Lisette Lagnado

Visiting all sort of contemporary exhibitions, one can wonder if art is still able to transcend spectacularization. The conviction that leisure provides clues to safeguard a sensory experience journey represents a skillful method, but what is to be done?

The proposition of Creleasure arose in Hélio Oiticica’s exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London (1969), as a development of the artist’s ongoing struggle against finished forms. Combining a set of penetrables, with different sensorial properties opened for the participation of the visitors (sand, leaves, straw, water), this historical show marks an undeniable inflection point. Oiticica had realized there is no true life for art under the pressures of institutions or under its artificial light. In fact, behaviour had been a constituent part of his recent projects (Eden). As a reader of Herbert Marcuse, he introduced the notion of “non-repressive leisure” for the promotion of experimental proposals. In doing so, he achieved a wider understanding of artistic production and economy.

Notwithstanding a first negative resonance, how to make the most of an inactivity? Can one conceive giving up producing and remaining a participating citizen, or at least still belonging to the collectivity as a full member?

Oiticica’s permanent drive to act in different directions, assuming social, psychological and ethical convictions, was made possible through a great emphasis on collective manifestations generated by music (samba, rock, rap) and dance [dancing as insurrectional practice, Rasha Salti]. Alongside arguments stressing the active role of the artist, there would also be room left for a very different activity, something like enjoying idleness. Questioning his own routine of keeping on producing objects to be exhibited, Oiticica gave his participatory program a key requirement for deceleration, allowing new assignments and powers to both parts of the process – proposers and participants.

In order to make Creleasure a real proposition, a couple of specific aspects needed to be settled. Imagine a clothing or an object as an extension of your skin – in this context, Oiticica has outlined the concept of “world-as-shelter”. And then imagine the fusion between object-subject and you get the fundamental dimension of “bodywise”: Jimi Hendrix setting his guitar on fire at Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Intrinsically articulated, these two concepts are the grounds for a space that is no neutral location, but an atmosphere, more like a climate or an environment.

This very brief introduction is fundamental to grasp how an artistic program can turn its formal nature and nurture into political subjectivity. We are now the witnesses of a movement towards the opposite direction of the culture of laziness – the hyperactivity of artists, curators, and gallerists going crazy because of the update of hundreds of fairs and biennials happening simultaneously. One could almost argue that the everyday life of a successful artist is not too distant from any CEO working for a corporation. Not by accident, attention deficit disorder is a consequence of an inflated activity.

This diagnosis is a decisive factor to be mentioned here. The underlying issue is to develop new strategies for slowing down. According to Felix Guattari’s comprehension of the contemporary way of life, to be concerned with subjectivity is to reflect on the process that has jeopardized its exteriority at various levels, i.e. social, animal, vegetal, cosmic (or energetic). [1]

In a world overloaded with a multitude of tricks coming from entertainment industries, is it still reasonable to stand up for (more) leisure?

In other words, to combine deceleration with urgency leads to one of the main philosophical issues of the digital era. As writers, we have all experienced that the final text is just its last and temporary version, or, let’s say, a virtual form until a forthcoming one appears. Caught up in muddled projects endlessly being remodeled, this indefinite number of drafts only contributes to increase a rhetoric based on unsuccessful attempts. What does it mean that any representation is doomed to remain a shape in progress, like a failure?

It is impossible to avoid here the remembrance of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s successive bankruptcies (The Crack-Up, 1945). Of course all life is a process of breaking down... It is less about voicing a nihilist drive than putting down the emphasis on productivity – “knowledge production” is the daily leitmotif of neoliberal systems. Paul Lafargue denounced the social and mental structures of labor in his Le Droit à la paresse [The Right to Laziness] (1880), a classic essay to understand the supreme values of 19th Century. Ultimately, Lafargue and Fitzgerald gather the main features of the contemporary, albeit erroneous, a notion of a loser, whose disorderly condition is originated from all sort of inflations: unemployment rates, lack of integrity and ethical practices, bankruptcy proceedings.

Particular emphasis should be placed on the context of the industrial revolution. Now since the Great Depression of 1929, at least once a decade the world has been undergoing a (new?) financial crisis, whose impacts are likely harmful to a growing city in peri-urban zones. In a society exposed to precarious employment, pleading for the “right of laziness” is a disturbing claim for both conservative and socialist regimes. Because it makes a minimum performance possible (a continuing operation or, as said by Fitzgerald, moving on is a necessary work despite an immense drive to resign), the sentence “I need to feel functional” is the deep appeal for the mercy of any depressed person asking for some medication to relieve intangible distress.

It is self-evident that the turn into digital age has disseminated a collective machine addiction. If understood in the existential register of “bodywise”, leisure is the opposite of entertainment. It is more like a temporary rest, given that the unbearable need to respond to people requests is getting higher and higher. Digital contacts on flat screens are actually the primal source of rhythm inside any urban being. Totally internalized, mobile applications and portable devices are the uncanny wires of human brains.

One must assume that unfettered access to all virtual devices multiplies the experience of misery. Swinging in one of Oiticica’s famous hammocks is now impossible to imagine, what with users polishing their nails and plunged in the distraction mood, theorized by Walter Benjamin. In spite of navigating through the open arena of art, left as an active void, they will be browsing a succession of links, checking online messages that drop at every minute. Inactivity as a creative space is maybe the needed motto to preserve civilization and freedom.