“But what has this to do with me?” gasped a middle-aged financial advisor, struggling hard to absorb the immaculate awe-inspiring Pollock in front of him.
Art often tends to produce a cult-like presence. As much as one might believe one has the capacity and ability to understand ‘Art’, the nuanced symbolism, the mystery hid in the vividness, the ability to spot the truths in the lies and the lies in the truths is not a common man’s prerogative. Lending to the Realists and Romanticist who have claimed that art imitates life, and even the Modernists who have relied gravely on life for inspiration, later rendered this communication into untranslatable Martian. I don’t claim to speak about you, the artist, rather speak of that van driver, or the English professor, the college librarian who reads Ghalib in the dim lit flat room after a long tiring shift, but struggles endlessly to appreciate Robert Ryman. But would it be fair to say that while art chooses words and syllables that might be indecipherable, they are not untranslatable. Art is not in the colossal rather in the mystery, it is in the space between the right and the wrong. It is within the laughter of tragedy and in sobs of joy.
A much perceived adopted sibling of art, if life would be the father, is design. Design to a greater accepted belief is categorized as applied arts, or when art lends its aesthetic sensibility into creating an object that may come to be of a functional value. Design a world where principles, laws and rules, a certain amount of engineering and technique, craft and skill surmount higher than the subject matter. It is of a greater significance and utmost necessity that these laid down principles be followed at all times, thus in their absences design might not be measured in excellence. Despite the limitations, design has a greater resonance with the common man. After figuring out its functionality, one is rest assured to make it part of the everyday. It doesn’t require any books to have read, any philosophies to figure out to understand it. It is for what it is and nothing more.
However indigestible or intangible, art today testifies to be a secular land of experimentation. Its laid-backed persona, despite as common belief distant it might seem, art is all-inclusive, interdisciplinary. The post-modern thought allows for such an interdisciplinary approach towards an understanding where the utilitarian objects hybridize with abstract symbolism. Can there be osmosis of both the worlds to create unison between design and art? I by no means suggest that the polarity of both the schools is based on the presence and absence of craft and/or skill, rather question the polarity within the function/aesthetics polarity and how can one liberate from within these divisions and heed towards a hybridized interdisciplinary school.
A novel innovative thought of “Wearable art” presents to us a marriage between jewelry and sculpture, how function and utility move beyond the realm of aesthetics and adorn itself with science, biology and math. Artists experiment with human heat, gravity and human breath to create sculptural objects that move beyond static jewelry items. They adapt to their environments as if they were live beings, having an identity and life span of their own. They respond and react to human presence, emerging within them evolving parameters and situations that perhaps a static object might not inhabit.
Naomi Kizhner presents to us a series of invasive wearable objects that convert kinetic energy produced by involuntary movements in a human body to energy. Immaculate and delicately designed wearable items made out of gold, custom fit to various parts of the body, wrists, shoulder, bridge of the nose, pick up and harvest the movement of blood in the veins, movement of eyes blinking, neurological pulse. Engineered levers and pistons convert the movement and create energy that can be preserved and recycled. A much futuristic approach to design provides an understanding of life in a rather practical way. Commenting on the energy crisis that world is going though at the moment and predictably will increase in the future, Kizhner’s wearable objects unveil this post-humanistic reality.
Art imitates life, no longer just by a removed and static series of representation, but through a more participatory holistic system. The system has a direct connection to the common man, who is the viewer, participator and contributor to thought and action. The mysteries of materials and medium and the performative relationship of the human body to material once experimented by Pollock or Duchamp, now incorporate into itself materials that are of more overarching classifications and disciplines.
To a bigger surprise, we see ‘Cloaca’ by Wim Delvoye, well-engineered defecating machine. Highly sophisticated installation designed by Delvoye is a replicated and magnified device of the human digestive system. Meat, fish, vegetables pass through giant blender, acids and liquid enzymes, getting the same treatment as in ones body, and after two days came out as a filtered unit of human feces. Is this the new form of figurative work or self-portrait? Van Gogh might perhaps nod or shake his head. Delvoye invests into the installation a sound understanding of engineering and design, incorporating an interpretation of the human body and realities of life that are hidden, covert and mysterious. They take us out of the shell of what we know and make us stand face to face in front of Life, raw, uninterrupted Life.
Contemporary understating of Art cannot be measured or confined, rather it lends from disciplines that have a greater over arching approach. Art has imitated life for centuries and perhaps this dialogue will continue to go on, one just needs to add on syllables, adjectives and verbs, which allow for a more cross-disciplinary discourse.
Natasha Jozi is a performance artist, poet and writer. With a Master’s in Studio Arts majoring in Performance Art from Montclair University, she currently resides and works in Islamabad.