Will the tremendous irresponsibility of art transform the world?
Debating the future is a debilitating affair. If you’re with optimists, it takes on the form of a brave new world. If you with pessimists, you will see any discussion end in total annihilation of anything you can talk about, preferably before the end of the year. I believe one can not seriously argue about the future — we have hardly ever been right in the long history of debates. Those few times when someone made an accurate prediction about what was ahead, it was usually a lonely voice. “Civilization and its Discontents” by Sigmund Freud hints at the coming atrocities of World War II — to name an example. Fukuyama predicted the end of history, and from certain perspectives he got it right. But stuff like that is hardly inspiring because of all the doom in it. Optimistic predictions are often infantile, or exhaustingly simplistic. Therefore, instead of taking the future very seriously, I propose we take a closer look at the arts as a source of insights about the future.
Before we do that, I must quote the artist Christo first. Christo once said of the works he and his wife Jeanne-Claude made: “Jeanne-Claude and I borrow space and create a gentle disturbance in it for just a few days. When they appear for a few days, they carry this tremendous freedom of irresponsibility.” (Source of this quote: The Guardian.)
Anyone who has ever seen Christo and Jeanne-Claude speak live, knows they had a way of being very serious and meticulous, while keeping things very lighthearted at the very same time. This “tremendous freedom of irresponsibility” came as an enormous revelation to me. We live in a time were the future is being regarded with a staggering seriousness when compared to, say, the 1970s. Today,in spite of all the banter and all the stand up comedians and all the witty talk show hosts, we all seem to be mainly afraid of the future. If we are not, we soon will be, because the governments and the media are pouring fear over our heads, a downpour that will eventually drown out any fearlessness. Along with all these warning comes the dreadful Cult of Responsibility. The mantra today is We Shall Leave Behind A Better World. While I agree with the principle, while I agree with John Lennon when he sings “Imagine”, while I believe in the idea that we must do things to improve the world, I object to the seriousness of it. It blocks the mind. It clutters the thinking. It is fear driven. It suffocates original thinking and spontaneity.
I propose we focus more on the amazing freedom of art and the narratives that come from that. How could that work? I have an example to offer. Looking at the objects of Christo and Jeanne-Claude has fascinated me for many years; they wrap a building or cover a river, and a strange effect takes place. The artists describe these effects themselves, and critics have done it for them, so I won’t be repeating them here. But the central idea is that whenever they “do” something to a part of public space, that space changes for a short period of time, and for people who visit that location a shift in perception takes place. I took that basic idea as a starting point for a short story, circling around the question “What would happen if an object created by Christo and Jeanne-Claude was so big that it could be seen from outer space, like the Chinese Wall?” A ludicrous premise, perhaps, but don’t remember it stems from the “tremendous irresponsibility” of art: it doesn’t have to serve a purpose.
Why not? Because there is a possibility that by doing something without the intention of actually achieving something, one actually achieves something unexpected. That achievement comes like a gift. It could not have been realized on purpose. The result of my experiment was the short story “Sketches of a Worldwide Christo and Jeanne-Claude”. It has been published by a literary magazine and its theme can now, almost a decade later, be heard about in real life. I am not going to put a spoiler here, but yes, the story contains solutions to a big worldwide problem; solutions that came unintentionally. Scientists are now experimenting with similar solutions. Not exactly the same, but still. My solution is not even scientically proven, but it sents in motion a train of thought – and that’s my point.
The “tremendous irresponsibility” has the ability to transform the world. There is no guarantee, but then again, we never had one.