“Spells”, the exhibition of works by the artist Demian Schopf which is exhibited at the MAC, has caused a great stir. A clamor that has not been limited to the art world, but has been the object of the ire of a thousand anonymous people who roam the social networks and who are not necessarily amateurs of contemporary works of art. The opinions essentially referred to the fact that the artifacts that the artist presents were not made by him and that he simply appropriated them. This fact is further aggravated because the bewitched weapons belong to a social and class reality to which the artist does not belong and has no possibility of understanding why he does not experience those social codes firsthand. Gorgian’s reproach pointed to a goal that is already part of a new moral sensibility: erasure. Basically it is a call to attention for the artist – and each of us – to operate within their own class conditions and not interfere in the codes of other social realities. Not even Cartesian solipsism postulated so much; and at least the monodic decadence of the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie places the individual romantically in front of himself, just to mention two historical moments of egocentrism. This is different. We seem to be faced with a folding of social classes so that we all live in our own symbolic ghettos. Paradox in any way you look at it: a violent invitation from social networks to desist from establishing social networks.
In any case, it is not the first time that an artist and his work have been erased. Suffice it to recall the international public denigration that Maurizio Cattelan received in 2019 with his work “Comediante”, a banana attached to a wall with adhesive tape. Youtubers and influencers, characters who perhaps characterize the new moral priests of our present, have shown off a verbosity that is as repetitive as it is bland. There was everything in the comments except artistic topics. Of these new species, which appear on Instagram or YouTube with the legitimacy of the likes and the number of reproductions of their videos, we find young people -and others less so- with an openly reactionary attitude, expressing their opinion, with a pre-modern discourse . , on what they call the farce of contemporary art, what some, without theorizing at all, call “hamparte”, as well as an infinity of epithets that function more as insults than as a reasoned analysis of art. The point is that these non-artistic anti-art views are producing a growing public opinion about contemporary art. They are creating an anti-public. It will be necessary to see how decant and how deeply these opinions of profane anti-art can permeate academic spaces. In a certain sense, I say it with the experience of a university professor, I have witnessed some effects of the collapse of the academic ground due to this affair, especially in art school students. Phnubbing is common in classrooms and is apparently here to remain a habit.
And since I cannot escape pedagogy, I remind you that appropriation, the concept that rages against the work of Demian Schopf, is a consequence of the new procedures of the avant-gardes of the early twentieth century. In 1913 Marcel Duchamp conceived “Bicycle wheel”, his first ready-made. The work is an assisted ready-made, that is, it is made up of two objects (a bicycle wheel on a stool) that have no apparent relationship and yet are assembled because their material possibilities are pertinent to that intersection. The date is not surprising. After 1912, the avant-gardes were amazed by the process invented by Picasso. In fact, collage presupposes an indistinct relationship between different materials, of different origins, of different qualities, all gathered in a single support. What the avant-garde artists understand from Picasso’s process is precisely that part of the materials are not created by the artist himself, but instead use designs pre-established by different logics of graphic culture, such as fragments of newspaper or pieces of wall paper, which contain textual layouts and decorative designs that are not made by the artist himself. In that gesture there is appropriation. If we want to make a difference, what Picasso does is re-administer some elements already given and transform them into art; With his ready-mades, Duchamp promotes the resignification of objects by presenting them in a situation of uselessness, therefore, as long as the uselessness of these tools lasts, they can only be understood as works of art. Duchamp’s ready-made shows us, by virtue of the procedural differences with Picasso’s collage, a radical appropriation. Picasso poeticises the fragments that are not his authorship, a sort of justification for appropriation in a new type of representation; in Duchamp’s case there are no justifications or representations, it is only the presentation of objects that cannot be exhausted in their daily use but as an artistic reflection, to be dried. The possibility of aesthetically appreciating them does not even appear. In other words, it’s simple and pure appropriation. From that moment on, appropriation has been one of the many possibilities available to artists and legitimized by avant-garde art, a cultural and artistic process that has marked the course of art up to the present day. And this is exactly what Demian Schopf does by presenting the conceptual dimension of the magical weapons used by prisoners in Chilean prisons, re-signifying violence beyond its specific social codes. Schopf’s work even restores the idea of craftsmanship, an issue that youtubers and influencers reproach contemporary artists, the fact that there is no manual labor in works of art. Furthermore, Schopf restores the subjectivity of form and the intimate idea of beauty in an object conditioned by its objective effectiveness as a weapon and by its precarious and illegal production. An issue also criticized by netizens who strongly accuse the vulgarity and ugliness of contemporary works of art. Perhaps, and continuing with the pedagogical review, the paroxysm of appropriation occurs 90 years after “Rueda de bicicleta”, with the direct intervention on Francisco de Goya’s engravings by the Chapman brothers. The art world, in fact, was shocked in 2003 with the exhibition “Insultion to damage”, which showed the 83 original engravings of “Los desastres de la Guerra”, the last edition signed by Goya in 1837, intervened in top with clown faces. An avant-garde consequence suggested by Duchamp in LHOOQ of 1919, the famous image of the Mona Lisa with a mustache, a work that promotes the intervention on canonical works of art, which is precisely what Jake & Dinos do with Goya’s work. The Chapmans exhibition produced an intense debate, in which the inconceivable sacrilege of interfering and losing forever one of the original editions of an artist consecrated by art history was used as an argument. However, the conditions of the art market itself and the liberal ideology of private property as a cultural logic transformed critics into mere cynical views on the almost sacred value of the great masters. If they really have a fundamental value for the history of art, they shouldn’t be sold to the highest bidder at auction, and consequently be jealously guarded in museums away from speculation. But there is a difference. While the Chapmans’ appropriation of Goya’s work by the sarcastic humor was a media event, it was practically one on the art circuits. Indeed, appropriation as a plastic methodology has never been questioned.
Instead, now, the cancellation of influencers, which is the maximum expression of disapproval of digital societies, has as a crusade to unmask the farce not only of contemporary art but also of all modern culture. Its ingredients match junk fast food cuisine: a little common sense + a little sensationalism + conspiracy. With these rudiments they go to conquer the truth. Another paradox, challenging the truth of the world that produces, knowingly or not, post-truth and fake news. This paradox was possible because a huge amount of information travels and is available faster and faster. As a result, the consumption of this huge amount of information is also getting faster. The time span of consumption of digital information is 9 seconds, at least this is the behavioral response with which we intend to re-educate the user of digital media in the lucrative context of attention capitalism, as proposed by Bruno Patino in his book ” The civilization of fish memory” (2019). In other words, there is no time to reflect. A world without memory is being built from millennial capitalism. It is therefore not surprising that the pre-modern critics of Schopf or Cattelan have no arguments placed in the history of art or in its cultural and social codes. We can’t even talk about criticism. These are redundant psychological reproaches that are perceived as new. It starts over and over again because memory is not the support of existence, which ontologically leads to the voluntary and self-indulgent solipsism of moral relativism.
If we seek an explanation for this phenomenon of growing moral relativism and for the current belief that experience is inscribed only in one’s biological time with no possibility of transfer, we can, using the memory of libraries, establish a hypothesis: the moment of the great doubt begins, perhaps, with the French theory or post-structuralism of the 60s of the twentieth century. From then on, moral relativism is promoted, in different versions, such as the philosophical deconstruction of Derrida, the death of the subject or the death of the author of Foucault, the postmodernism of Lyotard which proclaims the failure of great narratives… An issue that gave rise to the death of humanism or the post-humanist philosophy of Ihab Hassan in the United States in the 1970s, or the end of history of Francis Fukuyama in the 1980s, just to name the most bombastic examples of a long etc. Since then, relativism has taken hold in Western culture. Furthermore, an ad hoc question of neoliberal ideology and the promotion of a type of individualism that has been socially relegated to the reductive field of parental members, otherwise in clear decline. Digital neoliberalism and its quick gratification devices stimulate the primitive area of the brain by releasing dopamine, canceling, especially in children, the discernment that takes place in the frontal area of the cortex. It could very well be the explanation of the phenomenon of the reproaches of individuals widespread on social networks, reproaches without an argumentative reasoning and which lack support, that is, memory. Question that reminds me of famous hip-hop star and perhaps 21st century zeitgeist, Snoop Dogg, who said in total seriousness about his addiction to Game of Thrones TV show, as we all know a medieval fantasy series with dragons and supernatural threats: “I see it for historical reasons, to try to understand what this world was like before I was born.”