Thursday, December 07, 2006


Sylvere Lotringer has a new book of interviews out with Semiotext(e), this time with various characters from the Lower East Side who, collectively, perform a kind of auto-ethnographical "reading" of the life of the artist David Wojnarowicz. The book, subtitled "A definitive history of five or six years on the lower east side" is a great read, easy to get through, and quite informative about whom this artist was. It covers the good, the bad, and the ugly, but also the beautiful, the politically motivated, the insightful, the estranged, the anti-aesthetic, the self-contradictory, and the meaninglessness.

My favorite quote from the back cover of the book, by Wojnarowicz himself in relation to his experiments with Buddhism, reads:
I tried it and it made everything I did worthless: I no longer wanted to paint these images, and I no longer wanted to deal with violence. I'd given up smoking, sugar, salt, meat, and all these things. I did it for four months and it scared the shit out of me. I said, the one hold I have in the world is dealing with my expression. I can't think of an interesting way to present beauty unless it's inside of death or violence. So I gave up meditation and went back to eating sugar and pancakes and became violent again. It made me feel much better.
Not being an overly jargon-ridden academic theorist nor art historian, I will not try to unpack the meaning of that statement above, especially in relation to the work of David Wojnarowicz.

I will say, though, that from the perspective of making art, it totally makes sense. Empty thyself of all of the garbage, and there is no source material, no residue, no waste to get rid of. The artist, if they are to perform the role of shaman in an otherwise murderous, moneyed culture, can't expect to purify the world of its diseased shit by becoming purity itself. Quite the opposite really, the artist has to wallow in it.

As an artist, you process food the same way you process information. Now, I myself may consciously eat very healthily and am attracted to organic produce much more than I am crappy junk food, but what I eat is part of the process of developing my own customized artist-apparatus filters so that I may affectively remix my experience of the world while concurrently generating more stylized artworks that I sign with my signature gestures. I'm still "wallowing in the shit" of consumer-driven waste culture, but I am playing with my body as an experimental lab of organic desire that pleasantly corrupts itself in other ways, ways that can be differentiated from the next artist who imagine themselves to be some kind of cultural High Priest or mediumistic shaman. Obviously, for David, to get to where he wanted to go as an artist, meditation was not the avenue that would lead toward advanced stages of personal expression. Sugar and anonymous sex at the piers were more his style (according to the book). The Beatles, though, mixed yoga, vegetarianism, groupie sex, drugs, and meditation into something tasty, and produced trippy work like the White Album. Bottom line: we all approach the life of the artist from different formal and formative agendas.

You say you want a revolution / Well, you know / We all want to change the world. But how we go about doing that is strictly a personal thing. There is no one diet that will feed Everyman. Diet is, after all, just another word for lifestyle. And for me, that means Life Style Practice (LSP), something that every artist performs on their own (this is what I see as the "life of the artist," stylin'). David, in Close to the Knives, his memoir of disintegration, saw this LSP as an epic struggle between two simultaneously existing worlds.
First there is the World. Then there is the Other World. The Other World is where I sometimes lose my footing. In its calendar turnings, in its preinvented existence.
The calendar turnings were psycho-physiological churnings, syndicated prefabs of one size fits all meaning generation that, part of status quo consumer culture, pointed one to the ultimate Destination (capital D):
Transition is always a relief. Destination means death to me. If I could figure a way to remain forever in transition, in the disconnected and unfamiliar, I could remain in a state of perpetual freedom. [...] Destination is an entry point for the practitioners of the fake moral screens.

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