Thoughts on Deterioration
Much like Nietzsche´s Übermensch are accepting the recurrence of life and not placing human life on the top of life but accepting human`s limitations, is Daodejing as the concept were introduced by the poet and philosopher Lao Tzu understood as everything being in a constant transformation process. The presence is connected to a next phase and is an immortal sequence of presence and there is no Genesis with a reference point to a beginning or an end. Superimposing this concept of time on the performance artist Marina Abramovic´s performance The Artist is Present in which she perform a super human´s (woman’s) ability to endure 700 hours sitting and only making eye contact with visitors on 35 days. The timelessness in this performance becomes an act with no intention or aim behind. Her sitting and eye contact is a time that represents orderliness and it can metaphorically never be interrupted. The many personal and emotional stories the visitors are unfolding in front of her are untimeliness interruption of the temporal order which she is performing.
Marina Abramovic´s historical position in the field of art performance and her ambition of bringing art performance into mainstream does at the first impression make the statement of The Artist is Present appear to be a rampant recycling of the still widely distributed Greenbergian modernist concept that the artist has access to true authenticity. Also, does the incorporation of the spotlighted but delimited square device play on the connotations of a religious ritual of (superstar) audience. And although entirely different from real time and only interpreted from a streamed Youtube channel, these elements together seem to interfere with and disturb the elegant simplicity of the main device of intimacy. The intimacy of eye contact is instead dominated by the sensational and theatrical elements. However, Abramovic´s mainstream ambition of performance is well distributed by the two old ghosts of authencity and audience because they have been around for a long time, it is common luggage for the man in the street and helps to convey performance in general to a wider public.
The original idea of the making of Deterioration was to explore my initial concepts of transformation and destruction performed in relation to materials only. I was curious to contrast the spectacular, emotional and bodily intentional transformation processes with a more silent, less obvious and a less intentional transformation process. I was therefore interested in investigating natural deterioration processes which are almost invisible to the eye because of its slow pace. It seems thrilling because of the inevitable effects are caused by time and cause a collapse of a given structure. By contrasting the intentional with the unintentional transformation process, I was intuitionally searching to understand and dive deeper into both concepts.
However, the decision making process evolved Deterioration were similar to the ephemeral learning process the learning philosopher Donald A. Schön has pinned down as reflection-in-action. He has explained ”a good conversation is where there comes surprise, and in response to the surprise, one improvises, and the other does the same. And that is the reciprocal process of improvisation.”
My process was an influx process mainly based on ping-pong with sketches, then reflection, and then making decisions. Both the reflection and the decisions making process happened very fast and almost without notice. In this thinking process the ability of the visual ideas from the sketches in my sketchbook to generate surprise were the essential nutritions to the potential response in the reflection and the decisions making processes.
My initial idea was to reintroduce miniature models which I used on an earlier stage in my art practice. But this time by guiding the miniature models through different ”art-value” modes. On the first stage to introduce the model as a precious art object, then in the next sequence immediately start to challenging this concept by diverting the perception of the encoded precious art object through the recycling process of deterioration.
Through this ping-pong process I realized that it was crucial to keep a continuity of the bodily performance work. I therefore decided to scale up the miniature model to a size in which my own body could fit. I did this because I also had an ambition of being loyal to the knowledge which I had gained through my prior practice´s use of mixed references to both the painter Wilhelm Hammerhøi´s interior paintings and to Abstract Expressionist colourfield painting. By making use of prior practice’s devices in order to bridge my practice to the latter, I coincidentally realized that the composition of Deterioration does have references to the painter James McNeill Whistler´s Arrangement in Grey and Black no. 1 (also known as Whistler´s Mother) by his works considerable influence on Hammerhøi´s work.
By involving my own body in the scene and performing a reflecting figure while in the scene and documenting the performances the scene in which I have situated outside in my own garden are filmed every week until it disappear into dust. By then documenting the degeneration process of both the dead materials and my own body, the document of Deterioration explores two different unintentional deterioration processes which are staggeredly progressing but in the same space. Thus, my body is partly degenerating because of the body´s cells by the time becomes less and less able to produce energy for the cell division processes and are constructing a poorer cell structure everytime it is renewing it. The cell divisions shorten the chromosomes and therefore, at a certain point, the chromosomes are unable to divide themselves anymore and to reproduce new cells. This process is happening parallel to the space I am performing within but are decomposed by fungi and bacteria processes are on various stages.
In this way Deterioration has references to the Daodejing view that ”Human beings are not essentially different from dogs – even straw dogs. Just as a straw dogs turns into fuel for the fireplace, human beings will not turn into heavenly ancestor but, rather, something as the wood for a crossbow”.
This immortal recycling process has dual themes between my video performance Deterioration and Marina Abramovic´s The Artist is Present. Both performances are endless repetitions of sitting actsconveying the Daodejing concept of time and immortality in which the complementary elements of life and death is a continued recycling process of reproduction in an orderliness. The Artist is Present is on a metaphorically level drawing references to immortality, whereas Deterioration literally performs immortality by stressing the time period of the work to the inescapable decomposition of the dead materials and the degeneration process of my body becomes visible.
Originally, I intended to introduce a Dadaist deadpan like humour where I was just sitting inside an interior scene which was placed outside and the time was just passing by. The weather therefore became an important factor which would deteriorate the materials but as well change the mood of the film everytime a new sequence was put together. Where I was re-entering the scene everytime I went out to my garden and filmed the scene. But during the editing process I realized that to re-enter the scene in every new sequence would become a too dominating device. As I had realized in the editing process of the Degeneration, I needed to develop a video which was only working with the mind. To re-entering the scene in every new sequence would disturb rather than convey the mediative conditions. I therefore edited it so that I am only entering the video in the beginning. At a certain point it became evident to me that I could add absurdity to the deadpan humour by making my garden visible rather than cutting it out of the frames.
By making my body´s entrance into the scene visible in the Deterioration I perform the figure of an ordinary man in the street who is just coming in at the very beginning of the video performance and is reflecting in entirely loneliness. In this way, my character in Deterioration represent a nihilistic ”erosion of the extraordinary”, an anti-hero, a nobody and the trivial. Whereas Marina Abramovic´s superwoman by her endless endurance of the sitting acts were performed in the highly institutionalized space of Museum of Modern Art empowered her audiences and by the frame set up she emphasize her extraordinary position as an artist. The only contact I can have with the audiences in the white cube is by frequently looking into the camera lens.