With the ascendancy of the most Zeros-specific iteration of Public Service Aesthetics — the meta-institutional clearinghouse that is Edendale’s Machine Project — deadpan has moved through the looking glass, triggering and riding high on a tidal wave of incongruous symposia on grassroots DIY activism at Ivy League schools and exhibits on organic gardening and home canning at major art museums.
Thank God that when the apocalypse arrives, several thousand hipsters with vague ideas about recycling gray water will be there, ready to bail us out!
Not to denigrate the potential effectiveness of bringing these scattershot home-brew recipes to broader public attention, but the fact that the new radicalism has proven so smoothly assimilable into the Art World status quo is evidence of its fundamental shortcoming — its emphatic reasonableness.
One of the decade’s most telling examples of the attempt to use reason and rationality in an artwork to effect a positive change in the world was Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, which should have reasonably resulted in immediate impeachment proceedings, war-crimes trials and reparations to the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. Didn’t happen. It’s not that we don’t know how to do the right thing, we just choose not to.
In the meantime, bicycle-powered irrigation systems have become the latest subterfuge for ambitious grad students who want to be written up in Artforum.
What then must we do?
What has been undermined in the wake of 9/11 is not the legitimacy of art itself but the system by which it is accorded value and meaning in a fatally wounded social construct. The things our culture designates as Art are probably the last things Martian anthropologists will take into account when they try to parse our species’ arc of willful self-immolation. Maybe YouTube?
Art predates human civilization and will probably outlast it. But it’s not art’s undeniable persuasive power that offers a glimmer of hope for the future but its capacity to absorb and accommodate our species’ deep irrationality, instead of projecting it outward and shooting it full of holes.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly from whence the next round of vaccines will emerge, but Art will definitely need a shot in the arm as the New Millennium enters puberty.