Art and reality

Miguel Leal

We are facing the evidence of a world which has the form of a mutant, simultaneously real and apparent, compromising ourselves rapidly in a process of change and wear, involving sensory questions, of a social and political plan, and of our own physical survival.
In the sensory plan the spiral of the new technologies hasn't stopped proposing new relationships with the surrounding world. In this context vision has taken predominance when compared to the other senses, using prosthesis, capable of altering exponentially the capacity of the human eye, that acts as its extensions. Concomitantly the development of other systems have potentially enlarged the human body capacities and definitely contributed to disturb the space-time boundaries of reality. The tremendous changes implied in this process, that have made our idea of the world, over the last 150 years, and especially during this century, begin to depend greatly on Intermediaries (objects, images, reports,...), have not always been accompanied by a reflection on the new concepts that they involve.
It is then technology and its constant innovation that makes "the disorder of the senses a permanent condition", enabling therefore the "ultimate abolition of the differences, of the distinctions between nature and culture, utopia and reality"(1), in a process of constant acceleration, ratification and cataloguing, where everything feeds on kinetic energy, on the ability of normalizing and storing. The issue here is the subject while as bearer of inertia, because in spite of the acceleration process (we are all bolides in a real and figurative sense), the mediatization, like most of the accessory elements of post-industrialization, is threatening to work as a soporific, contributing to the construction of a "society of sleepers"(2), based on the lost of experience.
This disorder of the senses developed simultaneously and in consonance with a progressive world-wide commodification, creating a separated sphere where "everything that was directly experienced, retired into a representation"(3), in a gradual process of detachment between the reality experienced and the idea we have of that same reality. It is an operation of dissuasion that is always there, it does not hide, it dissimulates and simulates at the same time, always pretending, but always under our very eyes! All the mediatic device is accessible to us, or better still, it has access to us, apparently involving us in an irrevocable way.
The phenomenon could have been described as a duplication of reality or a replacement "of all the real process by Its operating double"(4). We found ourselves facing a displacement to another plan, where the power tries to obliterate, delude and at the same time, paradoxically, perpetuate that same reality.
Simultaneously, the specialization that involves several areas of performance, creating autonomous spheres not rarely impervious, contributes decisively to prevent the necessary connection with reality, keeping in mind "(...) the specialization of power, the oldest social specialization"(5). This challenge is placed to the various subjects that have achieved a certain degree of autonomy, revealing the necessary approach to the present, which is essential to establish the basis of a culture of resistance and interference, aware and critical of its setting and that does not confine to a partial and incomplete vision of a system that has structured everything to prevent that same critical project.

"The (relative) freedom of the art facing the vital praxis is the condition for the possibility of a critical knowledge of reality. A art that is no longer based on the vital praxis, but is completely apart, looses with the distance that also separates it from the capacity of criticizing it."(6)

Just like in society in general, so too in the sphere of art the disappearance represents the true (apparent) entry in reality. This paradox leads to a greater dissociation between life and art. The latter, as part of a subsystem and functioning with the rules of a wider system, establishes itself, in a distant and specialized way, as a double of reality.
Any approach of these questions should keep in mind the principle of autonomy of the art linked in its genesis to the gradual loss of its use value (social function). Here, the approach of the relationship between art and technique. and of the latter in the emancipation of the former. becomes essential. If on one hand "the decadence of the representative function"(7), deeply connected to the technological innovations, has a decisive place there, it is also true that these changes are impossible to dissociate from the development of society as a whole.
Art will have, then, been liberated "as much from the will to express its time as from the intention of foreseeing a time to come"(8), In a loss of connection with the real time, with the spirit of the time. The anything goes that surrounds this situation of indifference favours the exacerbation of subjectivity, contrary to the desirable disappearance of the subject who wishes to become a place of transit-g. a transitory vehicle of feeling and thinking the world.
It is by taking as starting point that concept of autonomy in art, a rather complex category, that we should proceed to a critique of the artistic production and of its chances of integration in society. This project, once attempted and failed by the vanguards of the beginning of the century, has revealed itself as a reference to some of the most Interesting developments in contemporary art, and is now imperatively up-to-date. Any possibility of reconstructing art. that is to say, of redefining its role and its social setting. has to consider the urgent, and in my opinion indispensable, relationship between the artistic production and the present time (or present reality), between art and the world to which the work has to belong.

March 1995

(1) Virilio, Paul; "Esthétique de la disparition", pág.107 (Paris, Éditions Balland, 1980)
(2) Idem; ibidem.
(3) Debord, Guy, "A sociedade do espectáculo", pág.1. (Lisboa, mobilis in mobile, 1991)
(4) Braudillard, Jean, "Simulacros e simulação", pág.9 (Lisboa, Relógio D'Água, 1991 ).
(5) Debord, Guy, ibidem, pág.17.
(6) Bürger, Peter; "Teoria da vanguarda", pág.92 (Lisboa, Vega, 1993 ).
(7) Idem, ibidem, pág. 64.
(8) Perniola, Mario; "Enigmas- O Momento Egípcio na Sociedade e na Arte", pág.123 (Lisboa, Bertrand Editora, 1994)
(9) Idem; Ibidem, pág.76.