Dejan Grba: "A Mesmerisingly Unpredictable Scenario"
posted by: Dejan Grba
This text was the basis of Dejan Grba's contribution to the discussion "Thinking about Europe – Does Art Matter?" within the framework of the conference "Thinking Europe - Discourses and Models" in January 2012.
Dejan Grba: A Mesmerisingly Unpredictable Scenario
Taking the title and the concept of the Scenarios project, maybe we could think about the possibilities, functions and roles of art as a set of scenarios. Compared to the conventional ones, these scenarios are open and unpredictable, and in the constant process of rewriting. Therefore, I believe we should be very careful towards generalizing or unifying the functions and roles of art into coherent platforms. In response to the key questions of this panel, I think that art is probably not fundamentally dysfunctional, and that it has some impact on politics and economy.
The issues of the role of art, of its significance and of its sense are the basic challenges that artists address continuously, although maybe more frequently when they are young (or new to art) and more seldom as they age.
Artists often observed in various ways that art defines itself. This may be so on the conceptual and production level, but the identity and social position of art are significantly influenced (if not determined) by the broader socio-economic and political circumstances of the world, keeping in mind that art is a human biological luxury.
For me, the most exciting aspect of artistic production is the research or rather the change that it induces on a physiological, cognitive, emotional and ethical plan. It is reflected in the artist’s theoretical, methodological, procedural, technical and performative approach, and its momentum is abstracted and encoded in the artwork thus becoming accessible to the public. These two modes of change – the change of the artist and the possible change of the observer – institute a kind of nanoecology or nanopolitics with certain, more or less significant, environmental consequences.
I became an artist in a quest of introspection and self-questioning, and my work is motivated by the need for self-transformation and overcoming the personal restraints through creative process. Furthermore, I believe that art should always question and interrogate the relevant aspects of human experience, perception, relations, notions and attitudes, and offer that questioning to the public in an intelligent, comprehensive and unpretentious way.
In a complex system of relations between society, economy, politics, culture and art[i], the individual artist can operate on a relatively small scale and with relatively limited effects, but should give it her or his best. This requires openness and flexibility, but also stresses the importance of the artist’s ethical maturity and its conflict with the infamously corruptive strategies of the artists and cultural operators.
Not just with the ongoing economic crisis, but at least during the last two decades, the social skills and social networking, the systematic, entrepreneurial, rational execution of art became paradigmatic in a highly diversified cultural sector, while the perspectives for individual artists and the potential effectiveness of art became somewhat diminished and discouraging.[ii] The investigation of the possible reasons for this would probably require a special symposium, not a single panel discussion.
Indeed, as Jasper Johns once remarked, we could imagine a society without any art at all, but in today’s perspective it would involve a wide spectrum of global scenarios, from the one in which art is a product category of a homogenized consumerist culture, to the one in which human creativity evolved into a fusion of scientific, technological and artistic mentality. With some trust in the potentials of human mind and human nature, it will be particularly interesting to address this issue in the probably not so distant age of pervasive biotechnological, genetic and neural interventions.
Life itself is always far more interesting than art (or any other isolated field of human experience), but for both the artist and for the society art functions as a refreshing reminder to that simple insight. It manifests our specifically human need to transcend our biological circumstances. As neuroscientist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran states quoting the British biologist Thomas Henry Huxley: "We are not angels, we are merely sophisticated apes. Yet we feel like angels trapped inside the bodies of beasts, craving transcendence and all the time trying to spread our wings and fly off, and it’s really a very odd predicament to be in, if you think about it."[iii]
[i] Manuel Castells, The Rise of the Network Society (The Information Age Vol. 1), Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.
[ii] Julian Stallabrass, Contemporary Art: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2006.
[iii] Vilayanur S. Ramachandran, Purple Numbers and Sharp Cheese in The Emerging Mind, Reith Lectures, BBC, 2003.
posted by Dejan Grba