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Art and Terrorism. Presenting public art using a terrorists logic.

Phill Evans Illustration Posted: august 16, 2010 / Modified: august 17, 2010
Art and Terrorism. Presenting public art using a terrorists logic. “Immediatism is not a movement in the sense of an aesthetic program. It depends on situation, not style or content, message or School. It may take the form of any kind of creative play which can be performed by two or more people, by & for themselves, face-to-face & together. In this sense it is like a game, & therefore certain «rules» may apply” (Bey h, 1994)

In “Immediatism” Hakim Bey, prev. Peter Lamborn Wilson (Bey 1994) describes art which is “unmediated, ” which is as free as air and play and dances between the artist and the audience so freely that the defining roles of “artist” and “audience” become meaningless. In this dissertation it will be shown that Bey’s writings on Immediatist art, the concepts of the Temporary Autonomous Zone and Poetic Terrorism can be used to identify a potential model for public art. This model will be framed in the context of the current media focus on terrorism and the war on terror. Historical examples will be identified of art which could be identified as Immediatist in style and contemporary artists who are working with an Immediatist methodology. These will be used to identify a potential model of public art which utilises the modality of the terrorist to defeat mediation.

The immediate in Immediatism does not imply a right-here-right-now temporal urgency or physical location but rather as a form of transcendental self actuation, of moving the individual (s) “above” themselves in an activity which goes beyond meeting even their peak self actualizing needs. (Maslow a h, 1943. ) Immediate in the sense of personally close (‘by me’. )

For Bey the essence of Immediatism is its lack of mediated control. For instance a spontaneous poem recited immediately to a friend is unmediated; a later performance of the poem is mediated, diluted. A recording on cd is a further mediation involving a change of ownership and likely external control and mediation. For Bey, when money becomes involved all pretence of immediacy and even of Art is lost.

“Weird dancing in all-night computer-banking lobbies. Unauthorized pyrotechnic displays. Land-art, earth-works as bizarre alien artifacts [sic] strewn in State Parks. Burglarize houses but instead of stealing, leave Poetic-Terrorist objects. Kidnap someone & make them happy. Pick someone at random & convince them they're the heir to an enormous, useless & amazing fortune--say 5000 square miles of Antarctica, or an aging circus elephant, or an orphanage in Bombay, or a collection of alchemical mss. Later they will come to realize that for a few moments they believed in something extraordinary, & will perhaps be driven as a result to seek out some more intense mode of existence. ” (Bey h, 2004. )

Poetic terrorism is not terrorism. Nor is it the corollary of terrorism. It is an intention to “inflict” art on an unsuspecting public or individual. It is a dissident, perhaps radical, act of Immediacy. How does this differ from terrorism?

Until the terrorist attacks on America in September 2001 terrorism was considered a valid extension of foreign policy by most national governments, most notably that of the U. S. A (Johnson 2004, Chomsky 2003 also Robert Elias’ essay “Terrorism and American Foreign Policy”). After the fall of the Trade Towers, however, we were plunged into the “war on terror” as it has been called and terrorism has become a driving force in shaping the relationships between oil rich and oil using nations. In November 2004, a un panel described terrorism as any act: «intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act. » (Anan k, 2004)

Where Immediatism strips the mediation from art to avoid manipulation, terrorism as a modality seeks to inflict violent immediacy upon the innocent for the purposes of manipulating the subsequent mediation.

Consider a terrorist explosion. On detonation there is an immediate action. The innocent victims are subjected to catastrophic release of force and the inevitable destruction of property, life and limb.

The German avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen inadvertently identified the intrinsic difference between an Immediatist work and a terroristic crime, «It's a crime because those involved didn't consent. They didn't come to the'concert. 'That's obvious. And no one announced that they risked losing their lives. ” This was part of his defence of earlier comments in which he is reported as describing the 9/11 attacks as:

«… The greatest work of art imaginable for the whole cosmos… Minds achieving something in an act that we couldn't even dream of in music, people rehearsing like mad for 10 years, preparing fanatically for a concert, and then dying, just imagine what happened there. You have people who are that focused on a performance and then 5.000 people are dispatched to the afterlife, in a single moment. I couldn't do that. By comparison, we composers are nothing. Artists, too, sometimes try to go beyond the limits of what is feasible and conceivable, so that we wake up, so that we open ourselves to another world. » (Spinola j, 2001)

The sequelae of a terrorist attack are iterative. On a personal level injury, death, psychological and financial damage. At a social level, personal reportage and image/story manipulation (mediation) spread a frisson of disquiet or real fear beyond the physical location of the event like psychic ripples. The terrorist achieves his goal when societal norms are altered in his favour. Despite Stockhausen’s assertions, there is no art, let alone Art, in his actions.

Consider the modalities of terrorism. A carefully planned event, every detail considered. A greater or lesser amount of tacit involvement by the civil authorities. The identification of a specific target ‘audience’ and venue. The absence of an obvious controlling presence (in the case of a suicide bomber, the immediate absence of an obvious living controller) with an implication of a ‘higher’ order of control. A primary goal of eliciting societal change through the confrontation of the individual with a suddenly altered immediate reality.

If one removes the element of violence (significantly, Bey does not, he refers several times in his works to the use of violence as a means to an end, for him the phrase “Poetic Terrorism” is not necessarily an academic euphemism) from the previous description of terrorism’s modality one can see the framework for the implementation of an Immediatist public art form.

But what is the context of Bey’s Immediatism? Bey himself is a Sufi (a spiritual form of Islam) and an anarchist, both of which inform the political dimension of his philosophy. He is not, however, an artist in any form which would readily be recognised by the contemporary art industry. So from where could the concept of Immediatism have arisen?

Bey uses as an example of an Immediatist event the traditional American quilting bee. A bee, in this context, is a social gathering for the purpose of pooling labour to a common end. A quilting bee, therefore, was a gathering of (usually) women to create a patchwork quilt where the women could engage in their labours in a sociable way. If the bee was held to benefit an individual or family then that person would provide food and drink for the bee. There is a similar concept in Finland, a talkoot, where parsimony on the part of the host could lead to eternal persecution and isolation. There were many reasons for gathering a bee (barn building, spinning wool, logging etc) but there is a general sense of creation in the actions of the bee which is best illustrated by the example of quilting. To be truly Immediatist, though, Bey argues that the bee would be conducted in secret and the quilt kept secret from others not involved. If the quilt were to be given to a family or an individual this would be mediation of the event/act/object. If the quilt were put on display to the general public this would further mediate the art of the quilt. Finally, if the quilt were sold it becomes a fully mediated commodity and no longer can hold any pretensions to an Immediatist artwork. The value of the quilt, in Immediatist terms, is not the object itself but rather the circumstances of its creation and perception. To use Marshall McLuhan’s (McCluhan, 1964 & McLuhan 1965) model, the medium (the quilt) is the message (the act of creation. ) For Bey, though, the medium in the contest of that created was subordinate in importance to the message which was one of unmediated, subversive creation. He argues that all meetings in private for the purposes of creation, even something as innocuous as a quilting bee, are subversive acts when viewed from the perspective of the State (a more apposite word than Government, which is a transitory focus of State power) which controls its population by creating a predominating reality through saturation media.

“The Media, ” broadcast and printed, rely upon their control of creation and creativity to maintain the consensual reality which is modern western society. The performances they present to their audience are totally mediated and self nourishing. Immediatism philosophically challenges mass mediation by demanding it’s audience ask themselves subversive and potentially revolutionary questions of mediated entertainment. It questions the choice and wording of both the headline (stories) and the articles and reports themselves. It challenges the form, length and texture of children’s television entertainment. It demands what does celebrity mean? Who controls our access to the arts? Why, when a child is abducted, are we presented with the spectacle of parental grief as performance? Who does this serve? (Thompson, 2007)

Berger (1973) cogently asks us who benefits from the mystification and historical invention which media controlling elit

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