28 July 2012

Notes Towards a Revised Manifesto of Auto-Destructive Art

No, I didn't watch the ceremony. Well, that's not entirely true -- because I did, sort of. I just happened to be at a local restaurant while I was out with a number of friends, having drinks and a meal out on a patio, and there over the bar not fifteen feet away on a flat-screen TV was the ceremony as it was broadcast in the U.S., playing out (no sound, close captioned) in unavoidably full-frontal fashion for about half our party to behold. So I can't really comment on the thing, seeing how at best I was only paying half attention in the first place. Whatever thematic coherence the thing might've had were well being my grasp, given the conditions. Plus, my knowledge of British history and culture is such that it makes me a weak candidate for doing so, and such stuff is probably better left to others I know (hi, fellas) who by dint of being natives of those shores would doubtlessly have their own (far better, far more interesting and accurate) critiques to offer.1

Despite my supreme lack of interest in the Olympics as a whole, an event like the opening ceremony is bound to tug at my attention due to the sheer, massive Spectacularity of the thing. A perverse fascination with these things, which -- as the years go on, and these events pile up -- have become a series of upping-the-ante, top-that sprawling extravaganzas; each an effort to surpass, or at least equal, its predecessor. The result sometimes being that these events are sometimes so over-reaching in scale and affect that they -- as often as not -- collapse into sheer über-rococo unintelligibility, which can be pleasing to watch in its own ironic way.2  And there is, of course, the way each host city/country chooses to present itself to the world on these occasions; including the odd and sometimes luridly comical assertions of nationalistic affirmation that inevitably turn up as a theme throughout the ceremony. But for a round of varied opins of the thing, we have this, this, this, and this.3

I suppose the other perverse fascination I have for all this stuff also centers on the host cities themselves -- the somersaults turned for (and the bribes lavished on) the IOC in the course of the bidding competitions, the subsequent upheavals as this or that given host city prepares to accommodate the events, and the subsequent histories of what happens with some of these cities in the years afterward, after certain huge speculative expenditures have been made.4

I currently live in a city that hosted the Olympics some 16 years ago, and the legacy of what the city got out of it are still difficult to assess this many years after the fact. And, as I've mentioned before, to that the fact that I was forced to vacate my previous place of residence in Chicago due to that city's unsuccessful bid for the games a few years ago. Which brings us to this recent article at Mute, Benedict Seymour's "Vanish the Poor: 3 Olympic Symptoms." With Atlanta, there were widely-circulating reports about the city's extensive efforts to "whitewash the ghettos" in advance of the games. For Chicago -- the main stadium for many of the events was supposed to go up in a park on the southside that was directly across the street from my apartment. While the southside is much less densely populated and more spacious than the northern stretches of the city, this still posed a number of problems. One being that, on the side of the park I was living on, the games would've been nearly on top of a major university and hospital. On the other side of the same park, just a few scant blocks away, it was a somewhat different story -- neighborhoods filled with scores of abandoned buildings, vacant residential lots, and the occasion attempt at small-scale development that had stalled in its earliest stages growing over with weeds and vines. While it wasn't entirely desolate and far from being one of the city's worst sides, one imagined that it was hardly the sort of image the city wanted to present to the world; so one figures the city would've had big plans -- cosmetic or otherwise -- waiting in the wings as to how to remedy the situation, plans that would've aversely effected the residents of those communities.

All of which has to do, naturally, with a means of accelerating a certain type of developmental economic plan that many major cities have adopted in recent years; but ultimately having more to do having more to with the nature of the Spectacle -- with what is deemed desirable and un- in the course of its perpetuation.

Which brings us back to Anish Kapoor's Orbital Tower, and its status as a piece of permanent public art. Since it was initially proposed, passing comparisons to Vladimir Tatlin's Monument to the Third International (aka "Tatlin's Tower") have been bandied about by numerous parties. Unsurprising, as its a bit of an obvious comparison (with the same thought having popped into my own head at the start). But I had yet to encounter anyone putting the analogy through its paces. But in the third portion of his Mute article, Seymour does just that...

"[Tatlin's] icon of progress through science, technology and democracy was destined only to be fulfilled after decades of forced collectivisation, looted and coerced labour, fantasy production without realisation, of course. But Kapoor's is all-too-'now', too technocratically feasible, a monument to pragmatism and the refusal to think too much about the future except as the imminent time when things will get better again, somehow. The Kapoor spiral is mangled, damaged, it incorporates all the 'excesses' and deviations from geometric progression to which the Tatlin gracefully and with true modernist idealism turned a blind eye. It has plenty of swerves, but these are executed with a plodding commitment to 'subversion'. The 'detournment' of Tatlin again seems unconscious - a compulsion in oligarchic architecture to ingest and exgurgitate the modernist/fordist archetypes. The logo for the Pinnacle extrapolates Tatlin's elegant figure into something like a piece of penne. Kapoor downgrades and degrades the spiral, he realises it, and its contradictions, by incorpoarating what in his idealism Tatlin had to leave out. The lumps and bumps and non-linear dynamics of an economy in which looting is just too constitutive to be ignored or disavowed - that, instead, must be celebrated. The Orbit is preemptively catastrophic, self-cannibalising, as if its graceless curves traced the downward spiral of 'disaster capitalism'."

Continuing later:

"The Orbit is the non-linear model of a capitalism that might very well go on and on, though has lost any compelling argument for why it should do so. This results in an aesthetic naffness unprecedented in imperialist history.... Hypnagogic capitalism poised between productivity and a new era of expanded destruction proposes synchronised flailing and self-mangling Meccano follies."

That last bit being enough to make me wonder if, were he still alive, Jean Tinguely may've been the more appropriate artist to commemorate the occasion?

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1.  Admittedly, considering the current international economic and political climate, the tribute to the NHS was a interesting idea.
2.  Of which I guess Superbowl halftime shows hold the best record. But the 2006 Turino Winter ceremony had its fair share of this, with a show that at various times sported a mosh pit, a tribute to the Renaissance, kung-fu fighters, a tribute to Italian Futurism, models wearing Armani pacing about as if on a Milanese catwalk, all of it ending with a Ferrari doing donuts on the main stage.
3.  Speaking of the fore and aft, there's Ai Weiwei, whom the Guardian roped in to offer a comparison between the London opening Spectacle and the prior ceremony in Beijing four years ago.
4.  Part of having to do with the amusement prompted by this past week's impolitic remarks by a certain public figure and the "middle of nowhere" response that it received. Of all the cities in the U.S. that might've hosted the Winter Games of 2002, why make it the city where -- due to the religious tenets of the majority local population -- tourists from abroad wold be unable to find alcohol or caffeine?

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