the hell of the beautiful

I thought that was the best title I’ve seen in a long time, but then my next work is called hell, so I’m a bit biased. Also I’m pretty much just immersed in the collective fascination with the Baroque and the aesthetic gore of horror and grotesque. So, any exhibition with the title The Hell of the Beautiful is obviously going to have me slipping off my chair, and that’s even before I’ve read the artists’ list. The exhibition is at Salamanca Ciudad de Cultura, and there’s some really cool stuff on it at da2salamanca.

In general, we have approached the Neo-Baroque from three complementary viewpoints. Firstly, we have taken those pieces that literally refer to historical Baroque or reinterpret it from a current perspective, such as the work of Philippe Bradshaw, Lars Nilsson, Elena del Rivero or Eve Sussman, who refer to Boucher, Poussin and Velazquez, respectively. In other cases we have selected work that from a formalist point of view could be considered “Baroque,” in which ornamentation, allegorical impulse, tendency to excess predominate – with the Dionysian, the grotesque, the mask, transvestism, or blown-up painting. Within this section we have included artists like Matthew Barney, Erwin Olaf, Assume Vivid Astro Focus or Fabián Marcaccio. Lastly, we have selected work that can be considered conceptually Baroque, due to the extraordinary “vanitas” created, in pieces by Jake and Dinos Chapman or Berlinde de Bruyckere, installations by Jan Fabre, Judith Barry and Juan Muñoz, or the fascinating reflection on immigration by Julian Rosefeldt.

— Nonstarving Artists

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perdido street station

I’ve just got my laptop back, with a new 80 gig fast drive replacing the slow, small very worn-out old one. Yay! for AppleCare for covering it. So the last three days have been a slow process of installing software, checking for updates, installing more software, endless repairing permissions, restarts, checking everything is working… the usual.

In-between all of that, I’ve had my head buried in the monster work of China Mieville, Perdido Street Station. I’d been looking for Iain M. Banks’ new novel, but not finding it, followed the recommendations, “If you like blahblablah, you might also like blahblah…” The cover art was good, and at 640 pages I figured it’d get me through the next week till I fly back to China. Wrong. Like the best work of Banks, the richness of the alien world and city of New Crobuzon was so transfixing, I finished it in five days. Bugger. Now I’ll have to go out and buy his other books.

the age of the grotesque

Another day of reading magazines at The Wall in East St Kilda, and one of the best images of the year stops me in my tracks.

My current issue in making dance is how to make it without making any. Moves, that is. How to recreate the feeling of watching dancers move blindingly fast, always on the verge of disaster, crashing, colliding, everything turning to shit, yet in the middle of this holocaust of complexity it all survives. Making stuff like that takes time, it’s like microsurgery, painstakingly reattaching every capillary with invisible, microscopic sutures.

Then also holding on to two incompatible directions in what I do, one towards a zero degree of performance, the other simultaneously a baroque opulence of spectacle. And to regard this as ballet, as dance by virtue solely of using dancers in what otherwise are more like performance art installations.

Earlier last year I read all of Iain M Banks’ Culture series and his other Science-Fiction books. In particular I was taken by the space ship Sleeper Service, in which people who wanted to take a break from the culture for a few hundred years or so could go into suspended animation, on one condition. They would become part of a tableau of famous historic events, the largest of which was the final land battle of a pre-contact culture.

The point in all of this, is how to recreate in the real world the abilities of the virtual. How to recreate what exists in film, photography, computer-generated visual effects, not as a sculpture of inanimate objects but with real people, with all the appearance of being frozen in time. How to reduce dance, and in particular the formal spectacle of ballet down to a single, motionless instant. To recreate Goya’s Disasters of War using shop mannequins as the Chapmans did is one thing in the game of simulacra. To do the same with human corpses is absolutely another. To do it without falling victim to cheap shock tricks… To do it with live people…

So thinking of all of this while getting ready for the installation/performance in Guangzhou in a month, and reading some magazine, I saw the work of Sue de Beer. A work of genius. Then Emile told me the NGV has a free exhibition on at the moment, Grotesque: The Diabolical and Fantastic in Art, with works by from Goya and the Chapmans. Oh horror, how I adore you.