Kinoton movie projector

Above: A Kinoton FP38 ECII cinema projector. Credit: Samuel Zeller.

Westminster Bridge attacks

Above: Emergency services attend to an injured person outside the Houses of Parliament, London on 22 March, 2017. Credit: Stefan Rousseau/Associated Press.

Nitsch performance 1974

Above: Hermann Nitsch, "Das Orgien Mysterien Theater, 43," performance at Modernes Theater, Munich, 1974. Credit: Kurt Benning/Nitsch Foundation.


Above: Large Hadron Collider/b Monte Carlo events, Bs to J/psi Phi (2016). Credit: CERN Press relations.


The artist practitioner is in a binary dilemma: accept or reject; become complicit or resist. The key to art history is recognition of all such oppositions. Art should always be studied in the context of the technology that it meets. Impressionist painting was born not as a reaction to some other approach to art-making but rather of a resistance against the technology of photography (and the rise to prominence of the photographic image as the dominant signifier of objective realism) (VW: 22-23). An alternate schema for considering artistic practice: appearance/disappearance. Sculpture is an art of appearance whereas film is an art of disappearance--nothing remains after the movie finishes except whatever memories you have of it. There is nothing else; the movie itself has vanished from view. Film is interesting as a medium because it absolutely depends on cognitive persistence. The dominant avant-garde trajectory of twentieth-century visual art practice--experimentation beyond convention and orthodoxy--may well be a specific phenomenon of that century and not at all an applicable-through-all-time modus operandi for the visual artist (AM: 52). Visual art is disappearing from the domain of cultural-social relevance in a way that is paradoxical and highly ironic: there is so much of it that the viewer is swamped and overloaded; saturation point is being reached. Artists should acknowledge that their basic psychological context is trauma, "the day contemporary art recognizes itself as a casualty of war [including the Cold War and global terrorism] we can start talking again ... that there is a wound, that there are stigmas, that there is trauma [should be obvious]. They [artists, curators, etc.] should re-read [Freud's] Civilization and its Discontents. If ever there was a time for that ... Mind you, I am not a Freudian, that is not in my nature. I belong to a technological and military culture, not a psychoanalytic one. I am not like Jean Baudrillard, but I still have gone back to Freud, and I must say that it did enlighten me (OA: 17)."

Contemporary visual artists, just like the scientists at CERN, have become willfully obscurantist: art-illuminists, members of a cult whose initiates possess a jealously guarded secret knowledge that is absolutely withheld from the ordinary general public (it is too precious to share). Many artists are unfortunately making art that revels in its own emptiness, cynicism and irony (e.g., Koons, Prince, etc.). The art viewer goes to the gallery only to be confronted by art objects that are "pitiless" in that they redouble the atmosphere of scorn, contempt, ridicule, debasement and disenchantment that is already everywhere rife in modern life. This lack of differentiation is a principal reason why contemporary art is generally ignored: it fails all to offer respite from the cynicism and contempt that abounds and in fact very often it actually further belittles and dehumanizes the viewer. The "pitilessness" or cynicism that it so dominant in contemporary art should perhaps be understood as only a desperate coping mechanism of deeply traumatized artists: the digital age and modern technology has caused artists to react to by cutting themselves off from psychological trauma quite automatically via the survival mechanism of dissociation. This dissociation mechanism has also had the consequence of many artists reacting by withdrawing into mutism--not speaking--either as an active decision or as an automatic psychological survival mechanism. And this reaction too is absolutely unsupportable; we would do well to recall the maxim popularized by HIV/AIDS activists in the 1980s: Silence = Death. It must not be avoided that the terrorist's appropriation of live-breaking-news has the structure of conceptual art/performance art--particularly 1970s performances by the Viennese Actionism artists such as Gunter Brus, Otto Muhl, Hermann Nitsch, and Rudolf Schwarzkogler. A horrifying action is planned and carried out with audio-visual recording functioning to create grisly evidence of what took place. This structure for an audio-visual "artwork" can be thought of as the terminal structure-format for an audio-visual presentation: an abhorrent-horrifying action watched by a global audience of several billion tele-spectators.