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– Spring/Summer 2005

Not a Condition but a Process

Thomas Lawson

Poor Theater (Simulacrum#3), directed by Elizabeth LeCompte, 2004. Pictured: Ari Fliakos, Kate Valk, Scott Shepherd. Photographs by Paula Court. Courtesy The Wooster Group

Poor Theater (Simulacrum#3), directed by Elizabeth LeCompte, 2004. Pictured: Ari Fliakos, Kate Valk, Scott Shepherd. Photographs by Paula Court. Courtesy The Wooster Group

Why are we concerned with art? To cross our frontiers, exceed our limitations, fill our emptiness - fulfil ourselves. This is not a condition but a process in which what is dark in us slowly becomes transparent.
- Jerzy Grotowski1

I open with this idealistic statement of art's purpose by way of indicating that we are in a period of strange contradiction. The phenomenon of contemporary art seems to be thriving, on a global scale unimaginable 20 years ago. But under that veneer of success there lurks a suspicion that something is missing, a vital connection to the everyday matters of life and death. It is very apparent that, despite widespread anger that we are waging war in Iraq, we are not reliving 1968, when artists sought to express their outrage at the war in Vietnam by claiming the role of conscience. That moment itself may be ridiculed as a period of neo-avant-gardism, a pale reflection of the genuine article, the heroic revulsion from the very idea of art expressed by the Dadaists in 1917. But the generation of '68 clearly sought to lay out new conditions for the meaning and reception of art. Boundaries were tested. The idea of relevance was given urgency. Today, in this seemingly a-historical moment in which nakedly expressed will is seen to trump process and persuasion, the practice of art seems strangely un-moored and artists randomly ransack the past for pieces of formal gold to entice what seems to be an ever expanding market.

After the exuberant experiments of the late 1960s and early 70s, there began a long period in which all the various

Footnotes
  1. Jerzy Grotowski, 'Towards a Poor Theatre' (1965), reprinted in Jerzy Grotowski, Towards a Poor Theatre, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968, p.21

  2. Jerzy Grotowski, 'Theatre is an Encounter' (1967), op. cit., p.56

  3. Jerzy Grotowski, 'Towards a Poor Theatre' (1965), op. cit., p.19

  4. J. Grotowski, 'Theatre is an Encounter', op. cit., p.58

  5. Max Ernst, cited in William Rubin, Dada, Surrealism, and their Heritage, New York: MoMA, 1968, p.68, quoted in Arthur C. Danto, Art After the End of Art, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997, p.5

  6. Roxana Marcoci, 'Paper Moon', Thomas Demand, New York: MoMA, 2005, pp. 9-10, quoted in Michael Fried, 'Without a Trace', Artforum, March 2005, p.199

  7. M. Fried, op. cit., p. 202

  8. William Forsythe, cited in Paul Derksen, 'Forsythe's Image Breaking', Mediamatic, vol.9, no.4, 1999

  9. J. Grotowski, 'Theatre is an Encounter', op. cit., p.58