This is the second in a series on visual artists who have embraced, redefined and subverted the computer-generated imaging (CGI) and 3D-simulation modeling originally developed to compose special effects graphics and animation in mainstream film, video, gaming, and high end advertising. See Part 1 of this series, Projecting the Future of Painting in Claudia Hart's 3D Utopian eScapes; Part 3, And Some See God: Getting to the CORE in the 3D and Immersive Art of Kurt Hentschlaeger. and Part 4, PostPictures: A New Generation of Pictorial Structuralists is Introduced by New York's bitforms Gallery.
On February 16, 2013, The Sonnabend Gallery in New York presented The Celestial Sea, a new series of sculpture, painting and 3D animation video by Matthew Weinstein. For further information, consult The Sonnabend Gallery website or matthewweinstein.com..
Matthew Weinstein isn't the first artist to take on the 1950s Situationist guru, Guy Debord, and his warnings against the decadence of spectacle. He isn't even the first to hold out the vision (or is it the warning?), that when the revolution comes it will entertain us with such splendidly animated spectacles, we will want to retreat with them into our own hedonistic and solipsistic worlds, the kind we might describe as Disney fantasias on meth. Or, if you prefer a more de-accelerating bliss, on heroin. We were served notice of such a future in the cyberpunk novels of Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, Pat Cadigan, and Bruce Sterling as early as the late 1960s--and then the barrage of cyberpunk films to follow.
But until the Matthew Weinstein Studio phased into being, we didn't see the narration of spectacle played out in the art world with the combined mise-en-scène of Wagnerian opera, the technical illusionism of Pixar and Dreamworks, and the media eclecticism of a Venice Biennale, all in one space. Incorporating sculpture, painting, video, narrative, poetics, and animation in a single spatial production, Weinstein oversees a kaleidoscopic array of recombinant materiality and imagery. In so doing, he manages to simultaneously embody and orchestrate the elliptical narratives and detailed visions of a novelist, while reflecting the silver fluidity of the mystic to illuminate the deepest recesses of the poetic mind. He finishes his productions off with the kind of social scrutiny and epistemological mirroring one expects of a philosopher. And that's only after Weinstein the artist has mediated his private battle between aesthetic principles and indulgent spectacles. In staging installations and videos as entertainments, Weinstein is both artist and impresario, adapting equally well to gallery settings and performance settings. His biggest commission so far has been with The Charlotte Symphony, where on May 4, 2012, Weinstein premiered a 16-minute original animated video on a screen suspended above the orchestra in sync with its performance of Ravel's Bolero.
Matthew Weinstein, The Childhood Of Bertolt Brecht, 2012.
In mixing 3D animation videos with a full array of mixed media to physically embody a stream-of-consciousness imaginarium, Weinstein plays a kind of tantalizing antichrist to Situationist christ figure, Guy Debord. The French artist, who played a key role in the development of political art activism in Europe and America in the 1950s and 1960s, felt passionately that vital art could only exist "beyond the ruins of the modern spectacle," with the spectacle defined as the array of capitalist entertainments and promotions keeping people alienated from the natural world. Debord is legendary for his predictions for culture in tandem with political consciousness, particularly where entertainment is concerned. At the very beginning of the television age, Debord predicted the "abundance of televised imbecilities" would account for "the American working class's inability to develop any political consciousness." Like Bertolt Brecht, Debord's Situationist morality still has a profound hold over the art world ascetics who, despite (or because of) the orgy of ostentatious consumption of art on display at auction houses around the world, persevere in their assumed project of breaking the spell of the spectators' psychological identification with spectacle. It all comes back to Bertolt Brecht, the German Marxist playright who Debord drew heavily from, and who professed that imposing a distance between the audience and the art drew the audience out from their own narcissistic indulgences, so to realize their full capacity to effect revolution in the real world.
It's Debord's and Brecht's aversion to immersive entertainments to which Weinstein responds in parodying the so-called "ruins of the modern spectacle" we today live in when he revives and contemporizes the medieval danse macabre. I mean both his 3D animated video, Skeleton Dance, 2010 (see the 2nd video below), and the bronze skeletons flying through galleries to catch a golden frisbee. What can they signify but the remains of a once-golden utopia of Modernist art, with flesh eaten away by the decadence of capitalist excesses and a plethora of artistic visions colliding in a competition for art world celebrity. Or so the more puritanical advocates of an art devoid of entertainment would have us believe about the excesses in the art world that we've witnessed at least since the 1980s, and growing more ostentatious with each decade.
Weinstein seems to have the critics of the new art largesse (and one might suspect a disillusionment with his own youthful idealism) in mind as he crafts his video, The Childhood of Bertolt Brecht. It's here that wee, young Bertolt, Weinstein's age-regressed version of the renowned bronze portrait sculpture of Brecht on the Bertolt Brecht Platz in Berlin, introduces himself and his vision.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, when the revolution comes ... people will call each other sweetie-pie and kitten and poopsie. They will blow kisses at each other and hug without touching. And we will forgive them because we will know that this behavior is a part of something bigger, much bigger, something so big that space people will crane their necks out of their spaceships to see it, but we will cover the earth with a gigantic piece of red velvet, and we will say, 'no, NO! You can't see it yet. It isn't finished."
Whatever his motives or fixations, Weinstein is ventriloquizing through young Bertolt what I and others have been proclaiming for years to be the beginning of a movement underway within the art world--a revolution that, though slow to be embraced, is accumulating an audience from around the world. It's a movement intent on implementing a future in which pictures on walls will one day no longer predominantly be painting, prints and still photography, but motion pictures. Within this movement will be the sub-class of artists who ensure the revolution will not be merely filmed, but virtualized by computer-generated imaging software (cgi). This group will further consist of those artists eager to digitally extend the same primitive sensory-motor capacity from which arose those first drawings and paintings of Paleolithic cave and rock art; pueblo ceramic decoration; Sung Dynasty ink washes; Renaissance sfumato and Baroque chiaroscuro; ukiyo-e wood prints; the myriad techniques of etching, engraving, and lithography; all the impressionisms and expressionisms; and, yes, the pixel-perfect Disney and Pixar fantasias. I'm referring, of course, to the 3D animators who despite their Macs and Maya software, employ the same eye-hand coordination from which arose the invention and evolution of drawing and painting--though now it is applied in the name of the world's enhancement via 3D entertainments.
Entertainment is the art world's last frontier. Along with the art cognoscenti's larger resistance to mass-producing affordable art multiples and DVDs geared to an expanding art-educated public, the obstacle slowing the 3D revolution down is a resistance by many to an art of entertainment for what is perceived as its indulgence in gratuitous pleasure. Pleasure: the most ancient anathema to ascetics and aesthetes alike. And yet, the pleasure principle has washed in increasingly larger waves over the shore of artistic production with eash successive generation since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. In response, we who count ourselves as culturophiles, and believing we protect ourselves with a distinction between art and entertainment, have clung to a perceived higher ground. But that ground has been chipped away to the point that it is about to cave in with the avalanche of cgi. If we seem desperate to hold onto the perilous cliff overhanging the vast canyon of global markets, it's because in an increasingly secular world, the only spiritual sustenance both defensible and competitive comes with an increasingly materialist world view. And amid the materialism, art is the fetish still able to instill and facilitate a complex of psychological requirements: catharsis, self-atonement, elevated consciousness, identity transference, the creative drive--all while art is posed as our bid for the respectability and esteem accorded our counterparts in the sciences.
We are ever ready to admit that the issue, like many issues that artists are passionate about, is comparatively unimportant on the list of existential necessities. And yet, when our beloved, "serious" arts are invaded by the aesthetics of entertainment, even when only in the name of parody, we become alarmed that the sacrilege of shallow pleasures might truly corrupt the temples of our artistic worship. Entertainment may always be the snob's bane, the aesthete's thorn, the princess's pea beneath the pile of mattresses. But entertainment has no less become the economic force threatening to reflect the art world as we know it to be today: a throwback to the 17th-century, dependent not on the democratic tastes of the masses, as is the entertainment industry, but on the patronage, the noblesse oblige, of aristocracy, or what today translates as oligarchy with all its whims distended by oppulance every bit the equal, if not surpassing, Versailles.
To indicate just how seriously invested Weinstein is in the revolution that will bring entertainment to the art world, I'm citing largely verbatim the promotional copy from Weinstein's website to convey the full commitment of his creative ethos, facilities and production process.
Weinstein assembled a small animation production community that assists in the production of his ... fully realized 3D characters, beginning with drawings and pre-visualization, all the way through to texturing, animation, dynamics, hair and cloth. He then works with actors and musicians (Balkan Beat Box, Natasha Richardson, Hope Davis, Adultnapper) to bring his characters to life. The characters then perform narratives and songs that Weinstein writes for them. Along the way, Weinstein has built up an index of characters, sets, environments and plant forms which constitute a virtual architecture surrounded by a virtual nature that is populated with virtual beings. These 3D elements, like stage sets, costumes, locations and actors, can be recombined and re-contextualized in different pieces. Weinstein has assembled a production facility in his studio in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where 3D animation, sculpture, writing, research, painting, rehearsal, choreography and live motion capture of actors and dancers all occur simultaneously. His studio mimics, in miniature, the 'Dream Factories,' of classic American film.
Weinstein ... begins with the writing of a script and song lyrics. This leads to the creation of virtual characters, which arise out of creative and technical discussions with the animators in Weinstein's studio. Then the actors and musicians work on the dialogue and the music, which is edited into the sound layer of the film. They also explore how the characters move in space by working within a motion capture grid and stage that has been assembled in Weinstein's studio. As soon as the characters are capable of posing in their custom environments, Weinstein can begin to prepare paintings of them. These paintings are created with airbrush, precision stenciling, and hand painting. Sculptures also come out of the virtual wire frames for the characters that, through rapid prototyping processes, eventually jump straight out of the computer.
Matthew Weinstein, Skeleton Dance, 2010.
Clearly, Weinstein's cottage industry is as state of the art as a solo production can get on a comparatively modest, independent budget. It certainly helps that Weinstein has had ample background in theater, acting, film, screen writing, commercial art, product design and 3D animation.
But is entertainment really the thief in the citadel that Weinstein believes it to be? However much the myth of art as exalted masterpiece still grips the hearts and minds of artists, critics, curators and collectors, the threads of entertainment that have expanded within the art world since the 1980s is wrongly perceived as a collective effort to "bring art down to the level of popular culture"--which might mean making art less structurally, thematically, conceptually complex. The error in this thinking lies within the single-minded direction presumed necessary to bringing parity to art and entertainment. Why is a cumulative effort for parity by visual artists conceived of metaphorically as a downward spiral? Why can't visual and conceptual artists raise entertainment to the level prejudicially ascribed to art? After all, the more high-minded popular artists within the fields of entertainment have long sought, and with numerous succeeding (we all have our lists), to raise entertainment to the level of art.
The source for the myth, the superstition really, however distasteful it seems to a secular enclave of artists, is religion. Hedonistic pleasures, which is the basis of popular entertainments, was proscribed for millennia. From shamans to mystics to stoic philosophers to political activists to scientists: all regarded pleasure to be antithetical to knowledge, enlightenment, salvation, and the attainment of paradise (where only then can pleasures be trusted). But we, in the art world, really have no right to be so disturbed and disgruntled by the inspired and received promise of a future holding out art in parity with entertainment. It's been nearly two centuries that the age-old conviction that art is more noble and ennobling than entertainment had first shown itself to be vulnerable to the erosions of an increasingly relativistic civilization. Among the first significant responses to photography and the advances in printing that came with the Industrial Revolution is the prescient remark in 1835 by the German philosopher, Ludwig Feuerbach, that civilization had come to prefer the copy of life to the original.
Depictions of entertainments, meanwhile, slipped into the canvases of the avant-garde painters Manet, Monet, Degas, Renoir, and ultimately yielded the vulgar night life of Toulouse-Lautrec and the young Picasso. A full century ago, the Dada artists brought popular objects and their iconography into the field of art making as political protest against the masterpieces that failed to tame the barbarisms of the monarchies who unleashed the First World War. Visionaries such as Hannah Höch, Raoul Haussman, John Heartfield, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, and Marcel Duchamp scandalized aesthetes by making art that provoked laughter as their response to a world taking itself so seriously that war and destruction was its natural response to adversity.
The Surrealists were natural entertainers in taking up Freud's cue that puns, and the seemingly inanity of dreams, were a path to healthy behaviors. Humorous plays on language run throughout the paintings of Salvador Dali and the films of Luis Buñuel, as they do in the work of Merit Oppenheim, Max Ernst, and later Yves Klein. Giorgio De Chirico also entertains, though he opts for the trope (or is it the parody?) of suspense over humor. It can even be said that the Surrealists gave future generations of artists permission to entertain. Certainly Robert Rauchenberg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Marisol Escobar, Claes Oldenberg, Yayoi Kusama, Louise Bourgeois, and most every purveyor of Pop Art thought so. So did Nam June Paik as he brought a punning video art to the dreaded TV, and in architecture, Robert Venturi taught that we should learn from the vernacular signage of the Las Vegas strip and its casinos instead of from the colonnades, palladiums, palaces and cupolas of Athens, Rome, Paris, Isfahan, or even New York and Chicago.
But whether as a reaction or as an independent assertion of aesthetic puritanism, the increased politicization of culture in the 1960s and 1970s led to severe, even ascetic proscriptions. This is nowhere better conveyed than in Minimalist art, Conceptualism and the spread of Situationist anti-aesthetics that pared down expression and content to barest structure and sparest concept. The minimalist puritanism holding artists back from employing entertainments is nowhere better expressed than in the famous 1965 "No Manifesto" issued by the dancer and choreographer, Yvonne Rainer. Rainer's spare approach to dance grew as much out of Bertolt Brecht's distancing effect in theater as from the reductionist dictates of minimalist sculpture. Her intent: to eliminate any and all elements in her staged performances (and later her films) that might lead to entertainments. Her method of negation says:
"No to spectacle. No to virtuosity. No to transformations and magic and make-believe. No to the glamour and transcendency of the star image. No to the heroic. No to the anti-heroic. No to trash imagery. No to involvement of performer or spectator. No to style. No to camp. No to seduction of spectator by the wiles of the performer. No to eccentricity. No to moving or being moved."
As Rainer's Brechtian-inspired manifesto indicates, Weinstein has good reason to settle on Brecht as the catalyst and pillar of the anti-entertainment sentiment in art making. Before Brecht, the bourgeois Left in the 19th century may have been wary of enjoying the same arts accorded privilege by the aristocracies of Europe, while the aristocrats were indifferent to the entertainment of the masses. It is ironic that Marx and Engles, neither of whom wrote any major directives on art, are well known for having followed the aristocracy and academics in their prejudice for the classics of Virgil, Plautus, and Persius; the medieval German poets Gottfried von Strassburg and Wolfram von Eschenbach, and the modern literature of Balzac, Dickens, Schiller and Heine. The irony is, besides being writers who possess a social consciousness and a basis in history--which inform the 19th-century narrative of all the machinations of personal drives and passions that act as cause and effect for poverty, war and division of humanity by class--most of these writers, as well as a great portion of the classics written before and since, have shaped the entertainments of the masses in both theater and film.
Among art-political dissidents, it isn't until after the October Revolution in Russia that a number of artist-workers drew up the manifestos of the art of agitprop, which severely demarcated the difference between the art of the bourgeoise and the proletariat. But agitprop quickly became discredited with the tragic assumption by Stalin over the guardianship of culture and the great Communist persecution of artists. We know too well of how Socialist Realism was made the only acceptable and official art of the Soviets and later of the Chinese and Communist Southeast Asian nations.
Seen against the backdrop of the purges of the Red East, Brecht was the West's more moderate representative of what became exaggeratedly called Marxist aesthetics. Rather than coerce audiences into becoming revolutionaries, he appealed to playrights, stage directors, and their audiences to choose to be liberated from bourgeois entertainments. Brecht's principle of theatre, and by implication all art, is an outgrowth of Marx's description of Dialectical Materialism at work in the progressive evolution of civilization. In short, Brecht urged that viewers should be afforded the narratives that provide insight on the world, but artists and spectators alike should strive to keep from identifying emotionally with the characters or action unfolding before them, while in place of being entertained, we should critically reflect on what the action on the stage means in terms of the well being of society. Brecht's "distancing effect" as it became known, and his opposition to Hitler's National Socialist movement, together endeared him to the Left, to the extent that the love affair with his method is still championed by not just political advocates around the world, but by intellectuals and avant-gardes of all stripes working today.
Matthew Weinstein, Chariots of the Gods, 2009; Natassha Richardson, voiceover.
Brecht's distancing effect can even be seen used by Weinstein himself as he seeks to elevate entertainment by infusing it with ironic structures and motifs that scrutinize and satirize slack populist productions, while aspiring to raising the I.Q. of the entertainment enthusiast. But in this he differs little from the performance artist Laurie Anderson, the rock musician David Byrne, or the film director Kathryn Bigelow, in that Weinstein is bringing the concept of high artistry to a popular form of entertainment--primarily 3D animation and motion capture video. But he is doing it by holistically incorporating theater, music, painting, sculpture, narrative and poetry that entertains as much as it provokes thought.
Weinstein is in some ways indebted to the Pictures Artists--particularly Jack Goldstein and to a lesser extent Robert Longo and Cindy Sherman. He is as well informed by the same film directors who influenced them--Jean-Luc Godard, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Alain Resnais--for the variety and range of pictorial and thematic strategies with which they opened up the art world to entertainments after Guy Debord and Yvonne Rainer closed it down with their interpretations of Brechtian interventionism and reductionist aesthetics. Cindy Sherman above all opened the door for depictions that simultaneously doubled as semiotics and entertainment. In performance art, Laurie Anderson soon after incorporated humor that was as much entertaining as it was reflexive of the underlying structures of her work's medium and message.
Weinstein references this long legacy with his video, Childhood of Bertolt Brecht, a parody of Brecht as barely more than a baby, yet already endowed with a Dialectical Materialist consciousness. But as a baby, he is still overcome by infantile fantasies of animals who can talk and space-traveling spectators--an ingenious ploy for Weinstein to inject his own brand of populist dialectics which he sees invading the art world on numerous fronts. The revolution being called for, specifically by who, against whom, and for what aim, Baby Brecht never informs us. That wouldn't be entertaining. More importantly, and ironically, Weinstein puts Brecht's own distancing effect to work to remind us of what an irrational and coercive imperative the Marxist fantasy of regulated art is, and which we can see for ourselves as Marxism unspools from the main agenda the world over. Weinstein doesn't dismiss Brecht as much as he pokes fun at the image Brecht carried with him of an audience that can not only be politically aroused by a theater denied catharsis (which Brecht believed made people complacent), but a production that would sustain that political consciousness long after the audience leaves the theater and thereby (wishfully) effects revolutionary change in the world. In illuminating the naiveté of such thinking, Baby Brecht, as Weinstein models him, might have been tortured and executed in any number of the Marxist regimes of the 20th century for the flamboyantly bourgeois counterrevolutionary rhetoric that Weinstein has him mouthing.
When I write that Weinstein employs his own distancing effect on his audience, I mean that he supplies imagery or objects that disorient us in the Surrealist or the Skeptical tradition of pitting reality and subjectivity off one another. Whether that disorientation is effected with a 3D animation video or through contact with his painting, writing, or sculptural installations, Weinstein's art may not make us more politically aware of oppression, but it makes us feel uncomfortable with both the thought that there is a presumed, ideologically correct way of thinking, at the same time that we are made to regret the cynicism that emotionally arrests our idealism. Weinstein seems to be feeling his way to a position in between cynicism and idealism, much as does today's Left-liberal, upper-middle class intellectual in America and Europe has come to tentively endorse, however wearily, a capitalism conditioned by taxation proportionate to an individual's wealth. It is the Left's seemingly last recourse amid the spoils of failed socialisms. And it comes with an equally resigned attitude toward the mass production that we associate with the flush economics that make entertainment so pragmatic, if not appealing.
Playing to that Left-liberal audience, Weinstein's animations, sculpture and painting together mark out the conceptual, material, economic and social terrain that this class paternally defines as desirable for all. We might add the adjective "effete" to the list--the effete Left intellectual--as characterized in the The Childhood of Bertolt Brecht by the jazzy koi fish who sings lilting yet downbeat lyrics that seem to come as much from existentialist poems of the 1940s and 1950s as they do the chanteuses of the postwar American songbook. As we are entertained by the fantasy of a sultry singing fish, we also may find the music evokes an ambiance given over to the addictions of love and drugs even as the lyrics sing to us of contingencies and ambiguities of a vaguer metaphysical stream-of-consciousness. But because the ambiguities win out lyrically and contextually, we are more entertained to the point of being charmed than prompted to work out the complexities of real-world implications being skirted over. In this respect, Weinstein is the anti-Brechtian music video director who uses Brechtian methods to foil Brechtian (Marxist) politics. Or perhaps more to the point, he poses a foil to those pseudo-Brechtians who sound out Marxist speak while enjoying all the bourgeois privileges of capitalists.
Yet Weinstein also poses a counterpoint to Jeff Koons. Whereas Koons has become known for seducing collectors into outlaying enormous sums for objects that appear to be oversized, sentimental kitsch they would never be caught dead in possession of without the high-art provenance, Weinstein is the collector's friend looking out for his buyer's interests and vanities--which may be to the Left or to the Right, but is above all too complex and varied to stereotype. For one thing, Weinstein has a seemingly innate sense of restraint that may or may not do him good, depending on whom one asks. But that restraint is the outcome of the logic that Weinstein applies to his installations, each of which is loosely composed of stream-of-consciousness narratives or poems centered around a video and/or a sculpture or painting. In the past, Weinstein's installations have been relatively contained, making it easy to read their meanings as a whole. Of late, they have become more oblique, a challenge to decipher--if deciphering matters. Either way, were Weinstein to indulge Koons' ostentatious kitsch, we would lose sight of his logic and his proclivity for phasing in and out of streams of consciousness, a loss Weinstein will likely never allow.
Weinstein's most recent installation, The Celestial Sea, is an example in which spectacle is ample but no less sparsely parsed out for the sake of whatever lucidity can be seized on to carry us away on some spontaneous current of consciousness. Weinstein assembles an exhibition of diverse media that by their appearances alone have little in common but are, in keeping with his metaphorical theme of the celestial sea, akin to life preservers that keep us afloat in an ocean of metaphysical uncertainty threatening to swallow us. The nexus of the exhibition is a bronze anchor that sits in the center of the floor, and which according to Weinstein's narrative has fallen from the sea of the sky. Around the walls of the two galleries hang a series of paintings composed of interlacing circles forming a kind of gradient mesh painted by Weinstein with stencils. For this non-technical viewer, they summon to mind the circular reflections that manifest when aiming a camera at the sun, or more thematically, when squinting at the sun while awakening or coming to consciousness. Weinstein claims that the paintings depict "the paths of virtual lights within a 3D computer program as they sweep across virtual space, creating patterns that evoke Kandinsky, Kupka, Emma Kunz and Delaunay."
Only one of the four paintings has its abstract surface overlain with a text. Although written by Weinstein, it unreels its stream-of-consciousness scenarios in styles evocative variously of the authors Alain Robbe-Grillet, Anna Kavan, Jack Kerouac, and William Burroughs. In a related phasing out and in of contents, a 3D animation video of two souvenir-like toy ships passing each other on a reflective sea has appropriated the title and date of the movie, Cruisining, 1980 as its title. The film referenced, a psychological thriller directed by William Friedkin and starring Al Pacino as an undercover cop investigating the serial killings of gay men, upon its release garnered considerable noteriety for casting Pacino in a role in which he must cruise a sea of gay men out for sex--any of whom could become the killer's next victim. In utter disjunction with the rest of the show, the final component is a painting reprising the face of the boy Bertolt Brecht, an image that is a holdover from Weinstein's 2012 video and installation, Childhood of Bertolt Brecht. No doubt, Brecht is here intervening on our reverie in the Celestial Sea to remind us that we are not really in the Celestial Sea, but in a Chelsea gallery. And upon noting this we also note the somewhat skewed, yet recombinant sound pun: 'Celestial sea,' 'Chel sea.'
Apart from appreciating Weinstein's stream-of-consciousness on display, it seems likely that few viewers will take the time or the trouble to fathom what invisible unity connects the disparate works on view, and this is what is both problematic and attractive about the show. Solipsism is hardly an insult to today's artists, especially those equipped with the software enabling them to imagine a phenomenologically subjective multiverse at their disposal. But unity still matters collectively, especially in an art form challenging the proscription of entertainment. Entertainment, after all, must entertain people, and unless one is an archeologist or a criminal detective, loose-fitting fragments by themselves don't entertain.
It is only after we read the gallery press release that we learn The Celestial Sea "refers to a story from the 13th century about a sailor who climbs down from his ship floating in another world above the clouds--by the time he reaches the surface of the earth, he has drowned." But while this helps us understand why a simulated ship anchor stands in the middle of the gallery, even with this information we're left bereft of the thread connecting the other images to the anchor. If we try hard enough, the threads gradually entwine. But what effort it takes!
The animated video of the toy souvenir ships passing as they reflect the setting sun summon to mind the ship from which the dead sailor must have tumbled as he fell into the sky. That the sailor is from another world is no doubt analogous to the dead gay men killed by a homophobic serial killer. It's a stretch, but on reflection, in 1980, gay men in a heterosexual world lived too much like sailors away from sea--out of their element.
The paintings, meanwhile, simulate the blinding glare as one gazes into the sun, perhaps when floating on the sea, or falling through the sky to one's death, or when waking up after being washed ashore. And the young Bertolt Brecht: Is he really only here to interrupt our immersion in the installation? Or is he here to draw us further in to the virtual world, which would make him a bad Bertolt for failing to remind us that we are only experiencing a work of art alluding to our own consciousness as viewers of the "constantly shifting boundaries between physical reality and virtual reality."
As with any puzzle, piecing together the disparate meanings gleaned from Weinstein's exhibition is enthralling. What is not enthralling is having to refer to Weinstein's press release for our start. At least it's not as enthralling as it might have been had there been a work, perhaps a video, to help us begin piecing the totality of the show together, as there have been in previous Weinstein installations.
I'm going to now state an argument that I will later seeimngly refute just so that both trains of thought are aired dialectically, as Brecht would have had it. My first train of thought is that Weinstein is perhaps in this installation too influenced by high-modernist stream-of-consciousness novels and films, whereby such disparate parts can be experienced in succession without apparent connection by the artist, yet still be connected by the audience. But such narrative works are bounded by a single medium--the book or the film--within which can be found the unity that imparts meaning upon repeated returns and reconsiderations. When the boundary of an artwork is broken down and its metaphorical referents are scattered among diverse media across a space to which we have limited access, as are Weinstein's gallery installations, the demands of the detective work and the presence of mind required to piece together the meanings precludes participation for most gallery goers. We are all too busy piecing together the meanings encountered in the diverse events of our lives to be able to do the same for a tentative narrative in a gallery space.
On the other hand--and this leap to my other, perhaps opposite, train of thought is the dialectical method at work--each of the individual works in The Celestial Sea, and the grouping of the virtual, reflectiive light paintings, entertain us by virtue of their unities regardless of their unresolved meanings when judged together as an installation. And if two centuries of modern art have taught us anything, it's that we don't require to know the meanings of works of art, or their relations to other works, to find them pleasing individually.
In the end, it's our inability to identify any one overarching meaning unifying the full repertoire of narratives, imagery, and forms operative in Weinstein's installation as a whole that identifies the work to be more of the realm of mind than of materiality. In this regard. Weinstein is displaying a kind of dialectical thinking liberated from materialism, as materiality has limited, if any, sovereignty in the realm of the ideas of the mind. For that matter, the dialectical materialism of Debord, Brecht, and ultimately of Marx, is a misnomer, a fiction, in that materials are not comprised of pairs of opposites (what dialectics join together). For that matter, opposition is not a material relationship. The confusion comes when, in our material existence, we confuse difference with opposition, which it is not. Difference is merely perceived, and mistakenly, as opposition.
Only meanings (that is, ideas) are oppositional, and hence are also dialectical, which means that the very mental nature of meanings suggest that they have opposites that we can attempt to reconcile. This is why Weinstein, along with the cyberpunks, and before them, the stream-of-consciousness writers, and like most of today's cgi artists as well, are all more assuredly artists of the mind than of materiality. Weinstein's meanings are fleeting, hard to grasp and hold onto. And they are that way because he doesn't attempt to resolve opposites. For when we realize that differences in the world are not oppositions, and from this we infer that opposites are only figments of the mind, not of materiality or reality, we no longer feel a need to resolve what we perceive as oppositions. We realize differences--say, different ideas--can co-exist in the mind without conciliation. The coexistence of their unresolved, unreconciled differences are, in a rather old-fashioned expression, a matter of mind over matter. Stream of consciousness. Virtual reality. An imaginarium. The Matrix. The phenomenalogical. Dreamtime. Trance. The referents for the medium are legion, cross-cultural, and as ancient-yet-ageless as human, perhaps even animal, consciousness.
What's important is that streams of consciousness, virtual reality, the mind, the Matrix--whatever we choose to call it--is Weinstein's ultimate medium--albeit, a medium imposed with obvious unresolved tensions when joined to his material media. But we must learn to recalibrate our criteria to this medium of unrestrained subjectivity. Weinstein enjoys the greater nuances of dialectical pairings--pairings of ideas and pairings of media. But in the mindspace that we have come to call virtual worlds, worlds where we only temporarily mediate a shared collectivity defined by the boundaries of computers and software, Weinsten shows himself to feel most assured. The signs of Weinstein's confidence of mind are the same signs conveyed by the cyberpunks, the stream-of-consciousness writers, the cgi artists designing virtual realities, even the mystics and shamans in their states of trance. Their common sentiment is that they feel free to operate in this mindscape as if there is no requirement for fixed meanings or fixed durations for entertaining meanings. Any desire to prolonging or unifying ideas is merely an effect of one's psychological dependency on material reality being dragged into the virtual, trance world. It is those of us who feel Weinstein's art of virtual worlds of the mind is unresolved who are at fault. For we have not yet learned to keep our material expectations behind in the material world where they belong.
In this, we who are too attached to the material world, even if it be the world of high art--and artists and their admirers are the easiest to fall prey to the trappings of the material world--are inferior to the fans of such entertainments as sci-fi and super hero comic books and movies. Anyone who has seen the Matrix Trilogy knows that to flourish in the virtual world, one has to stop conforming to earthly gravity to fly; has to not die when a mountain falls on top of her; has to stop treating the Matrix as a dream to become omnipotent. In the same way, critics of art made with the virtual world in mind have to stop applying the criteria of material art to virtual art. The Surrealists taught us that much about their liberation from logic, but we've forgotten it because theirs was an avant-garde revolution that had no where near the accessibility to the masses that our cgi artists have.
In short, there is no need for continuity or resolution of ideas in the recesses of the mind that have no relevance to our material survival. By descending into the solipsistic depths of Weinstein's The Celestial Sea, we come closer to realizing the revolution of 3D entertainments. Our choice is to evolve into the virtual worlds that Weinstein and other cgi artists like him provide, or remain content in being bound to the material art and reality of the past.
Vive la révolution of the mind! Vive le spectacle of entertainments!
Matthew Weinstein, Cruising 1980, 2010
On 3/16/13 the author added the last two images seen in this post and expanded on the final commentary. They were not included in the original post.
Read other posts by G. Roger Denson on Huffington Post in the archive.