I’ve wanted to write for the last month but straightforward expression has been failing me a little bit. Dadaism gives me so little to work with I really don’t like turning to it for a mode of expression, even artistic. But I’ve been on such a tear about surrealism, expressionism and the absurd lately that complete sentences with the standard subject-verb-object format feels stilted if not inadequate. I’ll try to make this make sense, but no promises.
Admittedly, the dramaturgy project was many weeks ago and formally ended at the top of this month. But I still have several fascinating books I checked out from the library and I’m rushing to read them before I have to return them next week. Because it’s for my own interest now I returned nearly all the books on Algeria and kept a handful on Genet and related books on arts and drama. It’s the wonder of that era that people like Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre are notable both for philosophy and their literary works. They were tied in to the creative world so thoroughly that it’s difficult to draw a clear distinction between the theories of existentialism and the modes of art that inspired them and were inspired by them, from Husserl’s phenomenology through Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty and inclusive of Derrida’s deconstruction. But, because I’ve approached this round as a dramaturg, I don’t have to hold my investigation to a scientific philosophic inquiry of dates and schools and interaction (though, trust me, a healthy dose of that always helps), and instead I can look for the guiding sense, essence the artists were reaching for. Basically, why paint in a surrealist style? Why muck up a perfectly serviceable language? Why load up scenes with intense insanity, noise, pointlessness, humorous tragedy and filth?
For me, the greatest image that expresses it all so perfectly that talking about becomes a sort of painful superficiality – I can’t tell you anything that the painting doesn’t say for itself, and better – is Pablo Picasso’s Guernica. (If somehow you’ve read this far and you’re not sure which painting that is, by all means, look it up. Right now.) Its anguish is undeniable and immediately it gives a sense of crowding horrors. Noise, chaos and violence have become so de rigueur that bothering to comment on them becomes a sort of absurd act. The pain and misery is so great that it has to be cut up, given edges, boundaries. The madness of it all has led to coping that consists of being able to identify objects and situations – woman, baby, cow, bomb – but not a cohesive comment that rises above the statement of madness itself.
My favorite painter is Frida Kahlo. I’m tempted to say something obnoxious like I was into her before it became fashionable, but in truth I’m glad she’s popular now because it’s easier for me to get to see her works in person. And furthermore, she’s become well known enough to anchor a fantastic exhibit at LACMA, called In Wonderland.
Goodness, I can’t say enough about this exhibit. It took me well over three hours to wander through and the last hour was slightly rushed as my feet ached and nature called. I want to go back. Overwhelmingly I hadn’t heard of most of the artists on display. And it’s a damn shame because no one should have to wait until the age of 35 to be exposed to Remedios Varo or Bridget Tichenor.
Here’s where language really falls apart. Because I’m still very much under the throes of trying to come up with something that comprehensively expresses all of my thoughts, I want to say something about the exhibit but I have no idea where to start or how to hold to an outline. It’s hard to talk about any one thing without it become something else, bleeding over into a new scene, invading the space of another idea, alluding to another theme, borrowing the colors of a completely different experience. The essence of 20th century surrealism, maybe. Also really sloppy reportage. But really, you have no idea how many times I’ve tried to write this out and had to delete it all because it just chases its own tail.
I wanted to camp out/lay down at the foot of Las dos fridas and stare up at it forever. I wanted to read every piece of ephemera, including Artaud’s Spanish-language article on Maria Izquierdo. I wanted to commit the magic in Leonora Carrington’s Chrysopeia of Mary the Jewess. I was so struck by a piece of text by Julien Levy on Surrealism I had to write it down: “[it] attempts to discover and explore the more real than real world behind the real; meaning which is expansive behind the contractile fact.” And, my God, Dorothea Tanning.
The ideas! That women were their very own muses! That down in Wonderland, long past the rabbit hole, women found themselves bewildered by their own lives! That they didn’t need the madness and belligerent whims of the world at large to see where the disconnects came about! That mystery and identity are facets every woman has for exploring, too sublime to be reliable tools but powerful forces all the same.
Maybe this is what Rationalism has wrought, surrealism, existentialism, et al. When the situation is deprived of its narrative (John killed Bob because Bob murdered John’s parents) and one is only left with the hard facts (Bob is dead; John shot him) the whole thing is senseless violence. The human mind can’t really take that, there has to be some sense in it in order to live with the situation. Even turning away and deciding not to think about it is an option. But we’re hardwired to see if this-then-that in everything. When that falls apart because expectations get foiled again and again (on the way to getting revenge for his parents, John is given governorship over a region far away and he laments his misfortune which inspires Mary, a maid besotted with him, to attempt the revenge herself which fails because Bob falls in love with her first and proposes marriage and when war breaks out a famous ballad makes its way to John’s ears about poor Mary whose betrothed was killed during the war and how she never got what she wanted and John determines that his vengeance will not be foiled if he kills Mary…) we are truly numbed to the present goings on, so goes the praxis in certain plays by Beckett and Ionesco, and put ourselves in a sort of holding pattern, waiting for this nonsensical story to play itself out and for “normal” to return. But the funny thing about life, and reality, is it is no play, it has no narrative, and there is no “normal.”
Maybe the advance of rationalism has been handily or conveniently assisted by globalism and intercultural realities. The more we let go of expecting a certain course of events and allow for alternatives as a measure of our tolerance for other customs, perhaps the less we find our own customs instinctual. We’ve learned to question our customs – to question authority. We’ve raced around the globe and crashed into ourselves on the other side. Recognizing ourselves once again, after all of that can be disorienting and we may never be the people we once were. (As a woman I can’t help but be glad about that.) There’s a new normal hanging around. It doesn’t make any sense but it’s not like you should get used to it.
In closing, if there is any way you can, hie yourself to LACMA’s In Wonderland. In until May 6 2012, but you should go now. NOW. Go, go, go, go!