l’art pour l’art. Beauty has always been traditionally associated with the arts and although I do enjoy aesthetic art, I have always found it a waste when art doesn’t do more. Last semester, when tasked to create, this was my response.
Let it Ignite passion’s light.
Let your art fill the soul.
Let it fight the good fight.
Remember the ugliness that fills the world’s sight.
Hear the people’s woe.
Use it to Ignite passion’s light
Do not turn from good’s plight.
Don’t you see good’s foe?
Lets fight the good fight.
Let us raze consciousness alight.
Begone with mindsets of old.
Let us ignite passion’s light.
Let it remove the world’s blight.
Make darkness pay its toll.
Lets fight the good fight.
Your art, don’t you see its might?
Let it let us be mighty, be strong, be bold.
Let it let us Ignite passion’s light.
Let it Let us fight the good fight.
As George Sand once said “Talent imposes duties. Art for the truth, art for the good, art for the beautiful – that is the religion I seek.” After reading Critical Vehicles, I truly believe that Krysztof Wodiczko’s work is truly the epitome of “art for the good”. I could only wish that my artwork could give a voice to the unseen and unheard as Krysztof Wodiczko does.
To understand Krystof Wodiczko’s works, we first need to take a look at his thoughts on the human condition and his philosophy on art.
“The subjects of that oppression were themselves often unaware of the extent to which they were an active component – a vital cog or gear- in that machine. Only under clinical conditions of such autocratic system could one fully understand the symptomatic dependency and incapacitation of the individual..”
He seems to find that there is widespread passivity that is spreading across human populations. We know about oppression and sometimes we are being opressed and yet we do nothing. Sometimes we fail to realise that we ourselves are participating in and helping run the very system that oppress and this perpetuates the very system.
“Rather I attempt to detect and trace conditions of life under the illusion or delusion of freedom – the hypocritical life we lead when we tale refuge in the machine of a political or cultural system while closing one eye to the implications of our own passivity or frankly speaking, complicity.”
Take for example, Singapore’s education system. We complain there is too much attention put onto grades and does not promote critical thinking and diversity. And yet how many times have we as students taken “Easy A mods” or how many times have we decided to blindly follow critique on our works without internalizing. Do we dare choose unpopular decisions for the sake of experimentation? On a society scale, Singaporean’s passivity itself perpetuates the city’s authoritarian government as it shows that it works. Which begs the question, why do we close one eye? Is it because all our basic needs are being met.
“Democracy is ill, silently suffering, and we must heal it, make it whole, of the wounds from hundreds of years of forced muteness and invisibility imposed on so many of its subjects. My work attempts to heal the numbness that threatens the health of democratic process by pinching and disrupting it, waking it up and inserting the voice, experiences, and presence of those others who have been silenced, alienated and marginalized.”
Watching the shitshow that is the Whitehouse happening in America and the disaster that is happening in Brexit right now you understand that democracy truly is very very ill. ideally, if we truly follow the ideas of the enlightenment philosophers, democracy can work, but only if everyone is equally heard. Listen carefully, whose voice has been heard to represent the people? Look carefully, who are the ones who are not seen because the very system forces them to hide. In the past, the voices of the black community and women were never heard. Who have replaced them?
“And to what degree is the machine simply a component of a much larger apparatus whether centrally controlled in authoritarian ways, operated at arm’s length by a liberal system, or run by the law of capitalisme sauvage?”
Once again, you look at America, once the flagship for democracy and you see SuperPacs and corporate funding of its politicians and you wonder, is it truly being run by the people, for the people? Do you think the same thing is happening in Singapore when our Government seems to have its fingers in everything and anything? (including the press and the banks)
Krysztof Wodiczko, sees the cogs and the systems that underpins modern human existence and sees the red flags and tries to get us to be aware of these flags. Simply put, Krysztof Wodiczko is someone who is clearly woke and he is trying to get all of us to be woke as well. And that is the purpose of his artworks, they are critical vehicles.
” A critical vehicle is, therefore a medium, a person, or a thing acting as a carrier for displaying or transporting vital ingredients and agents. It is set to operate as a truning point in collective or singular consciousness. It transmits those ideas and emotions that are indispensable to the comprehension of the urgency and complexity of a situation. In short, the critical vehicle is an “ambitious” and “responsible” medium – a person or a piece of equipment – that attempts to convey ideas and emotions in the hope of transporting to each human terrain a vital judgement toward vital change“
“…was conceived to spark a reaction of vital discontent inspiring new visions, counterpoints, and actions. I would thus like to use this vehicle not only as a conveyor of my ideas and feelings, but as an ongoing written invitation for readers to become critical “reagents” …”
Aren’t artworks that have purpose truly admirable? Krysztof Wodiczko not only tries to get viewers to think but it tries to inspires other content creators like us too to take action. It think as content creators we all have a responsibility to understand that the works we put out of the world can have consequence and ramifications. An artwork can be a critical vehicle without us meaning for it to do so. Especially know when in an era where viewers are sensitive of the media they consume us as content creators should step up our game too and at the very least be aware of the power that media holds.
“Design must articulate and inspire communication of real, often difficult lived through experience , rather than operate as a substitute for it”
“Design must put in doubts its search for all such often well-intended design solutions or self deconstructions, to open the way to explore ,discover ,uncover ,and expose the hidden dimensions of lived experience.”
And thus through this philosophy of trying to get viewers to be aware, reflect and take action, he tries to make his artworks critical vehicles through design.
“The appearance of interrogative design may “attract while scandalizing” – it must attract attention in order to scandalize the conditions of which it is born. Implicit in this design’s temporary character is a demand and hope that its function will become obsolete”
Obviously when trying to address a situation we must get people’s attention to the matter first in hopes that we wouldn’t need to attract people’s attention to it ever again in the future. Did the tree fall if there was no one in the forest to hear it fall? Did we raise important questions or come up with legitimate situations if there was no one there to experience it?
“Interrogative design can also function as a critical mirror questioning the user’s preconceptions and assumptions about others and about self.”
“One of the objectives of the design is to extend the use of the media of communication to those who have no access to them but who need them the most, and to those who have full access to them but who fail to take critical advantage of them”.
I think one problem with the art sphere is that it is very highbrow and closed off. We complain when that the arts in Singapore is not being appreciated enough and yet we seek validation only from fellow artists and fear rejection from those who “wouldn’t understand”. Doesn’t this form an echo chamber? Is our work truly good when it is being validated by people who already have similar mindsets to us? Shouldn’t we strive to reach out?
“I must admit that I may indeed be a nomad, since the meaning of my projects is strongly grounded in its specific terrain, which in each case I have attempted to approach with an attitude of usefulness, and to leave with a judgmental contribution.”
“I must express my critical detachment from what is generally called “art in public spaces.” …. Such work functions at best as liberal urban decoration“
Oof… I wonder what Krysztof Wodiczko would’ve thought of the Ilight and Night to Light festivals…
But on a more serious note, if we are to do works that are commenting and shedding light on society and the human condition naturally it has to change depending on where we are because one society will always ever be so different from the next, for humans are individuals and different contexts affects us all greatly.
Out of all of Krysztof Wodiczko’s work, I think two really spoke to me.
The first work would be City Hall Tower Projection, Krakow (1996)
“Among observers of the economic, social, political, and semantic transformations of urban space, there is growing concern that the city, with all its old and newly built architectural structures as well as their spatial configurations, is losing the ability to operate as a communicative environment”
“The unstable and uneven situation around them monuments is complemented by the transformation of the monuments themselves, which become victims of the same social aesthetic manipulation as the entire city.“
Wodiczko firstly was aware of the current state of the city and it its typically perceived desensitized and emotionless feel. (And this is in line with what we were talking about at the Urban Media Art Academy : City of Quantified Visions.) And sadly monuments, which were meant t be great, deteriorated with the new city aesthetic and thus sought to revitalize them.
“The meaning of city monuments – whether intentional or unintentional, historic or contemporary – must be secured today, as in the past, through the ability of the inhabitants to project and superimpose their critical thoughts and reflections on the monument forms“
“Everybody in Krakow identifies with this tower. Everyone has a special relation with it. Even people who live far away, on the outskirts of Krakw, see this tower as a special partner – a lonely if not historically alienated, but authoritative, stable protective, and trustworthy civic structure. Even the most critical and ironic minds of Krakow share with the rest of the city’s population this secret psychological architectural addiction and sustain a lifelong affair with the tower. Having already mentally projected themselves onto this tower, viewers were now faced with somebody else being projected on their projections.”
Monuments are powerful. To borrow Tania Toft’s words, they are in a way points of space time compression, points where the people’s consciousness, subconsciously congregate. And because of that they hold power, not only because of their history and the emotions tied to that, but also because of their current ever looming presence. Everyone in the city has a memory tied to a prominent monument, and Wodiczko realising this, uses the power that monuments have as a lever for his work to put issues onto the forefront of our consciousness.
“In front of our memorials and monuments, which were built to commemorate heroes of liberation, the flight to freedom, civil liberties, and the right of the individual pursuit of happiness, are facts such as homelessness, segregation, the isolation of individuals, and the destruction of community ties – all the processes that project themselves already on these monuments. My projection is a clarification or specific articulation of those projections.“
One again, as with site specificity, you can’t just project any video on the monument without knowing what it means to the people, its significance and its nuances. A good artwork would take this into account and project something that is not disassociated from the history tied to the monument.
“Not to speak through city monuments is to abandon them and to abandon ourselves, losing both a sense of history and the present. Today more than ever before, the meaning of our monuments depends on our active role in turning them into sites of memory and critical evaluation of history as well as places of public discourse and action. This agenda is not only social or political or activist, it is also an aesthetic mission.”
This work is truly powerful as it achieves so much on multiple levels. It is a commentary on the city and the people that are neglected. It empowers the people who are neglected by giving a them a voice and allowing them to be heard. It makes the viewers question, why do they only see this people, and are more inclined to believe in them only when their stories are being projected on a monument. And needless to say the stories told within themselves are powerful. I was most moved by the gay man who lost his brother’s love. Clearly this artwork was thought out with nuance and thought about carefully at every turn.
Now, to bring this to a Singaporean context, I would actually project this at the CBD on the business buildings that form Singapore’s skyline. It is a symbol and a medal of our rapid growth and I think more than the Merlion or the statue of Sir Stamford raffles (which I think tourist have a better connection with) it is the monument that is ever present in Singapore’s collective subconscious.
The second artwork that really spoke to me was Dis-Armor (1999-2000).
The misnomer is cleverly intentional. The idea to give someone physical armour to allow them to strip off their psychological ones to be able to open up puts light on just how serious it is when someone starts to put up psychological armour. Once again this artwork works on so many levels. It is a powerful tool for people rejected by society to open up. It is a commentary on the city and society that rejects what is not the stereotypical norm and how this has real impacts on people, it allows viewers to question, why do we reject these people, to the point where they can only talk to us with their backs. It is truly powerful.
Society is harsh and at first glance life might seem cruel. But I think this artwork shows that no matter what, no matter how long we have left society, it is always there to welcome us back. Yes sure, we might need to wear a Gundam inspired suit of armour, but yet there is still hope.
I think what I really like most about Wodiczko’s work is that not only do they have purpose but that they are very kind and through that kindness he instills hope. In an era that seems rife with all that is wrong, kind works like Wodiczko are greatly appreciated. I can only hope that my works can fill hearts with the same warmth I felt reading about his work.
Thank you for taking time to read this post and I hope you have a nice day 🙂