Sunday, May 9, 2010

"The Rape of Africa" at MOCCA

The photo on the exterior wall at MOCCA seems to be a critique of The West. It isn’t. A critique is a subject closely studied: studied to a critical degree. “Critical” in the moral sense is more like judgment or denunciation. “Critical” in the academic sense is a degree, a measurement of rigor, honesty.

The attributes of art are similarly enumerated and then assembled pell-mell into a mere facsimile of art. If art is always transgressive, for instance, being transgressive must be the path to art: but his is putting effect before cause. But since there are so many more imitators than originators, the political case in sheer numbers always weighs the scales toward not the cause but the effect, to the shadow and not the thing, the imitator and not the originator. This is what makes the art world seem to be so political. (“Transgressive” is another bullshit word by the way. Trangressive cannot be an attribute of an action since to transgress means to act beyond a boundary. It is in itself an act, not an attribute.)

Of course it’s nothing of the kind (truly political). Try to bring up any topic and I mean that literally. Not a single topic will be discussed in even the most shallow depth but strenuously avoided. If one says: “This is bullshit” as I said today, one gets “That’s the artist’s style,” as if that were a perfectly reasonable retort. “To talk bullshit is his style?” I aked. The man’s jaws were clenching. “Who are YOU to challenge anything anybody says?” is the real content of his retort which pretends to be polite while being as rude as anything could possibly be. I would answer, “who am I not to?” And the answer to that is, since everything’s democratic, it’s unfair to say something is true or false, is good or bad or that something is better than another. When I said Canon makes their articulating screen properly and Nikon’s is perversely wrong by hinging at the bottom instead of the side, the salesman gave me the same line: it was Nikon’s style and that it was very useful for shooting low and high. Yes it is. I have one and it is useful for those two things. But the Canons I have hinge at the side and can be used to shoot low, high, around a corner and you can see your party in the viewfinder when taking a portrait on a tripod whereas Nikon’s viewfinder is hidden by the tripod. Is there any doubt one is better than the other? But nothing can be right or wrong anymore.

We’ve become inured to such bullshit, allowing it to sort of run down our legs, if you’ll permit me the crudity. Actually, since the culture is an open sewer of strong deodorant and feces, my crudity is apt and mild.

The photograph purports to show “The Rape of Africa.” The Spanish and their gold (don’t, for God’s sake, forget the gold cross!), Rome and its ruins (beside a modern crane, of course) and a Cupid character attempting to waken Psyche [sorry: Venus and Mars... ed], America in other words, which sleeps away its role as new Imperator, the new rapist-in-waiting to exercise his noblesse oblige who unconsciously lies effete as an Adam on a Sistine Chapel, finger at the ready to receive the touch not of God but of the pavement below. Africa herself lounges, one pretty breast exposed, cheesecake style, Playboy style.. How many women about to be raped precede the act with the words: “C’mon, big boy. Why sleepest thou?”

But it makes a decent backdrop for the occasional photograph of real people living real lives. I’ll give it that. Oh! The technical Mastery! I almost forgot to drool! But isn’t it that very technical facility that makes the (evil) West (successes) the oppressors of the (saintly) non-Westerners (losers)? I’ll leave it to you to decide whether or not it constitutes hypocrisy.

But I will say the color of the photograph is completely unintegrated with the figures and their grounds. From a purely visual point of view it has all the content (feeling) of a McDonald’s restaurant interior design or a Disneyland. Feeling blocked and iron barred. The iconography is a compendium of cliches.

I don’t know the name of the “artist” and don’t care what his parents called him. His mural speaks against, against, against... It speaks FOR nothing. And that is its fatal failure.

© Dan Goorevitch
[Update: David LaChapelle is the artist responsible for "The Rape of the West"]

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