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Thursday, March 17, 2011

DADA AND A ZEN MONK

l'ange



I go about everywhere I go the observer, even like invisible, surprised people see me and talk to me. A few days ago I saw a film by Ingmar Bergman made in 1977, The Serpent's Egg. It was Berlin in 1923 when the Nazi's made their first push for power that failed, sending Hitler to prison to write Mein Kampf, the fascist scripture. There were a few times Bergman took the lead man, David Carradine, a Jew, therefore invisible, through a maze of shelves of dusty archives underground. It called Kafka to mind every time he went through that maze. It was the Kafka time. He was not far away. Somewhere I read long ago that in his time Kafka's writing was humorous, funny. Today it is our constant sorrow.



I find Kafka too depressing to read now, because his vision has become the way things are. He was part of the beginnings of the Absurd in 20th century theater and writing from Eastern Europe; Alfred Jarry from Romania, Tristan Tsara from Romania, Kafka in Czechoslovokia, sculptor Constantine Brancusi from Romania, later playwright Eugene Ionesco from Romania in Paris, crossing the channel Harold Pinter in London, crossing the ocean Edward Albee in New York. These are only a few. Jerzy Kosinski from Poland, Andrei Cordescu from Romania. At the beginning of the 20th century and end of the 19th century, Romania was the birthplace of a line of artistic thinking that characterized the 20th century in art of every variety.



Tristan Tsara, poet, and Marcel Janco, painter, went to Zurich during WW1 from Romania to get out of the war. They carried that energy that was stirring in and around Bucharest into the Dada way of thinking when they joined some artist draft dogers from Germany, Norway, France who became the Dadists, who together put the history of art on the chopping block, cut it with a cleaver at the present moment, 1915, rendering all that went before as if it never happened. A group of a dozen or so of them gathered around the Spiegelgasse caberet in Zurich.



In 6 months of rapid exploration they spanned the modern movement through conceptualism, where they found their satisfaction, some of them taking their findings with them to Paris after WW1. From there on, the avant garde artists of New York, Paris and Berlin went step by step through the same evolution as the Dadaists went through in Zurich, but over a period of half a century. It's kind of like they were shamans who performed rituals in the spiritual world that manifested in the material world. That was a highly charged time. Marcel Duchamp was in Paris breaking boundaries with every piece of art he made from before Nude Descending A Staircase that came to characterize the modern movement. Duchamp was surely tapped into that same energy in Paris the Dadaists found in Zurich.



By end of war, they all surfaced in Paris, and Paris was alight with artistic energy until the Nazi invasion. The European artists went to New York and one to Los Angeles. Duchamp continued in a New York apartment, few people knowing anything about him. Until the 1960s when abstract expresssionism was happening in New York, bringing the art world's energy across the sea and we figured at last in the world of modern art. The next generation discovered Duchamp. Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and their generation of artists in New York, realized they had the Zen Master of 20th Century art living among them in a small apartment with a wife named Teeny. His art form at the time was taking a piece of rope one meter long, standing on a short stool, holding the rope at arm's length by one end and dropping it. The shape it took on the floor was his work of art for the day. The rest of the time he played chess.



I tend to see art everywhere I look. Today, visiting with someone I didn't know, old, twisted, bent, on the boundary between asleep and awake except when he's asleep, I saw the walls, the floor, the ceiling, the windows, perspectives, questioning how I would paint this room. Looking at his face and twisted fingers I studied how I would paint him, no hair, bald as a baby, bent like a baby, on the verge of sleep like a baby. He could be painted either to give off the aura of a saint or an old cripple of waning spirit, who could be a saint for all I know. I wanted to paint his picture up close, a portrait of the top of his head, hands like bent fists up by his face, eyes closed. Very powerful image. An old Zen monk. I felt like I was just a consciousness seeing him, no more than a consciousness. It was like my body was still out in the car or at home, and only my consciousness was there. It wasn't as empty as that sounds. There was a fullness in it. He, himself was reduced to his own consciousness by a body that doesn't work anymore. He was a full human being coming into his completion. 



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