writer / artist / designer may try to distance him or her self from
these invisible hauntings while finding it impossible to be truly
released from the clinging energies of past actions. While such
energies may well be a fruitful source of creativity, they may also
be the clog in the mental engine while a lack of recognition leads to
denial; both personal and cultural.
The analogy of poltergeists is
appropriate. Like poltergeists, the past actions, consciousness and
past relationships stay with the individual regardless of place and
artist vulnerable. The struggle is with exposure and separation of
self from object. If one is stranded on a rock mid a waterfall, it is
tempting to cling to the rock for security rather than to go with the
power of the water.
reflects that nervous high wire over banality, exposure and something
more profound. Creators of such work have no rock solid stand point
to begin with. We can't be smug when stepping off the precipice of
what is known into unknown territory. But like the Ancient
Mariner "alone on a wide wide
sea" we are compelled to make the attempt at evoking the
experience drawn from the human journey; especially as this journey
is so uncertain and always becoming more so.
These are the
areas explored in Homeless Minds.
The haunting figures are like poltergeists or disturbing influences
that clog up one's memory and understanding of life. Yet
understanding of one's own story is one of the few things one can do
to make sense of existence and our connection to it. This becomes
difficult if explored from different standpoints from outside the
rock solid framework of a very set and fixed belief system.
One's own story
is not simply a personal one. The culture, the society, the history
are beholders of memory and understanding. We cannot separate
ourselves as individuals from the circumstances of relationships
within family, society, culture and history. All is connected. The
problematic aspects begin when we attempt to explain, prescribe,
codify, invent within these connections. To try elucidating these
connections is possibly our highest goal in art and literature.
However, we must also then hold out the possibility for shifting the
point from which we view our subject or object.
We see why each
performance of Homeless Minds
contained a different viewpoint within the text to the same actual
events being the object of the work; and how even these objects of
choice were negotiated within the constancies and variables of the
work? The tension lay in the fact that to make a dance work happen at
an aesthetically pleasing and performance standard, very considerable
repetition and practice had to be undertaken. Likewise the general
shape of the work had to be fixed so that lighting and sound could be
used to heighten the presentation. However within these constraints
there were infinite possibilities to vary the communication and
illustrate different standpoints of view which undermined, even
subverted, the theatricality of the presentation.
production provoked more than simply a discussion on its merits and
faults. Probably more than any other work that involved me, Homeless
Minds has focused my thoughts on the very platform and basis
on which theatre is created, its purpose and its core problematics.
So rather than discuss a work that most people haven't seen, I wish
to explore some of the ideas and mental frameworks through which the
work was created.
Negative Capability of John Keats
references as modernism, structuralism, post structuralism, post-modernism
etc. were in vogue and well before the writings of Artaud there was John
Keats (1795-1821). While his poetry is
much studied and regarded as possibly the best work of English
poetry, his philosophical thought was not developed beyond
descriptions of a few leading threads which also influenced all his
writing. However, he coined a phrase which still vibrates like a
beacon and liberates energetic thought. That is his negative
capability: "to let the mind be a thoroughfare for all thought."
"I mean "negative
capability", that is when man
is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any
irritable reaching after fact and reason."
liberating statement! If you ponder on it for a while, try some kind
of stream of consciousness, you'll find yourself entering into that
same vibrating universe of the body
without organs; of meaning before words; of an ever changing
universe both incomprehensible and yet full of heightened revelation
beyond the confines of dogmas and semantics. Nothing can be
permanent. Even the most enduring things like the beauty of a bird's
song and the memory of love can only be experienced by one
person in his or her world of feeling, thought and imagination. While
this can be approximated in our understanding of the other, we rely
on the observable patterns to draw our conclusions as to the meaning
such things have for others. There is no certainty.
as with great writings and insights of any kind, can serve as beacons
throwing light on truths but cannot ever contain the truth itself.
twentieth century, Jacques Derrida outlined how the deconstruction
of literature and art gives rise to a
greater reality because it tests the underlying assumptions giving
rise to the work. Post-structuralist
methodology (probably a more accurate and useful term than
post-modernism) gives rise to the homeless mindset allowing for the
examination of causal relationships and the seeking of alternative
and contextual explanations. While different to negative capability,
the post-structuralist shares common ground. Both are part of a
universe of thought which defies the certainty, both moral and
intellectual, of the authority of religious revelation or given
secular insights as written and codified in teachings and texts. Both
require a heightened phenomenology
while making ontological
precepts difficult and problematic. Very little of what we know
is from direct experience. Most is discovered in abstract
through authoritive sources which our mind prioritises in accordance
with socialization, current preoccupations, hereditary dispositions,
historical circumstances etc.
who discovers Jesus while incarcerated or the Priest who abandons
religion in the wake of political atrocities committed in the name of
religion are two examples of historical circumstances determining the
choices of knowledge and creation of assumptions. Albeit flavoured by
the particular personality and disposition of the individual!
The tendency of
human beings to gravitate
towards particular world views is the most significant abstract
determiner of very specific and concrete behaviours. This is
practical knowledge that all advertisers, motivators, propagandists,
religious teachers and missionaries, military leaders, those charged
with social cohesion of any kind both understand and use to effect.
If an individual thinks he truly knows
something and that something becomes embedded with accompanying
assumptions and an emotional charge that springs from these
assumptions then physical action is the result. But what we think we
know and what cultures take for granted as given truth are also the
subject of our fear to challenge and question such assumptions of
knowledge. Eugene Webb's paper on Ernest
Becker and the Psychology of World Views is an interesting read
with a great bibliography concerning these matters.
involved in questioning one's assumptions about existence is a major
source of conflict. If someone or some group challenges or mocks
one's set of certainties as outlined in the codes associated with a
belief system, there is likely to be very strong reaction. This makes
understandable the heated reaction from fundamentalist Christians to
the film Monty
Life Of Brian and
from militant Islamists to Salmon
But isn't this all so much
"sound and fury"? It's easy for the arty farty crowd of
cynics to scoff at religious certainties. Harder to see one's own
inconsistencies and fixed beliefs! Harder still to see where such
beliefs stem from! Come back to Keats and begin to see the need for
clearing the head and the emotions.
Try reading Ode
To Autumn followed by Endymion
by John Keats. And what about Ode
To a Nightingale?
through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too
happy in thine happiness,
light-winged Dryad of the trees,
green, and shadows numberless,
summer in full-throated ease"
Keats: Ode To a Nightingale
Here is negative
capability" in its purest
form. Yes; there is a truth. It's within us. It can be glimpsed. But
it is ephemeral. And one must be open for it to manifest itself.
Most people though will not
accept any relationship between the poetic and the codes of law as
prescribed by the inheritors of god's dictums. Such laws are for the
real politic of social cohesion. Therefore "forget the
ethereal poetics of the abstract"!
However, in a strange twist on
the human story, we see Adolf Hitler and the Nazis promoting the
notion of beauty
equated with purity and cleanliness.
Such thought being attributed to race and culture! The Nazi era
sculptures of Arno
Breker depict classical images of
hope, aspiration, power and honour. But what is the beauty Hitler
speaks of? For Nazi art, it is the battering ram beauty that we must
appreciate as 'educated' human carriers of a higher culture and
sensibility and not part of the degenerate
art of those who see art as challenging the orthodox and
comforting notions of beauty and truth.
Art when fixed and valued
according to ideological or religious codes of acceptability becomes
part of the battering ram that is fixated with the same fears as
found in the religious and social codifications. Hitler's fear of art
that was "not finished" caused his intervention in the
exhibitions that were opened in his name. His decision to mount
exhibitions of "Degenerate Art" were to allow the good and
"common sense" of the German people to see how inferior
were the works of surrealists, cubists and dadaists etc.
The legacy of such thinking
still echoes in education and art appreciation. Smug psychology will
brand anything that is different in the art world with a pathological
stigma. Whether it be Picasso or Brecht, one can be certain that some
psychologist or researcher acting on the part of the "greater
good" will find a way to label such people as manic depressive
or filled with some mental disorder; thus suggesting this is the
causal reason and explanation for the work. Applying Nazi critiques
of degenerate art to belittle and discredit artistic insight and
endeavour has become a major field of expertise in contemporary
social activism and publication.
An example of this can be seen
in the trial this year against the organisers of the 2003 "Beware
Religion!" show in Moscow and the controversy over the Russia 2
exhibition at The Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art. The exhibition
was described by Russian attorney Michail Voronin as a
"provocation initiated by extremely sick people"
(Kommersant news paper). He filed a suit against the organizers
including the Director of the "Central House of Artists".
They are accused of "inciting religious hatred". Voronin
goes on to state it is "not
art, but pathology". Voronin says:
"the exhibits do 'not
belong in a museum, but in the
a Moscow psychiatric clinic".
"The Beware Religion"
exhibition provoked consideration of the role religion played in a
violent world. After its opening a group of Christians ransacked the
exhibition. However it wasn't the Christians who faced legal action.
"At the beginning of
March, public prosecutor Kira Gudim demanded three years in a penal
colony for museum director Yury Samodurov, and two years each for his co-worker
Ljudmila Veselovskaya and artist Anna Michaltshuk. All three
defendants will be prohibited from practising their profession in
future. In addition, Gudim is demanding the "destruction of the
evidence", meaning the confiscated artworks." (The
article was originally published in German in the Tagesspiegel
on 14 March, 2005.)
No wonder there is a general
reluctance for artists to run in the face of the dominant forces of
the time. Many would condemn Arnold Breker for his association with
the Nazis and the Nazi art aesthetic. Yet isn't Breker a most
appropriate model for artists in our time more concerned with fitting
the aesthetics of marketing managers for galleries and theatres?
Actors are no longer encouraged to think as artists. The mantras of
economic commodification of all facets of our cultural life are
affecting those charged with social and cultural rejuvenation and challenge.
In Australia, the success of
playwrights like Stephen
Sewell and John
Romeril in maintaining an almost dissident presence in
opposition to the new orthodoxies of compliance offers positive
example to younger generations. But their example is being largely
ignored at the work and community level. Some of the most promising
young writers, actors, directors are being compromised into to
fearful theatre practices that set theatre in some kind of romantic
past. Where is the passion that drove Sewell to write a play like Traitors
while still in his twenties? Where is the Tupac
theatre? Is it that our writers, actors and directors are not being
sharpened by fire and bullets? Or is it the bleeding from millions of
unperceived pin pricks of cultural deception and a world view set not
be revelations but by corporate charlatans of consumerism.? Or is it
because of an emphasis on correct personal balance making an
obsessive devotion to one's art or craft seen as a mental disease?
I suspect the later is a more
useful observation. The fear of our own haunting poltergeists and
their gnawing at our psyche tends to cause a gravitation to what is
more acceptable within the coterie of cool that surrounds artistic
practice. The coterie of cool invites a kind of self-obsessiveness
creating a barrier between organic engagement of the artist as
creator and the universe as subject of the creation. The very nature
of a howl in the night is therefore suppressed in favour of some
Brekeresque beauty. Denial of humanity in favour of a cocked up
fabrication of hope, redemption or aspiration is part of that same
mind set that Hitler espoused and found form in mimesis.
But isn't our theatre for our
audiences? Shouldn't we follow what they want to see and feed it back
to them as cultural sycophants? Isn't that what we are? Cultural
sycophants? Afraid of the very role that we play in culture and
society? That role being as the riders of the psychic waterfalls and
lighting beacons in the desperate night? "Of
being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts"?
is about more than audiences. Perhaps it is about creating places
where uncertainties, mysteries and doubts can be celebrated rather
than feared. Where the cultural certainties can be viewed as
absurdities? Where possibilities for human existence are seeded to
spring beyond the known and become aware of its gravitation towards
oblivion; that oblivion being its source of strength and power.
Through the howl and the scream of theatre, we are not adding to the
misery of the world any more than the celebration of the Mass and the
death and resurrection of Christ celebrates morbidity. The howl
breaks through the denial of humanity that is everywhere in the
smiles of marketing and corporate success.
It's about time
those unafraid young artists who must push themselves to the limit be
given the platform and so inspire their own frightened peers to join
them rather than settle for that amateur mediocre evasion that sees
theatre simply reproducing its past glories on a totally irrelevant
stage. It's about time theatre stopped being afraid of its form and
possibility and allowed those ghosts and spirits of its anguished
shadows and boards to manifest and reinvent itself in an age of
clinical draining of the cultural psyche.