Text presented at ALUNA ART FOUNDATION on September 29, 2012
Photo: Carlos Mayol
I wish to thank Ricardo Pau-Llosa, Adriana Herrera and Willy Castellanos for inviting me to share this table tonight, though am not sure if I am fit to lecture you about anything, let aside a beautiful and profound matter as the one centering this exhibition.
Thus, I going to share a handful of notes and thoughts that somehow interact and converse with the issue of spirituality, nicely embodied by the artworks surrounding us tonight.
In his seminal essay Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Kandinsky expressed a sympathy, or spiritual relationship, with the Primitives –very extended at the time among vanguard artists, a fascination that begun in the late 19th century with the post-impressionists. Probably an expression of the new freedom brought to the artist by the newly born art market, which allows them to focus, exclusively, for the first time in art history, on esthetical, formal and technical issues.
He wrote, “Like ourselves, these artists sought to express in their work only internal truths, renouncing in consequence all consideration of external form.”
He goes on with words that perfectly could have been written today: “Our minds, which are even now only just awakening after years of materialism, are infected with the despair of unbelief, of lack of purpose and ideal. The nightmare of materialism, which has turned the life of the universe into an evil, useless game, is not yet past; it holds the awakening soul still in its grip.”
WHAT GOD WANTS, PART I
“...What God wants God gets / God help us all
God wants goodness God wants light / God wants mayhem God wants a clean fight
God wants peace God wants war / God wants famine God wants chain stores
God wants sedition God wants sex / God wants freedom God wants semtex
God wants borders God wants crack / God wants rainfall God wants wetbacks
God wants crusade God wants jihad / God wants good God wants bad...”
Roger Waters, Amused to Death album
Art has been always considered one of the highest expressions of spirituality, however since the development of the art market, as we know it, driven by the gallery and the auction house as a leading force, all its spiritual lightness seems to be anchored to earth by the heavy prices these institutions attach to some artworks. It might be somehow exciting to see those millionaire prices hanged by these pieces, and their authors being automatically turned into heads of the pack. At some initial point of our careers it made us all wish to be just like them when we grow up. Some keep tied up to such wishful thinking and some transit to a bit more thoughtful wishes, when realizing how little the chances are to get there –at least while we are still alive. Worst thing is, when art is so turned into an investment commodity or a pride toy for super riches, it is being deprived one essential nutrient that prevents it to accomplish a fundamental spiritual function, that ability to speak from the inner soul or, as Kandinsky put it, to express “only internal truths”. Thus, our civilization is left under the rain, sucking air, in spiritual terms.
The previous image reminded me of a passage of Milan Kundera’s novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being, in which he describes a painting created by one of its characters. “On the surface, there was always an impeccably realistic world, but underneath, behind the backdrop's cracked canvas, lurked something different, something mysterious or abstract. (...) On the surface, an intelligible lie; underneath, the unintelligible truth.”
In his book The Mystical Life of Jesus, Harvey Spencer Lewis asserts that reincarnation was a well-known doctrine to the population, and especially Jesus and the Essenes sect to which he belonged. Scholars agree Christianity accepted reincarnation until 553 AD, when it was dropped from the doctrine at the Fifth Ecumenical Council at Constantinople for reasons that may have been far more political than theological. Consequently, since the Synoptic Gospels date from 66-74 & 132-135 AD, certain Biblical passages suggestive of reincarnation may indeed be subtle remnants of Christianity's original reincarnation doctrine.
Thomas McEvilley essay On the manner of addressing clouds describes Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird or a similar number of ways to connote meaning in an artwork. The last one refers to “Content rooted in biological or physiological responses, or in cognitive awareness of them”
“...some types of subject matter, such as sex and death; appeal to us because we know that we are organisms subject to death and involve in sexual reproduction; these responses, then, are prior to socio-economic acculturation. ...readings that may be closer to pure physiological responses would include the stirring of the genitals in response to pictures of sexual subjects, the phenomenon of fainting at the sight of blood, or becoming nauseous from viewing gory pictures; an so on.”
I will now evoke some real life experiences from which an esthetical response may arise, even when they are deeply rooted in the biological or physiological realm. A wink to the tension between the spiritual and the material world.
- Being performed minor surgery and seeing the blood reflected on the surgeon’s glasses as it run out of my chest.
- The exhumation of my father’s remains. Seeing the arms of the cemetery employee sorting bones out of the rotten clothes and the rotten coffin into a concrete urn while flashing images of the beloved living man crossed my mind. He finally moved the skull and put some hair on top with an almost tender gesture.
- Having sex with a woman whose naked body on the bed resembled a nude painting by Monet. Her skin absorbed the light intensely to a point that almost made her glow in the dim atmosphere of the cheap Havana motel.
- Being in a Cuban military prison as a young soldier and watch a group of swallow birds flying down and up on front of the barracks in the winter gusty wind. Experiencing strong feelings of hope and freedom and being released latter that day.
“The equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius ... set in the center of the Campidoglio to represent by its symbolical presence the relationship between ancient, Imperial Rome and the seat of government of modern, Renaissance Rome. Bernini's statue of the Conversion of Constantine, placed at the foot of the Vatican stairway connecting the Basilica of St. Peter to the heart of the papacy is another such monument, a marker at a particular place for a specific meaning/event.”
Rosalind Krauss, Sculpture in the Expanded Field
Concerning The Spiritual in Art is an exhibition that does not seems to try to illustrate its main theme but to embody it through every one of the diverse works that integrate the show. We all should celebrate a curatorial project that rescues and renews Kandinsky’s centennial ideal of artists that “sought to express in their work only internal truths”, an ever positive task amidst the present scenario “when a large part of art dances to the beat of commercial cynicism,” in the words of its curators.
I firmly believe in the healing power of art, so I hope projects like this one succeed and multiply in order to help us transform our society for good. Perhaps we will even be able to reestablish that ancient link between art and soul making artworks available and enjoyable to the widest part of our tribe.