer Dalton
The second video was Art Paradoxes, a TED Talk by New York artist Jennifer Walton. I really liked this talk, and highly recommend it, if you haven’t seen it yet.
So why did this video not create any discussion in the group? I have my opinion, if you allow me.
To figure this out, I went to Wikipedia first:
Wikipedia: “ Jennifer Dalton is a contemporary artist born in 1967. Dalton is represented by Winkleman Gallery in New York City, where she has exhibited since 2002. She received her Master of Fine Arts from Pratt Institute in 1997.
Dalton’s work has been exhibited in galleries and museums internationally, including the FLAG Art Foundation in New York, the Curator’s Office in Washington, DC, Kunsthalle Wien (Vienna), Contemporary Museum in Baltimore and the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art. She was also included in La Superette at Deitch Projects & Participant Inc. and The Cult of Personality: Portraits of Mass Culture at Carriage Trade, both in New York. She has been an artist-in-residence at numerous artist colonies, including the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Vermont Studio Center, Millay Colony for the Arts and the Smack Mellon Studio Residency Program. She was a recipient of a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant in 2002.”
So, Walton has a position as an artist in the art-world (commercial representation, (inter)national exposure in exhibitions and artists-in-residencies) that most professional artists who have been through the mill of the BFA and MFA programs in the last forty-something years aspire (or aspired) to, which includes most but not all of the people in the CCCC group.
But wait, there’s more:
Wikipedia: #class was a month-long series of events at Winkleman Gallery in New York that took place between February 20 to March 20, 2010 organized by Dalton and artist William Powhida. #class invited guest artists, critics, academics, dealers, collectors and anyone else who would like to participate to examine the way art is made and seen in our culture and to identify and propose alternatives and/or reforms to the current market system.
So Dalton lives the paradoxes of the art world she talks about in the TED talk: the paradox of an artworld that is exclusive as well as inclusive, the paradox of art that critiques the system but is bought by collectors and the paradox of artists’ lives in which poverty brings forth art and successful artists become rich.
Paradoxes are unreasonable: two opposites cannot logically be true. Yet here they are. Paradoxes are frustrating. Is this why we didn’t discuss this video much?
Jennifer Dalton lives with the frustration of art paradoxes everyday. She has done some interesting projects that provide some alternative methods of showing art (Hennessee Youngman Gallery) but the big question: can the system be changed by those who participate in it, isn’t really answered. Is it perhaps because we won’t accept noas the answer?
It is definitely a question that I would want to re-visit in the CCCC, so I’ll put it in the “Questions looking for answers pile,” where I will also add this pdf file by Ben Davis, that was recommended by Jennifer Dalton:
Ben Davis: 9.5 Theses on Art and Class (Chicago Illinois: Haymarket Books 2013) (Haven’t read it yet, but I like Davis’s writing)
The first video: Daniel Pinchbeck TED talk
Daniel Pinchbeck at TED talk
Paradoxes are unreasonable. Un-reason is frustrating. Why would we want a consciousness that suppresses reason?
Daniel Pinchbeck argues for nurturing an intuitive, non-rational part of our brain that has been suppressed for centuries. Here in the West, we have tried to stamp out irrationality by embracing empirical science and technological progress throughout the Renaissance, the 17th century Age of Reason and the Enlightenment. There have, of course, been protests: Pinchbeck mentions a pushback to rationalism in 19th century, Romanticism, that reverberated in the 60’s counter movement that he experienced as a child of hippie parents.
Pinchbeck’s basic message is that science cannot explain everything in life. We need to re-integrate intuitive irrational experiences into modern human consciousness. Art can play a role in this process because it allows us to step back and reconsider the systems we are part of. He suggests that the energy and creativity that is at present poured into the creation of an exciting, thrilling art world should be re-purposed for a re-integration of art into life which would help to obtain and maintain a biological, ecological integrity of the planet.
So far, so good, but our group’s lengthy discussion of Pinchbeck’s TED talk was focused mostly on his talk of psychedelic experiences, that for him seemed if not necessary, at least extremely helpful for a change of consciousness. As I’d never heard of him, I checked his background in Wikipedia: “Daniel Pinchbeck (born 15 June 1966) is an American author living in New York’s East Village. He is the author of Breaking Open the Head: A Psychedelic Journey into the Heart of Contemporary Shamanism (Broadway Books, 2002), 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl (Tarcher/Penguin, 2006), and Notes from the Edge Time (Tarcher/Penguin, 2010).”
Most of the people in this CCCC group can remember the sixties or the seventies, and this may well be why it triggered stories of personal experiences, from paganism, witchery, shamanism and hallucinations to drug use and loss of the self in Nature.
Personally, I am hugely wary of such experiences, even though, over the years, much of my reading and writing in art and philosophy has been focused on the human longing to submit to some larger order outside of oneself (and the role landscape painting plays in this desire). To connect to a perfect order in which there is no lack, is a deeply human want and is perhaps the ultimate motivator for change. While we should never dismiss or ignore such desires we should always examine them for the pernicious illusionary ways of fulfillment they can create.
Amateur philosopher Tom Swiss wrote a blog post on “Why Daniel Pinchbeck needs a smack upside his head” in 2010:
Swiss writes: “The hazards of cults, superstitions, delusions, hypocrisy, and manipulation are very real. A peek behind the scenes of both ancient traditions and the modern cults of personality around self-help gurus and peddlers of enlightenment-lite, is an unpleasant but necessary requirement for spiritual health.”
To draw attention to criticism of the psychedelic hippie culture of our past, I remembered recently posting on the RIA Facebook page an interview with film maker Adam Curtis “Is the Art World Responsible for Trump? Filmmaker Adam Curtis on Why Self-Expression Is Tearing Society Apart.” by Loney Abrams in Artspace.
If you haven’t seen this, I highly recommend it. https://www.artspace.com/magazine/interviews_features/qa/adam-curtis-hypernormalisation-interview-54468
The interviewer asks:
Towards the beginning of HyperNormalisation you talk about a shift that happened in the ‘70s when artists detached from reality and retreated into themselves to mine content for their work. Your argument is that this kind of individualistic self-expression is antithetical to political change. How so?
Read the interview to find Curtis’s answer to this question.
You can also watch his fascinating film Hypernormalisation, on Youtube
I agree with Curtis that the danger of detaching from reality and finding “freedom” in an imaginary space that is free from the bounds of nature, is that it can become a goal in itself. Such highly individualistic cultivation of the self, leads to self-expression, which is the “central dominant ideology of modern capitalism,” Curtis warns. Artists focusing on self-expression are feeding the monster rather than pulling it down. He writes: “Because the more people come to believe that self-expression is the end of everything, is the ultimate goal, the more the modern system of power becomes stronger, not weaker.”
I don’t mean to put a damper on the frank and intense revelations of spiritual, mystical experiences that were brought into the CCCC discussion. There is a need to imagine a state without want, but we must return to the natural world where we realize its impossibility. Esoteric, spiritual experiences then, rather than become a goal in itself, could be re-purposed for societal change and provide dream-images of interconnectedness between equally free/un-free subjects.
Does the urgency of our current endangered existence allow us to spend much time imagining? Such an imagining means a stepping out of ordinary life to re-consider life on a much deeper level than the everyday. It may seem frivolous when the planet is burning, but as romantic as this sounds, for some artists this is not a matter of choice, but compulsion. And we probably should be grateful for that.
So Art remains as a way of imagining a new order.