Babylon Calling

Thoughts on Newness for the New Season

Unfortunately, people miss the drama. They complain we're only taking "baby steps." We have trends and tendencies, eddies and vectors, clusters and attitudes. But something else is in the air. Artists are finding ways around the cynicism and lowered expectations. Here and there, they're taking some cocky, nicely righteous, occasionally kick-ass steps that are way more than baby.

In the first nine months of the 21st century, newness appeared in various guises. Naming names is dangerous when the art world eats its young, so one will suffice for all. Though they didn't add much to the world that wasn't already there, for five days a few months ago, the performance/art/music group Fischerspooner created something so convoluted, entertaining, and contaminated it couldn't be corrupted. Combining big hair, new wave, totally trashy sluttiness, a funky darkness, and pop-y, full-blooded fun, these latter-day Laurie Andersons transformed guilty pleasure into reckless ecstasy, performed their way through irony, and came close to the core of something celebratory.

So what if this celebration fails? All celebrations eventually do. The grumblers will grumble, either way. As with many artists these days, if Fischerspooner fails, it will be in hypnotic, erotic, or passionately imperfect ways. I'm not talking about dumbing art down, grooviness, or triviality. This is dicier than that. Artists are making serious decisions, but not taking them too seriously. They're attempting to thread together competing complexities, make pleasure precious again, replace rupture with rapture, and create an art to revel in and grapple with at the same time.

Guilty pleasure transformed into reckless ecstasy: Fischerspooner rocks at Gavin Brown’s enterprise.
photo: Doug Henders
Guilty pleasure transformed into reckless ecstasy: Fischerspooner rocks at Gavin Brown’s enterprise.

Whether they succeed or not, it's a mistake to label any of them "great." Artists are after a less lofty, less autocratic essence. Something suppler, more "real," and willingly vulnerable. Maybe what Greil Marcus called "spirits of acceptance and desire, rebellion and awe, raw excitement, good sex, open humor, and a magic feel for history."

Savor this moment, enjoy the germinating. Smile when someone says nothing good is going on. Soon, these folks will wake up or go away. Human beings haven't stopped being creative. If people can't see what's happening, it doesn't mean it's not going on; it means it's going on without them.

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