Interpreting performance art can be a challenge, especially when the art is vulgar or distasteful – i.e., uncomfortable to watch – thereby obscuring its symbolic meaning, which might otherwise be worthy of consideration and able to alter and enhance our view. I watched a rather distasteful performance last night, but have yet to figure out the deeper meaning of repeatedly making inaccurate statements if not outright lies. Maybe it was similar to when Marina Abramović, the self-described grandmother of performance art, stabbed a knife between her splayed fingers until she cut herself, then played a recording of this performance while at the same time repeating the performance, cutting herself in the same place and time as in the recording, in this way merging the past with the present, and exploring physical and mental limitations of the body, as well as the state of consciousness of the performer. As she explained, “once you enter into the performance state you can push your body to do things you absolutely could never normally do.”
Perhaps the performer in last night’s piece was attempting to merge the past with the present, hoping previously made statements – viewed to be callous and out of touch – could be molded into something more palatable for a larger audience until they didn’t even know what it was they had consumed, like using pink slime as a filler to create a meal with less substance.
Or maybe, by repeating the same distortions, the performer begins to believe his own statements as true, and can then convince others of the same. Like George Costanza telling Seinfeld how to beat a lie detector, “Jerry, just remember, it’s not a lie, if you believe it.” – allowing the performer to “do things you absolutely could never normally do.”
As always, the performance artist, if the audience dares to question his symbolic meaning, reveals to us something about ourselves, some aspect of human nature and how it hinders our progress, such as accepting a well-told lie, until all that matters is who won, despite truth. It was an impressive act (and given previous statements, impossible to believe), so much so that the fact checkers that follow don’t really matter. If only it had been an actual play instead of a serious discussion about the direction of the country.
The only problem with art is that, sometimes, while we’re enjoying the performance or trying to figure out what it all means, we can get distracted from reality. Political debates continue to show how out of touch we are with the planet we reside on, which was never brought into the discussion other than liking “clean” coal or an attack on investing in green energy (which, for some reason, went undefended). It was a lost opportunity (one of many, as the truth was dormant in the face of the performance). The $90 billion (not yet all spent and spread out over years) hosts a lot of programs with several accomplishments, from energy efficiency to nuclear cleanup to job training, as well as some government investment (with one failure getting all the attention). It is what we need more of and what we should be discussing, especially in terms of the economy. This isn’t trickle down government, it’s building up small sustainable businesses, though the performer would like to distract us from trickle down economics. He doesn’t want us to concentrate on having to wait for the scraps from his ilk to reach our level.
And so the obvious gets overlooked, and the foundation for all that we do (the planet), doesn’t even merit mention; probably because it has nothing to do with the fantasy world of being wealthy, where it is easy to forget that we depend on the planet for food, water, shelter, energy…everything; that it is always under our feet, and that this foundation is where balance begins. How can an economy be sustained over the long haul if it isn’t earth-based? An economy running on polluting energies is constantly trying to overcome itself, requiring regulations to keep our air, water and land clean, lest the rates of cancer and asthma and stress-based illnesses rise even more. It is like a dictator trying to stay in power, fighting off the oppressed before being overrun, instead of building a balanced society that is good for all.
A healthy economy, like everything else, starts with the planet earth. First do no harm, and you’re off on the right path. We knew this once. Somehow we need to merge the past with the present – the distant past (when humankind lived in harmony with the planet), with our technological present – and stop believing the performer’s tricks, and focus instead on what is real, before even Big Bird gets ground up in the onslaught.