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What if the art is tasteless, so what?

20/11/2017
by Kelvin Chiringa
Vibe

It is well known fact that artists take the pleasure of distancing themselves from taking the pain of having to scalpel through the cognitive meanings of their works, opting rather for the viewers to fill that gap.

The language of art is universal, hence the relativity of meaning and energy, the ability by the critique to draw the lines between the art and the artist, and the pure independence of the latter from the former.

This week we had the honour to feast our forever roving eyes on the National Art Gallery’s latest public art fixated right at the gallery’s very entrance.

The structure is wooden, wound up with some rusty soft wire and propped as if its some gothic derelict army tanker poised to bomb the havens above.

The prosaic, unappealing nature of it strikes at the quickest, and it is quite predictable that whatever the hand and brains behind the craft, was hell-bent on exploding into the thought provoking abstract.

Yet here, we find creativity sacrificed on the alters of artistic expediency, the ability to excite, to tease and flatter to deceive, lies somewhere in the artwork, butchered.

What really makes and when does art become tasteless? 

The age of radical art, spurred by the unwritten injunction that “anything goes,” has really brought with it conflicting opinions on whether art can fail to save its purpose.

Yet again one may ask, what is the purpose of art, or to contextualize this critical question, what is the purpose of this pile of wood and wire in front of the National Art Gallery? 

Fascinatingly, the ability to recreate images that have no semblance of sensual appeal, can at best be defined as the highest form of artistic achievement.

That an artist or a poet can strive to bring about a work devoid of message but retaining structure, is a quest to which some rogue artists have committed their strength.

Tasteless art stands out in its category as a force of rebellion that challenges perception, hence the beauty is in the ability to dare to be what should not be, at least from the perspective of the mainstream.

It shifts imaginations and sentiment that after all, expectations are not the only realm within which a writer, singer or poet ought to find the self transfixed in.

It takes the power from the centre and chucks it off the window, creating a circle of society whose centre and power, is everywhere. 

“It’s art that pushes against psychological and social expectations, that tries to transform decay into something generative, that is replicative in a baroque way, that isn’t about progress and wants to, as Walt Whitman put it -- "contain multitudes, " says Jerry Saltz in his essay,” Truly tasteless art”.

Prosaic art is “art that almost seems too much to take or even to look at,” Saltz reasons, “art that resists esthetic metabolism, that exudes a sort of poetics of apotheosis.”

He says, “It’s the way Andrea Fraser slept with a collector on camera, calling it art, and somehow the work escaped being silly academic nonsense or brainy porn”. 

Many artists work with bad taste, he adds, but they do so in such conventional ways that their art ends up being predictable and gratuitous but little else, Saltz explicates. 

The structure at the NAGN, imposed as it is in its eerie silence that speaks unintelligibly, sheepishly to the Windhoekers passing by to some unknown destination, easily passes for Dambudzo Marechera’s fragments in his posthumously published book Cemetery of Mind.

It seems to daringly proclaim, indirectly inferring to one of Marechera’s lines, that, “I am what you think I am which is not what I am.”

It is art that is and is not at the same time. 

It captures the mind off-guard, deliberately, it attracts no cameras, deliberately and inspires no romance and longing, deliberately. 

Its triumph is in the ability to shock, and provoke.

The piece is a struggle of expression, a shrapnel blast into the monopoly of what should be and should not. 

It strikes to the core as an endeavor that never achieves that which it seeks, it's like wearing a shirt inside out and outside in and the grey matter in between the two, the unattainable. 

Here, aesthetics are in that gibberish struggle that seeks to take a match, light a cigarette and smoking and trying to stay somewhere there where the smoke touches the psych.