Crime and Punishment
Wherever one turns within this work one is met with absence, an absence emphatically represented, as if this is what the work is about. First there is the all too obvious one, of the performance of an actor, something that took place for an audience (otherwise it would not be a performance) but without the presence of that audience. Then when the audience arrives there is no performance as such. It took place and ‘we’ missed it –not like one misses a train, but like the encounter was impossible in the first place. An emphatic, almost fateful impediment. What is then articulated and shown, since, it seems, nothing can take place? Could it be that we have a simple, straightforward –and, if the expression be allowed, misguided- aesthetic celebration of absence, failure to meet, to experience, to articulate?
The answer to this reveals the risk of this work, that it is supported by nothing more, draws its aesthetic authority by nothing more, than the sheer emphasis on its conditions: the very fact that articulation, what could be communicated or spoken amongst ourselves (actors and audience, art work and its audience) must be spoken across a gap, must be spoken in the dins and echoes generated by an absence, the absence of that which has no available means of articulation. What makes all too pressing the emphasis on this absence is not that something was once articulated, experienced and present, and now is no longer, but that something has not been articulated at all. This vacant space, or absence, is precisely what Ms. Tsantila’s work registers. With a precision, that earns her work membership in the republic of melancholy, the demand of that which cannot be articulated, is made visible as a demand. This visibility does not set up a canon for the non-realisable, nor does it glorify the margins of expression; the work, in its very form, by making visible the vacant space between art and its audience, invites us to suffer this gap, to experience it as such, and a gap suffered (and this response may or may not be elicited; this is the ineliminable moment of risk in this work, its power and fragility, its success or failure) is the sentimental education generated by this work. The fact that art and its audience never meet is embodied in a work which, as a powerless shadow, exposes the conditions that make this meeting impossible. Such conditions (which are also art’s conditions) come from outside art: the dominant expression and articulation of experience (that which we are in reality) has put out of our reach the kind of experience art feeds on, unique presence, hopelessly contingent intelligibility, that cannot be captured by already possessed meanings.
The obstinacy of art which is embodied in the fragile truth of this work, does not originate in some essential character of art being about unique actualities and sensuous experience, but the fact that the forms that were to render intelligible actuality, existence, presence, in short, allow genuine experience –call them scientific, technical, legal forms- have done so at the expense of what they sought to capture and represent. It is only in art works that this failure registers and is suffered as a failure. For art works, at least Ms. Tsantila’s art, does not immediately affirm the therapeutic role of art as that which articulates what is suppressed elsewhere. Her work only shows that what was not allowed to become experience, leaves traces that weigh heavily in the form of an absence. Here, then, lies the present work’s quality and risk, the emphasising of absence does not celebrate and affirm the lack of articulation, but registers the demand of that which has been silenced, and as such, a mere demand, reaches out to find others, the audience to recognise it as a demand. In this respect, the work invites others, to become an audience, a formed common sensibility.
Absence of the actor, of the audience, of the performance and then exhibition of a work that emphasises these absences, or rather, a work that itself is the visual pathos of a non-realised experience. An experience, which in its very failure makes a demand on us to avow it and in this regard make ourselves into an audience. Because the work does not presuppose its audience as such it is crucial for it not to allow any privileged standpoints that hold its secrets. When a recollection of the performance of the actor comes, it does not come from the maker of the work as if she stepped in or absorbed in her person the place of an audience. The performance was not for her, she does not claim for herself what is not open or offered to others. She is there to record only a demand of that which was not realised, and invite others to recognise, in their own way, this demand. Artist and audience in this respect share in the risk of sentimental education.
Finally, the very choice of the representational theme of the work is telling of what has been expounded here. The violent scene of a murder, of an injury and offence done, is registered in the literary work itself not so much in the daemonic interiority of the offender in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, as in the emphatic presence, in the crime scene, of a creature that cannot offend (a fly), and the enchanting image on the wallpaper, “German damsels with birds in their hands”. It is not accidental that from a number of literary works that could have been chosen this is the one that captures with the greatest clarity that which is at stake in the present work too. A violent event takes place, but its brutality is not so much felt when it is actually described, or when the injury is understood and addressed, as when the reverberating narrative pushed by the momentum of this brutality finds an image which does capture the suffering, the guilt, the injury done, better than the description of the injury itself. For it is the vision of a buzzing, twirling, nature’s little creature, and of the damsels in their Arcadian home, that decompose us the most and make us respond with pity and sorrow.
London, September 2002
Published in the catalogue of the exhibition Familistère 1
KW – Kunstwerke Institute of Contemporary Art Berlin, 2002