Mediamatic Magazine Vol. 2#1 1 Jul 1987

Halbe Mensche. Les Extrémes se touchent

In Mediamatic 1#4, Willem Velthoven wrote about Lydia Schouten's Echoes of Death/Forever Young. In his article he discussed the criticism of Rein Wolfs and of Jouke Kleerebezem. Velthoven came to the conclusion that the work of Schouten should be interpreted as autobiographical, and not as a critique of the media, like in the work of Wolfs and Kleerebezem.

Below, both Wolfs and Kleerebezem give their reactions to this article. Wolf's opinion is that Velthoven watches television too often (which is true), and that Velthoven should keep his paws off Culture (which is impossible).

Kleerebezem thinks that, if you take his point of view, he is right (which is correct), and that the media are too familiar and too self evidently part of our consciousness to be allowed to be part of the arts (which is an interesting idea).

Halbe Mensche

Humanity was young and Unity reigned; Man was one. Sadly, he didn't prove to be indivisible.

Now that Unity is forbidden, unity of thinking also seems like past history. According to Willem Velthoven: Kleerebezem+ Wolfs=1. Is it a conspiracy? Poor Lydia Schouten, the victim of critics, postmodern (and French) thinking. Poor Humanist Association as well, lost along the high road to lunacy. And finally poor Kleerebezem and Wolfs they still only see fire. What a dreadful state of affairs.

Perhaps it's all an old problem, just like that farmer's daughter who falls victim to her desires. How strong is the temptation of post-modern (and French) thinking? How slight the thoughts of the contemporary thinker? Confronting something with its opposite can make it just disappear. It is neutralized: Velthoven's discovery is dreadfully corny.

Let's read some Marsman:


Far from the horde

not once the sound of a flower
brushed against the steepness
of my dusky night,
where I, curved over space's brim,
extract fragrance of ages
from the goblet of air

and, late small flower,
I move
to Time's lumbering beat.

Great and compelling we shall and will be. Great and Compelling we can be, even without the moral support of a Human Association that tries to understand life and the world exclusively by human means. Understand? Do you understand Marsman? Reading closely, we lose the poem under the analytical eye of our human means. Have we brought that devilish kid's game once more to a suitable conclusion. And the meaning of life? Way beyond our human means reigns the meaning of life. Sneering and scoffing.

Halber Mensch: a record by Einstürzende Neubauten. Subculture anti-aesthetics of the first order. Equally: elitist neo-aesthetics at its most obvious. Equally: a lot of noise about nothing. Compare the Schouten case: and there's a fine gentleman who's been to Paris, a son of respectable contemporary thinker, a man of honor who says: Schouten, takes the seduction (the media) and uses it to research desire (herself). That seduction can spark off desire and that desire can reach out into the domain of seduction make the relation both dramatic and complicated. The subject is under fire and is defendants itself. Wolfs and Kleerebezem still only see fire. Willem Velthoven must have spent too much too much time lying in front of the the television. His subject is obviously under fire as we!l. At hight, Wolfs and Kleerebezem lie in front of the hearth, as healthy Dutch boys should, reading books about hard-working farmer's daughters who don't fall victim to their desires but piously look forward to the Sunday sermon. Normally, as it should be.
Really, as it is.

Compared with Marsman's fragrance of ages, the media-religious condition of Here and Now is at most limited. The subject under the fire of an invented reality. The world's drama concealed in shallow metaphor. A pathological condition expanded to global proportions. a motif made into theme. The Halbe Mensche want the hole world, East and West, past, present and future.

Les Extrémes se touchent

After reading and rereading Willem Velthoven's Forever Young/Echoes of Death, where (with that innocence characteristic of the passer-by) he opens the eyes of us Critics of Media Art to the many pitfalls we have blundered into, I actually chanced on something like a conclusion. After a rather slapdash introduction, which perhaps cast some light on the subject for those readers who have only read the headings of articles in the past few years and then passed the discussions by, he came to the conclusion that Kleerebezem and Schouten agree about the media. Les extrémes se touchent! Talk about dramatic and complicated relations! He places this surprising turn in the light of the -for the editor-in-chief of the Netherlands' only media art magazine- strikingly professional awareness that the media exist and influence everybody. Many a 'media artist' could learn a thing or two from that.

Out of the numerous factual inaccuracies and overstatements in Velthoven's article I want to correct just one: that my critical marginalia were ever specifically related to the work of Lydia Schouten: this kind of diverting oeuvre inevitably just gives rise to diverted argument, the best proof of this is supplied by Velthoven: himself. Or, as many a time I sighed: how much significance can we bear?

All this does not contradict the fact that every single argument about Art contains points of departure that can be food for thought. Particularly if these arguments deal with techniques that loosen up the brain cells of freischwebende lntelligenz and, even for real go-getters, can lead to just pure thoughts. However, the most conspicuous technique in Velthoven's argument is the well known 1,2,3, the more the merrier technique: a satisfaction that the passer-by already dazzled by I unfortunately doesn't experience. Sometimes, purifying thoughts are achieved after the first introduction.

The Media as contemporary personification of Evil, that's how they're seen by our critics. But what then is Media Art? An exemplary marriage between Good an Evil? Velthoven correctly observes that my criticism- certainly in Beeld focuses on art which takes the Media reality as subject. An invented reality as Rein Wolfs correctly calls it in his Halbe Mensche reaction. A motif made into theme (Wolfs), so that this theme can in turn become a theme again, and so on ad infinitum. It doesn't really matter what disciplines or channels this art uses: the artist is again presented in the position of supposed critic/commentator (criticism as legitimization!), but now, however, in the dramatic and romantic role of double spy, in collaboration and opposition. The artist as builder and manager of a no man's land of significances in which too few or, on the contrary, a plenitude of prominent points are situated. Fantasy Island Revisited. The fusion between the Groninger Museum and an amusement park.

Where and on what level do spectators (and artists!) finally discontinue their search for significances, completely exhausted from the many traps they must save themselves from, determines which values they are capable of encountering. There is no final destination, observers seek what they find, the seekers' means are not defined by what they are seeking but by the acceptance of the discovery as that which was sought. 1 In itself an interesting discovery but only in the most critical of hands does it lead to insight. In all other cases, surfeit and exhaustion simply end in aimless meandering: opportunists just get stuck, a delicious stimulus to the brain cells but meanwhile up to their necks in quicksand.

Here, then is the crux of my criticism. This concerns the complete interchangeability of the shabby trouvailles that bubble up around us in the media critics' camp. Too much lack of inhibition with respect to these discoveries is bad for the stomach.

It works!

The post-modern (?), (post-?) critical technique works. It functions by grace of superficial relations, meager discoveries and exhausted contemporary thinkers. Battle-weary in collaboration and opposition, in the setting of traps for observation and awareness, battle-weary in the dance and fight with the invented opponent: reality as imagined for us in all its finesse by the media (the media are a subject). A reality which exceeds our wildest fantasies and is more real 2 than any single art work based on it. More complex than just any complex art work that pretends to cast new light on it. Let alone criticize. The contemporary post-modern (?) critical (?) subject functions, with all its solutions as the acceptor of a notion, of an awareness of reality that highlights functioning: it works. We believe in ourselves and in our realities, in our art works and their relations to us and to whatever reality. Once more our human means have not let us down. With perfect timing they developed a passion for the various codes supplied by the media now that the subject was under fire of its alter ego (in) the media. And, according to Schouten and others, the subject hasn't had a more dangerous and (in particular) a more interesting opponent for ages...

A problem with Schouten's work, and with the work of many other artists who refer to the Media, is that it is too realistic, too recognizable, too acceptable as a discovery and too transparent, too naive in relation to the media reality. A problem with techniques and with every form of functioning is that they are dependent on conditions about which a concensus is too easily presumed. A problem with the Media and with many Other realities is that they are too recognizable, that they form too self-evident a part of our awareness. A problem with our relations is that they are too functional, too communicative. Finally, the problem with the art world is that it attracts sod all with these problems and the art gets what it deserves.

1 Compare Tom Puckey: The Strange Promise for Sculpture in Borges' of Idealistic World of Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius. Parts 1

and 2, in: Drukwerk De Zaak 32 and 33


2 See also Jouke Kleerebezem: The artificial Real, in: Drukwerk De Zaak 36