As some of you may know, I’m currently in residence with the Art & Law Residency Program. I will be writing on occasion about discourses that come up in the residency and reflecting on legal and critical theory as it relates to my own practice.
Seminar #3 this week focused on Pasolini’s Salo. A film which was controversial from it’s release, Salo remains banned in many countries. Critics have called it the most disturbing film ever made.
From my vantage point, it was difficult to watch. The barrier that allows one to separate a violent spectacle on film, from the violence that exists in the world – is an illusion. Once you have crossed this barrier, you can’t go back. In the seminar, some residents felt that Salo was minimally disturbing, even boring. This strikes me as a 21st century American view of watching extreme violence on a screen.
Salo was recently referenced by Yvonne Rainer in a strongly worded letter to Jeffrey Deitch. Rainer decryed Marina Abramovic’s planned performance at Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art’s as “grotesque” and “verg[ging] on economic exploitation”. Read the ART INFO piece here. (Thank you for the tip Blaise.)
This controversy brings to the fore the question, can an artist/person choose exploitation and therefore is the person that hired them, off the hook for dubious employment conditions since the worker gave her/his consent? Rainer says clearly, no. “…the egregious associations for the performers, who, though willing, will be exploited nonetheless.” Taking the argument further, if you agree to degrading circumstances out of desperation, does that mean you are being empowered rather than degraded, since you chose to participate? Does the act of choosing slightly better shit make it not shit anymore?
I’m further interested in the slippery question of when sadistic spectacle is art versus exploitation. Rainer has no problem distinguishing a “grotesque spectacle” of dignity, Pasolini’s Salo against Facism, commercialism and the attack on reality in Cinema, from a “grotesque spectacle” by Abramovic and MoCA a upscale fundraiser which creates victims that are not symbolic, but real. Again we return to questions of agency and cost/benefit analysis.
If Abramovic subjects her own body to these conditions in return for recognition of authorship, financial reward and critical acclaim – this is a fair exchange. It’s worth noting that I admire Abramovic’s work with her own body. It’s a different game when the artist – as creative director – hires performers to give over their bodies to sadistic regimes of spectacle in exchange for a few bucks and a pipe dream.
Posted on Friday, March 2nd 2012