Hyper War art
TRANSCENDING THE AESTHETIC EXPERIENCE
Theodoros Georgiou, 1999
A visual intervention called Dragatsaniou “VIDEO-SHOW” is taking place from October 22 till November 13, 1999 at Dragatsaniou Street and Klafthmonos Square. It is an artistic event that can be seen as provocative for the aesthetic standards of Greek society. This is because our society, with its deep roots in traditional patterns, has failed not only to understand the ideas of the historic movements of the avant-garde but also, more crucially, to assimilate the pragmatological precepts of modern art. The artists who participate in the “VIDEO-SHOW” work on their visual material and propound their aesthetic proposals in a country where people stubbornly cling to tradition. Their venture thus acquires a special significance and puts on the table some major issues about the aesthetic make-up of Greek society. We must emphasize this aspect, i.e. the fact that the “VIDEO-SHOW” installation takes place in Athens - not in London or Berlin, for example. Greece has yet to grasp the aesthetic significance of the methodological subversions of art.
If the aesthetic resources of Greek society are formed as described above, the question is - what are the aims of such a venture in a society with this kind of traditional structures? The twenty-two artists participating in the installation make a deliberate omission: they are not necessarily interested in linking their visual pursuits to the aesthetic attitudes of Greek society. This omission is not catharological, however; it is not their intention to expound a visual concept without reference to the evolution of art itself or to the way the aesthetic experience is shaped by the current technological setting. On the contrary, they attempt to trace the boundaries between art and the empirical social reality or redefine the aesthetic experience within the postmodern condition [Lyotard]. In other words, the “VIDEO-SHOW” focuses on the aesthetic experience in the aftermath of the historic avant-garde movements. The main point is that the artworks in the “VIDEO-SHOW” are not addressed to those who are practiced in aesthetics but to people as part of a mass moving along the pavement, who cannot make the modern distinction between the aesthetic and the social level.
The German philosopher Jurgen Habermas notes with emphasis that “in everyday communication cognitive concepts, ethical expectations, subjective expressions and evaluation are all intertwined”. This means that what survives in a technological, digital culture is a locus of unification and mediation among knowledge, ethics and aesthetic expression. These artists’ visual programme forms part of the more general notion that art and empirical social reality constitute a uniform structure of expression, in which their idividual and original contribution is defined as the liberation of the expression potential in everyday communication. Some may attempt to interpret the “VIDEO-SHOW” in terms of technological aesthetics; but this would be totally off the mark. The aesthetic concept behind this visual venture does not refer to the move from the realm of autonomous art towards the everyday social practice; on the contrary, it is intrinsically associated with the aesthetic and expressive potential of life itself. This is no technical perception of art-as-tool which the artist might be able to make accessible to the audience; here we have what Walter Benjamin calls lightning images of a real-life everyday practice which has drastically changed man’s view of the world. The artists in the “VIDEO-SHOW” are like the workers in Peter Weiss’s The aesthetics of resistance (1975), who try to appropriate the European cultural heritage based on their own experience. In this particular case the artists are trying to appropriate the heritage of modern art and historical avant-garde on the basis of the everyday experiences of a mass society. Their aesthetic agenda is epitomized in the idea of a transcendence [Aufhebung] of the aesthetic experience, which happens when our day-to-day communication releases its expressive potential. One who walks down Dragatsaniou Street looking at the electrical appliances in the shop windows behaves as a uniform entity of knowledge, practice and expression. Down-to-earth everyday reality and aesthetic experience are the two sides of the same coin - of the human being who sees, feels and finds his way in the same manner, without distinguishing between such functions.
The aesthetic transformation of the material in the “VIDEO-SHOW” is in no way remarkably original. The everyday objects (such as TV sets and TV programmes) become part of the artwork by means of highlighting the everyday experience itself. Anyone who claims that a pure and autonomous aesthetic experience can still exist under the conditions of our digital culture is either erring or deliberately defending obsolete schemes. The experience of a passer-by from Dragatsaniou Street is not unlike that of a worker in a mine, both digging under the surface to discover something they cannot put a name to. As a visual investigation of the mediation between art and life, the “VIDEO-SHOW” points out that as a digital-culture community we can examine the resources of aesthetics and expression in modern society.
These brief philosophical reflections lead to the conclusion that contemporary art is not a case of processing visual material; instead, it constitutes a function of the overall orientation in terms of knowledge and practice of an urban society in a digital culture. It is to this aesthetic programme of our society’s expressive self-definition that the “VIDEO-SHOW” belongs. What we have here is not ‘video-art’ in a public space, as some ignorants have claimed, but the creation of pragmatological conditions for the promotion of the expressive potential of everyday communication.