Mediamatic Magazine vol 6#1 Jorinde Seijdel 1 jan 1991

Engelen, scenario's voor beeldende kunst

Paul Groot

Picaron Editions (pub) Amsterdam 1990, ISBN 9071466493, Dutch text (English text will be published next year), pp. 126, f35,-


Engelen, scenarios voor beeldende kunst -

In Ferdydurke, his novel about the question of whether it is we who create form or the other way around, Gombrowicz tells of the confrontation between doctor Filidor and doctor anti-Filidor. Filidor is the king of the syntheticists. Anti-Filidor is an equally famed analyst with no other calling than the pursuit and humiliation of the eminent Filidor. Filidor works in the pathetic spirit of Higher Synthesis, mainly using the method ‘sum plus infinity', but also using the ‘product multiplied by infinity' method when necessary. Anti-Filidor works analytically, and his specialism is the dissection of individuals into their component parts by means of calculation, most notably by means of a snap of the fingers right in front of their noses. With such a snap, he is able to awaken the nose to a life of its own, one in which, to its owners terror, it spontaneously begins moving every which way. It was a trick which he often played in the tram, when he was bored. In a first class restaurant in Warsaw, the two professors’ mad chase results in a clash (neither would admit to being not only the pursued, but also the pursuer). The two begin batding with words: The Master of Analysis cried: Macaroni! The Syntheticist answered: Macaroni! Anti-Filidor roared: Macaroni, macaroni, or: a combination of flour, eggs and water! Filidor replied immediately: Macaroni, or: the most profound essence of Macaroni, Macaroni as such!

I’ll leave aside the disappointing denouement for the moment. It’s quite obvious: Filidor and anti-Filidor are chasing about in the Dutch Art World, too. Filidor. for example, as anti-critic Paul Groot: Anti-Filidor as critic Anna Tilroe.

From the same generation — both are in their forties — a collection of critical articles was recently published by each; Angels by Paul Groot, which gave rise to this article, and Tilroes The Blue Guitar. The latter bellows: What do we see here, actually? A painting, or: a combination of paint, canvas, and intention! Groot peeps: A painting, or: a heavenly pantomime! Tilroe's cool gaze dissects, while Groot’s composes, ogling the Higher. Tilroe's mistress with whip, begins flogging with abandon when art can’t be analysed. She would gladly tell us the truth. She’s our artistic aunt. When reading her criticism, one often has the impression that art is no lark, and neither is writing about it. She is a fashionable old dame who ensconces herself in her boudoir, and only rarely gives in and plays along with art. Groot is the angelic-looking little nephew that just won’t behave himself. He hangs around with the wrong people and pulls the weirdest capers with his chemistry set in his room, convinced as he is that he himself can fabricate gold. too. He walks about with his head so far up in the clouds that he sometimes writes pieces which no one understands.

I’m fonder of nephew Filidor, in spite of his idiosyncrasies, than I am of aunt Anti-Filidor. mainly because the consolidated analysis a combination of paint, canvas, and intention is always true, and, therefore, hardly challenging. Groot is editor of Rem and Blind (among others), and writes for periodicals like Flash Art and Artscribe; he organized exhibitions and he also created material for Rabotnik TV. As opposed to Tilroe, he hardly exhibits the impulse to secure his own position at all. Thus, he was able to make the renowned Museumjournaal, of which he was chief editor from 1980 to 1989. into a debatable magazine, which was even branded as unreadable and sectarian by those who favour an informative and guiding art criticism. But, for others, Museumjournaal emerged as the only Dutch art journal in which one could read or publish experimental essays which departed in their style and content from the usual obedient scribbling. Groot wrote many an article for it himself. Personal texts which don’t determine in a quasi-objective or quasi-subjective fashion what is good, bad, ugly or beautiful, but which, driven by the 'invisible rituals' of art, seek to mean something as texts an sich, to raise thematic questions with broader cultural and philosophical significance, without avoiding other disciplines. Of course, it doesn’t take much for pieces with such aspirations to go awry, for example, by using too much post modernist jargon, the creation of unnecessary new myths, or the reflection of all-too-obscure personal obsessions. But these half-virtuous, failed attempts have some value, too. If nothing else, simply to counterbalance the stream of art publications in which the taking of risks is not welcome.

Angels is a continuation of Groot’s earlier projects, such as The Divine Comedy, Cover/Doppelgdnger, and D'Ornamentation. It’s a ‘vow of faith’. In the foreword, it’s evident that Groot is well aware of the dangers of his undertaking. To stand eye to eye with the ‘fallen angel’, that’s what he wants. The fallen angel is the artist who is completely cunning, and yet has succeeded in preserving his innocence, the artist who has the courage to fail. For Groot. it's these qualities of the artist, along with constant doubt of one's own creativity, which count. Diabolical romanticism. It can't be otherwise: Groot sees himself as a fallen angel, too. and whoever cannot endure this should not read his book. If, like Groot, one assumes that ‘the highest’ can't reveal itself exclusively through art because we all carry it ourselves, then everyone an be a fallen angel, a participant: It continues to be with the reflection of one's self that the other can make one reel. This sentence will cause some to get good flesh, while I think that it means, quite simply: The experience of the highest comes about only when there is an equal exchange between the spectator and the work of art, which, at that moment, recognize one another. Words, words. Groot's idea of beauty seems Nietzschean: Beauty is only skin deep. In order to think this, Nietsche introduces the 'mask': Alles, was tief is, liebt die Maske.

For Groot, the art object is an alibi for writing 'scenarios', which are not about its material aspects, but, rather, about other kinds of meanings which are associative or even alien to it. This refusal (deserving of respect) to regard the object of art as a fetish is probably connected to his love of immaterial film and video, which he often brings into his criticism and doesn't treat differently to painting and sculpture. In the essay, Son nom de Vénise dans Calcutta desert, a look back at the eighties, Groot stated that to him, these years of the filmic clichés. He speaks of painting and sculpture in filmic terms: in the era of mechanical reproduction, art has not been deprived of its aura; rather, it has acquired an extra dimension.

His overview of the previous decade is not only filmic, it is 'post-modernist', to use Baudrillard's term, or 'literary', in Borges' language, or 'dramatic', in the light reflections of Francis Yates' alchemical image of the world. anything other than art - critical or art - historical. He's not the only one. The clichés of the post modernist discours are beginning to take on set forms. Groot knows this al too well and permits himself to play with the terminologies. He sometimes arrives at stimulating reflections about such themes as alchemy, the labyrinth, the bachelor machine, and androgyny/physicality/eroticism, in persuance of fallen angels like film maker Derek Jarman, Jeff Wall, Clemente, Günther Förg, Robert Longo, Reinhard Mucha, Matt Mullican, Robert Mapplethorpe. Thus, it isn't surprising that the eighties, according to Groot, are determined by labyrinthic and alchemistic tendencies, by 'atopic' consciousness, which is eternally in flight because there is no centre where it can find rest.The labyrinth and alchemy as metaphors, indissolubly bound up with one another: the labyrinth which offers possibilities which occur in the accomplishment of a great (alchemical) work. An interview with master alchemist Sigmar Polke isn't lacking. Angels also contains interviews with Bram van der Velde, Maria Merz and Brice Marden. The Beckettian account of the farmer still lingers in my head.

The embracing of the Muse (seen as the Other part of ones self can prevent the Great Silence, the silence between the public and the object of art, which irritates Groot. The absence of a dialogue. It's not only the public which is silent, or the 'Museal Repression and Terror' which enforces silence, it may justas well be art turning a deaf ear. In Deaf and Dumb Theatre, an article about the Great Silence by Jarman, Mapplethorpe, Kiefer, Abramovic and Halley, Groot displays the gift of writing 'badly' about artists who I believe he counts among the fallen angels, with the possible exception of Kiefer. He blames them for leaving certain problematic tendencies or aspects of their work to be what they seem - that they don't make any kind of statement - so that they ultimately are what they seem and, as such, are 'on the wrong side'.

Mapplethorpe, with his photos of the sublimated black body, degenerated into racism because he only gave these splendid bodies an aesthetic, and no voice, according to Groot. Groot is best at writing badly about artists who he actually finds to be good. He is also at his best when writing well about such artists, because his voice more or less coincides with what he thinks that he hears from them. I find this a good quality. But, as far as l'm concerned, his work becomes unclear w hen he criticizes the artists or exhibitions he doesn't really find interesting, as for example in Fallen Angel: about a heavenly pantomime and the dangers of abstraction in art. His 'distinguished' ideas then make the objects of criticism utterly superfluous and a hindrance to his writing. One is better off reading Aunt Tilroe's old fashioned sneering.

How did Filidor and Anti- Filidor fare. further? After the macaroni, the mental battle between Analysis and Synthesis begin staking on grotesque farms. Blows rain down on all sides. Analysis triumphs, but what does this mean? Absolutely nothing. Synthesis could justas easily have triumphed, and that would have been equally meaningless. lt was the symmetry: the situation was symmetrical. and therein lay its strength. but also its weakness. After this frightening discovery. the professors become childish - Ferdydurke is about Great Immaturity - and they derive the greatest pleasure from buying a child's balloon and runningafterit through the fields and woods - hey !hey !
Of course, this is only a story...