Saturday, May 8, 2010

on Artistic Freedom, Friendship and Peace

"You call yourself free? Your dominating thought I want to hear, and
not that you escaped from a yoke. Are you the kind of person who had the right to escape from a yoke?
There are some who threw away their last value when they threw away their servitude.
Free from what? What does Zarathustra care! But brightly your eyes should signal to me: free for what? "

-F. Nietzsche "On the Way of the Creator" from Thus Spake Zarathustra

On the Expression of Freedom
(an artist talk for the exhibition DIENST, May 8th, 2010)

If only I were free to express myself. Freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

We know there are limits. This is not what you came for. There is a breakdown in the system, in the grammar of the event, of the society itself. But don't worry, despite this being a zone of artistic freedom , you are still protected by the police. And this is no Artaudian poesis, this is the freedom of gentlemen as Jose Ortega y Gasset said we "delight ourselves in our own magnanimity and gratify ourselves by playing fair". (from History as a System, W.W.Norton, NY, 1961, p.131)

free (adj.)
O.E. freo "free, exempt from, not in bondage," also "noble, joyful," from P.Gmc. *frijaz (cf. M.H.G. vri, Ger. frei, Du. vrij, Goth. freis "free"), from PIE *prijos "dear, beloved" (cf. Skt. priyah "own, dear, beloved," priyate "loves;" O.C.S. prijati "to help," prijatelji "friend;" Welsh rhydd "free"). The adverb is from O.E. freon, freogan "to free, love." The primary sense seems to have been "beloved, friend, to love;" which in some languages (notably Gmc. and Celtic) developed also a sense of "free," perhaps from the terms "beloved" or "friend" being applied to the free members of one's clan (as opposed to slaves, cf. L. liberi, meaning both "free" and "children"). Cf. Goth. frijon "to love;" O.E. freod "affection, friendship," friga "love," friðu "peace;" O.N. friðr, Ger. Friede "peace;" O.E. freo "wife;" O.N. Frigg "wife of Odin," lit. "beloved" or "loving;" M.L.G. vrien "to take to wife, Du. vrijen, Ger. freien "to woo."

There are limits to freedom, no-one will deny this. One may wish to do many things but one is restrained from exercising this wish because of social or moral injunction.
If we look at the this etymology related to Freund, and Frieden we see there is a pact within which freedom operates... it is not freedom in a vacuum there can be no freedom without context and this context must not be free.

Freedom as a pact means I voluntarily sacrifice my instincts in order that the pact may continue, so something in this notion of freedom is the understanding, that I by curtailing my freedom am allowing you to have more freedom, built into the notion of freedom is a social pact where individual freedoms are curtailed so that all may have more choice to curtail their freedom.
And this is Peace, freedom, where everybody voluntarily, in love, curtails their own freedom.

We have here a frontier where the culture and nature may be delineated. It is not a line, because it is not visible, it is an injunction, but it is not a written one, it may not even be a spoken one, the bond, the pact of freedom requires taboos.

We can see that freedom of expression is not freedom anymore but freedom of a very small constituent of human activity, expression, which means what exactly? ex-press , aus-drucken means to press out what is inside. This can be a word or a burp or a fart or even a shit, the implication is that it is a word, however we can see even here that the notion is problematic. Freedom of expression is an oxymoron because freedom is always contingent and voluntary and some expressions are involuntary.

But we mean here meaning-ful expressions...what is meaning?

O.E. mænan "to mean, tell, say, complain," from W.Gmc. *mainijanan (cf. O.Fris. mena, Du. menen, Ger. meinen to think, suppose, be of the opinion"), from PIE *meino- "opinion, intent" (cf. O.C.S. meniti "to think, have an opinion," O.Ir. mian "wish, desire,"...

Meaning requires a counterpart in order to validate the meaning. Meanings must have a social resonance, and that is the contemporary meaning of meaning. Something which has no social effects is meaningless. And meaning is less freedom of expression and more expression of freedom.

Anstatt Meinungsfreiheit oder Äusserungsfreiheit: Äusserung der Freiheit
Instead of Freedom of opinion or freedom of expression : Expression of Freedom

Again, freedom exists within a bond, therefore freedom articulates the bond. And such is the freedom of the artist that it is the freedom to do something which may injure the social bond in the interest of preserving the bond. What is unacceptable is art which aims to destroy the bond.

With my expression of freedom, by definition, I express my love for the society, my friendship, which is also my desire for peace. I think this notion of peace as love or friendship, all residing within the word 'free', is particularly fortuitous, since we know, neither love or friendship are easy or static, we have a paradigm for peace which is not a culmination but a process.

But art has no monopoly on such expressions of freedom, indeed, in the expanded abstract society of the electronic age, almost every human interaction is an expression of freedom. Only we are no longer sure what it is we are loving with our freedom.

It is only not an expression of freedom when it distinctly aims to annihilate the social bond. But you know the old expression 'what doesn't kill me makes me stronger' it is hard to determine what expression is not freedom, and that is why it is written in the Grundrechte of the Grundgesetz that "(3) Kunst und Wissenschaft, Forschung und Lehre sind frei. (Art, and Science, Research and Education are free)
Die Freiheit der Lehre entbindet nicht von der Treue zur Verfassung" (The freedom of Education does not exempt one from constitutional obligations).
Can we have such dangerous freedom and still have social cohesion? Yes, because we know, if the disruptive effects of freedom grow too strong, a greater power will intervene. And this power is not free. This is the power of the text of the law incarnate. The police.

Judges swords and axe used in the court of Medieval Berlin

So the society is protected from the freedom of the artist by the police. And it works inversely, the police also protects the artist from the freedom of the society. The police, the physical manifestation of the technology of language in law is the least free human, while they are in uniform, they may even be less free than a prisoner in jail. They are not free because they are the physical manifestation of the law. In uniform everything they do is law itself, and not their personal will.

The freedom of the citizen cannot be conceived with reference to the, perceived lack of freedom of the prisoner, or, as it is often conjured, the that of the citizen of a foreign despotic nation. Such freedom, which defines itself in opposition to a concept of bondage, is not true freedom since it derives too much of its meaning from the bondage it rejects.

We all know the feeling, in German they call it Entlastung, but it is also 'License' as in poetic license, a freedom to disobey laws. This kind of happiness which comes when one contravenes the conditions of a bond without any adverse consequences. Yet this form of freedom requires that the laws continue to function outside of the happiness, this happy freedom comes in the voluntary temporary self-determined exemption from social sanction.

In our society, we allow for a certain amount of this "temporary self-determined exemption from social sanction". We know that the culture needs antithesis in order to renovate itself. This form of anti-thesis is not an alternative, it is not a fundamental challenge to society, it is part of the renewal of the society. This is why the artists coexist happily with the hegemony that protects the space where they can create freely.

The much-vaunted freedom of artists in Western culture is predicated on the hard un-free regimented systemic shell of the military which protects the space and the police lines of sight which traverse it.


Wars are the "temporary self-determined exception" of the state which afford the freedom of the artist. "No sacrifice is too great for our democracy, least of all the temporary sacrifice of democracy itself" (Rossiter, Clinton Lawrence,Constitutional dictatorship: crisis government in the modern democracies, Princeton University Press 1948, p. 314). We must admit that, as advanced as it may claim to be, the avant garde of art is the front lines of a cultural crusade.

We advance towards the other parading our cultural values. Avant garde, seeming to disrupt the culture is simply regenerating and reinvigorating it from within. The paradigm of respectful encounter between one culture and another is still today accomplished through offensive confrontation. Transfigured by our inability to accept the otherness of the other, we have armed ourselves beyond recognition.

Unfortunately, the bitter joke is that as we, in full avant garde regalia, with weapons blazing, see our culture engaged with the other in a confrontation of mighty armies, just as it was 1000 years ago, we are standing before the reflective membrane which is the frontier of our freedom and only threatening and frightening ourselves.

The avant-garde provides no true alternative to this militarization of art. if we are truly confident in our desire for peace, there is only the possibility to, little by little, baisser la garde!.

No comments:

Post a Comment