A DABBLING AUDIENCE
Reading, for one, is an activity that follows writing:
more stoic, more civil, more intellectual.
Jorge Luis Borges,
Prologue to the first edition of Historia Universal de la Infamia
(A Universal History of Infamy) 1935
This text can be anything but an imposition. It’s not a form, either. It might be an instrument, a tool for tackling an issue. A suggestion.
In science, dabbling relates to a basic value: curiosity. Without curiosity, the experience of reality is a mere illustration of imposed ideas and traditions. Of truths that fit with precision into some preconceptions about the world.
If the conflict caused by a work could be resolved, its solution would become a repetition. The work becomes flavorless. Its questions are eliminated, and it loses its uncertain essence. If its secret is revealed at once, it loses its quality as a secret. What is more attractive than a secret; even more so if it’s a riddle.
A piece’s intelligence and sensibility are in its not undressing. They are in its distance.
The viewer might be the nestling that can only test if it can fly by jumping into the void.
Experiencing the work of art can mean breaking with training. A means of escaping imposition. When the viewer manages to break from the author, and from his personal dogmas, he will achieve more flavorful readings that increase his hunger not only for works of art, but for all of reality.
The essence of being an audience is that there is no method to see or interpret. If works had interpretations, we would go back to the scientific method.
Dabbling is the supreme value. You don’t have to be an expert; you have to be curious.
Impositions tend to originate from some subject. They are subjective elements that become tradition. Now, could a work of art, divorced from its author and free of interpretation, become a virtual “imposition”?
We can perceive the work of art as a provocation to which we react. One of its virtues is precisely that it is an “imposition” that we can discard. It’s a “democratic” imposition. A message thrown to the wind, waiting to resonate (or not) with other things.
Considering that it is already, in itself, the materialization of some idea, the work of art faces us with its presence. That is the moment when we decide to sidestep it, or to absorb it, or to borrow it and return it later.
A sculpture takes up a space that could be occupied by a body, says Anish Kapoor. Its sole presence loads it with meaning. A person, with its presence, can move us, or provoke rejection, or indifference.
The work of art takes up a space, a time, an experience. The confrontation takes place the moment one begins to make associations.
That a song moves us, without us consciously paying attention to it, is in itself one way for reality to relate to us more than we relate to it. It reveals itself to us, and welcomes us.
Works of art are in a virgin state. Reading can begin by suppressing the importance of the (oh, so capitalist) verbs to have, to possess, to have to, and to function, and substitute them for example for to discover, to experience, to deconstruct, and above all, to absorb. Or it can borrow and leave some for others to also enjoy the piece. This would translate into not damaging the work for others by stating our opinion.
The work of art doesn’t care about your opinion. It’s more interested (perhaps) in your absorption.
Art has always had one virtue; the power of making us forget reality, and therefore, part of ourselves. It could also be said that it amuses us. According to Jacques Ranciére in The Emancipated Viewer (2008), “the viewer must be pulled from the brutishness of the viewer who is fascinated by appearances and won over by the empathy that forces him to identify with the characters on stage”. Ranciére is speaking of a viewer weighted by preconceptions caused by a prescriptive education.
In David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, after several scares, the film takes us to a concert in a theater. The two protagonists are among the few people in attendance. On the stage, a woman in heavy make-up and wearing a red dress begins to sing a capella. In the middle of an English language film, we hear this song in Spanish. The two protagonists don’t understand the lyrics, but they are absorbed by the singing. They hold hands the moment the singer raises the tone of her voice. She screams and cries (the song’s lyrics are about crying). They shudder. At that moment, Lynch turns us into those two people, we are no longer just an audience behind the TV screen, it turns us into an audience inside the film. There is a meta-filmic game. We are twice an audience. In this Borgean trick, Lynch absolves us twice (or in two ways). Trapped in the scene (we are now audience-audience, meta-audience), the singer falls to the ground, faints, as the audio continues to play. It was a recording, and the performer was lip-syncing! She was not singing! Did the singer cheat us from the start? Is what moves us her performance, or her song? Lynch diverts us and diverts us. He wants to be as little explicit as possible. Is the audience important to that scene? Of course, very much so. From this side of the screen (reality?) Lynch asks us several questions. The first one would be: Why are we still moved by the song, although we know it was a recording? And, what moves the two protagonists as an audience? Are they moved by the same thing we are? He cheated them with the fainting, but we are moved by the entire scene: the woman’s singing, the cheating of the protagonists, and how they feel moved. The whole film is a performance, and the song is another performance. Within this entire exercise, the important thing is to lose our consciousness, escaping in the multiple readings and layers, being an audience is sometimes more intellectual an activity than being an author. And if it were the other way around? If it were an act more intuitive than intellectual? Would the experience be more enriching than that of the author’s conceiving of the work?
So art, or the artistic experience, brings us closer to the uncertain, to the incomprehensible. We could say it produces ontological questions. And in the end it brings us closer to death as the supreme enigma.
One way of finding meaning is letting go. A phrase defending sexual liberation states: sexual preference is not achieved by defining oneself, but by letting oneself go. Viewing as a creative act.
The viewer is before a work of art. We could verbalize his action: viewing. Like we did with Mulholland Drive, watching can be a creative act. Viewing works as a new way of creating. Viewing implies expecting something in exchange for seeing.
In Julio Cortazar’s short story “Axolotl” there is a game of viewers. Early in the story the main character goes to the Paris aquarium to view the strange creatures called ajolotes. They look strange, and they seem to remain in a primitive stage, in evolution towards becoming a larger animal. The way a tadpole turns into a frog. A caterpillar into a butterfly. They seem to exist in a stage of metamorphosis. Cortazar did not choose this creature at random (I presume). The story develops through the relationship between the characters that go to watch the ajolotes from outside the fish tank and end up becoming one. He sees from inside the fish tank towards that strange looking audience. The audience becomes the object of contemplation. The work (the ajolote), in a prosopopoeic moment, enters in a dialogue with the viewer.
Before a work of art we can be audience, ajolote, or fish tank. We can get lost in this exercise that can be as absurd as it might be useful.
In some instances, it’s possible for the viewer to have more references than the author, and that will make his sensibility more acute when it comes to understanding a work of art. Or, contrarily, someone’s artistic knowledge might be limited, but could be relating this new experience to an earlier one. And the memory alone might move him. Can the acuity of ones’ sensibilities be something relative?
Gabriel Rodriguez Pellecer