Irrefutable Rights Not To Be Understood

“Irrefutable Rights Not To Be Understood.” Essay about contemporary art, artists, and life in the city.

Published in Studija 24, no. 3 (2002).

Download the article pdf.

View the article on Studija magazine online archive.

Alise Tifentale. Afterparty I. 2002.

Alise Tifentale. Afterparty II. 2002.

Alise Tifentale. Afterparty III. 2002.


Art in any form is not merely an innocent exercise in communication or materialization of a conceptual idea, but in its wider sense a manifestation of power: confrontation with a work of art is passive submission to its influence, either it would be a collection of dark brown paintings by the old masters in a museum or a contemporary art project with projections in the city and a commentary based on parapsychology. Yoseph Brodsky in his "Watermark" writes: "Perhaps nothing proves this better than modern art, whose poverty alone makes it prophetic. A poor man always speaks for the present, and perhaps the sole function of collections like Peggy Guggenheim's and the similar accretions of this century's stuff habitually mounted here is to show what a cheap, self-assertive, ungenerous, one-dimensional lot we have become, to instill humility in us." Humility brought from outside provokes a protest, rebellion, mutiny, either as a conscious of neglect or a protesting activity. City environment is one of the major public forms of manifestation of contemporary art, beginning with a gallery and finishing with clubs, streets and personal dwelling spaces, and it is exactly where one can feel a lack of communication between the work of art and the viewer because of the different wavelength of the transmitter/receiver, a certain influence is also exerted by density of information, the densely populated area of entertainment and several other aspects characteristic of contemporary city life.

What goes on in the secrecy behind the brightly lit and safely curtained windows of a house? Perhaps some sort of counter-culture revolution: cheap, negligent clothes, passive consumption, staying in (opposite to going out, in other words going to clubs, cinemas and other public entertainment places) in a comparatively small circle of friends, private entertainments or simply aimless pastimes.

"Advertisement has forced people to strive for cars and clothes that they don't need. The whole generations have been doing the hateful job only to be able to buy what in fact they don't need. Our generation has not experienced either a big war or a depression, but we have a big spiritual war to wage. We have a big revolution against culture. The big depression is in fact our life. We have a spiritual depression," concludes Chuck Palahniuk in his "Fight Club", the pathetic and pompous narrative about sufferings of a rebellious soul in an utterly urbanized and industrially aesthetic city reality. That is fiction. But let us get acquainted with some actual people in the twenties who in a sense already determine or will determine what is to happen in the city reality.

[ . . .]

Culture anthropologist Clifford Geertz in his "Anthropology of Cultures" maintains that the aesthetic view annihilated naive realism and the practical interest in the way that people do not ask questions about trustworthiness of their daily life, but quite simply, ignore this experience, much more willingly lingering at their outward manifestations, - that is a peculiar preoccupation with planes, being taken over by "things by themselves". It is possible that the viewer who is not literally interested in art accepts much more freely and willingly the artist's exercise in the realm of aesthetics than wants to solve complex metaphysical, philosophical or intimate tasks that are quite frequently proposed by the conceptual art that has been created in quite a cynical medium saturated with artistic education and tired of visual impulses that in its own day has taken into account quite seriously postmodernist theories.

(At the same time the aesthetics theory cannot all that easily be captured in a situation when all that is beautiful has been used ad nauseam to sell various products, and creates in the consumer suspicion, then dislike, is characterized as a banality and thrown out of one's consciousness like a used packaging, - but that would be a separate story.)

In Anšlavs Eglītis' bright and lively, and partly documentary narrative about artists' daily life in Riga of 1930s "Homo Novus" the curator of the times teaches the young artist: "My heart aches for the efforts that have been wasted in painting so beautifully smeared paper bags, cracked pots, bones of sprats. Where is your head? Oh, artists, artists, you live in the world of legends indeed! Come on - and mark it once and for all - paint pretty flowers not in old boxes but in nice china vases. Put a bright plate under the bouquet, an ornately bound book, nicely gathered silk scarf. Even better - paint bright and juicy Southern fruit - bananas, pine-apples, grapes, oranges. Such things sell like hot cakes."

Read more — download article pdf.

Riga, Latvia. Photo: © Alise Tifentale.

Riga, Latvia. Photo: © Alise Tifentale.

Riga, Latvia. Photo: © Alise Tifentale.

Riga, Latvia. Photo: © Alise Tifentale.

Riga, Latvia. Photo: © Alise Tifentale.

Riga, Latvia. Photo: © Alise Tifentale.