The Gothic Style Lives in the Legs of the Cowboys <english> <deutsch>


von Christoph Schäfer

Well, quite a few texts have been written on institutional critique. I found that article by Dan Graham most interesting, where he compares the self-referentiality and the display of the means-of-production in Godard’s films, to that of Dean Martin[1]. While Godard meant to operate in a somehow marxist-brechtian manner, criticising the cinema as institution by breaking it’s mythical narrative flow, Martin did the same by appearing drunk in his show. Not even attempting to hide his drunkenness, Martin joked about his habit, clumsily handling his text cards („idiot-cards“), stumbling through the props, showing off that, again, he had forgotten his text et cetera, and that he couldn’t care less.

Graham’s conclusion was quite depressing: Displaying your own corruption, and pulling the mask off the face of the institution, doesn’t destroy the fetish-character of the commodity in the end. Like the demolition of the picture-frame or the bourgeois superstructure, it doesn’t lead to enlightenment and revolution, but at the end of the day - it can be sold as well.

A disappointing bottom line: after painting as an ideal, irreproducible exchangeable object had been swallowed by the market completely (like the work in art spaces in general), and interventions, „like all alternatives“, supposedly only lead to the „optimization of the system“(as they say), I had, like many, put my hopes on the unadorned but functional lifeboat named „Critical Distance“.

I know what I am speaking about, because I have recently taken part in a few exhibitions. In their desire to devote themselves to a theme or the so-called reality, these shows have gone quite far in the disciplines „giving up a critical point of view“ and „ignorance about artistic approaches“. An example: in the frame of one of these projects, a ZDF chief editor[2] was sent by the Austrian project leader at the expense of the Kulturstiftung des Bundes[3] to Moldova. Here, a celebrated video-artist (shown at least in Documenta11) was taught the concept of „format-TV“. Quickly a cumbersome performance video had been re-edited into a jaunty identity-clip in MTV-style. Around it, a toothless telecast was formatted, in all its harmlessness still too offensive for the German television man. Workshopped to such an extent, the colleague presented his new learnings in a congress, intended as an international artistic exchange, as if he had found Columbus’ egg, and as if „the normative power of the factual“ had never been criticised.

When I witnessed this art, robbing on its knees in front of the status quo to such an extend, accompanied by a language tail wagging between therapy-group slang, NATO-operation vocabulary, and the justifying chatters of the state funded interventionists, a desire arose in me: a yearning for sharp segregation, for the Grand Refusal, for negation, Ad Reinhardt, autonomy, trench warfare, being-right, two litre value packs of red wine, and unbroken, unquestioned, unwashed, authentic stinking subjective artists, who break the filters off the cigarettes before they smoke.

But stop! Is the situation really that sinister? The other day I withdrew myself from the world and into bed with my girlfriend, when fun and enlightenment came in through the Television in the shape of Terence Hill. The title of the movie was super and promised consolation and contrariness in hopeless times: „Darn it, Damn it, and Hallelujah!“[4] (Man of the East, 1972). Even more super was Hill’s entrance in the following scene – actually, the climax of the movie. In it, the actor displays, with a dodge, what art can do, and what artists should do:

The institution shown in the scene is the western-unavoidable duel with the rival. Up to this point, Hill always had avoided the duel: he found it silly and did not want to be pigeonholed into the Oedipal triangle of the Western-Movie, and he didn’t want to participate in its male initiation rites, either. Much rather he preferred to cycle through the Wild West in his Oxford-suit[5] and to do his Yoga exercises[6]. But in the end he can’t avoid the fight. His deceased dad’s boozing companions teach him to shoot and ride, and how to make your opponent insecure with fierce looks or sure-of-victory-grins. Finally our hero rides into high street. Instead of picking off his enemy with his new self-confidence (while getting his competitor out of his way, subjecting himself, through this act, under the oedipal order), Hill does something completely different, that is to say, first a gymnastic exercise on the horse: a virtuoso, half-minute-long headstand.

That way, Hill succeeds in propelling himself out of an oedipalising situation, and moreover succeeds in blowing up the Western-Format - with such a lasting effect, that it actually has become impossible to ever shoot a duel-scene again after this: the duel to end all duels.

Like the good artist, Terence Hill does not back away into the ivory tower of the institution, but mingles with the people. I find the current rejection of the idea of immanence understandable, but the return to critical theory, pure art in the white cube and an adornoesque distance[7] from the profane world, as it is suggested by some academics, is neither possible, nor desirable – as this separating thinking and this type of fictional distance has been rightly criticised as „royal science“[8].

But for the trip into the real life, Terence Hill can give you an advice or two: Play, first, the game following your rules, your agenda; look at the world from a different perspective; introduce a new, artistic language and invalidate the language of the ruling institution. Second: for a dialogue with civil society – do not turn up unarmed.

[1] Dan Graham: Dean Martin / Entertainment as Theatre, in: Blasted Allegories: An Anthology of Writings by Contemporary Artists, Vol. 2, Ed. Brian Wallis

[2] ZDF – Second German Television, the second biggest public (state-run) television station in Germany

[3] German cultural foundation for the arts

[4] Literal translation of the German title: Verflucht, Verdammt und Halleluja!

[5] Interesting in our case: Hill plays a guy returning from the English University to the West and the low lands of real life, named „Sir Thomas More“.

[6] In this scene, Hill says the significant sentence: „Man! Do not forget, you are still an animal!“ Deleuze & Guattari before Deleuze & Guattari... Terence Hill’s exercises in becoming-an-animal:

[7] Analogous to those orthodox leftist groups that criticised the EZLN, arguing that you can not change the world with poems, and analogous to the current cyclical turn against Negri & Hardt and their concept of immanence in the name of the pure doctrine.

[8] Read as „White Cube“ here. Also see: Anne Querrien’s research on the Gothic Cathedral builders using „minor“ or nomadic sciences. The medieval builders worked with intuitive (Archimedian) static, that was able to calculate tension – in contrast to Euclidian mathematics, stuck to gravity (royal science). This groundbreaking research by Anne Querrien from the late seventies has still not been published. References to it in: Deleuze, Guattari: 1000 Plateaus, Chapter 12, 1227; Treatise on Nomadology - the War Machine.