Utopia was the dominant feature of xxth century avant-garde, although flows of dystopia have been interweaved in the imagination of cinema, poetry and narration. Only today, at the beginning of the 21st century, does dystopia take centre stage and conquer the whole field of the artistic imagination, thus drawing the narrative horizon of the century with no future. In the expression of contemporary poetry, in cinema, video-art and novels, the marks of an epidemic of psychopathology proliferate. In its highest expressions, in my view, Art of the years zero zero has been phenomenology of mental suffering, of disorder provoked by connective mutation of the Psychosphere.
In her videos, Eija-Liisa Ahtila (Wind; If 6 was 9; Anne, Aki and God) narrates the frailty of relations, the inability to touch and to be touched. In the film Me and You and Everyone We Know, Melinda July tells the story of a video-artist who falls in love with a young man and of the difficulty of translating emotion into words and words into touch. Language is severed from affectivity. Language and sex diverge in everyday life. Sex is talked about everywhere, but sex never speaks. Pills accelerate erection because the time for caresses is limited.
A film by Jia Zhang-Ke, entitled Still Life (Sanxia haoren) and produced in Hong Kong in 2006, shows devastation unfolding. This film is extraordinarily beautiful and tells a simple story, with the background of a sad, desolate and devastated China, as both the scenery and its soul. The predominant colour is a rotten, greyish, violet green. Huo Sanming returns to his place of birth in the hope of finding his wife and daughter, whom he had left years earlier to go and find work in a distant northern mine. His village, along the riverbank of the Yangtze, no longer exists. The construction of the three gorges dam had erased many villages. Houses, people and streets were covered by water. As the building of the dam proceeds, the destruction of villages continues and the water keeps rising. Huo Sanming arrives in this scenario of devastation and rising water and is unable to find his wife and daughter; so his search begins. He looks for them as groups of workers armed with their picks take walls down, as explosives demolish buildings in the urban centre. After long searches he finally finds his wife, she has aged and been sold by her brother to another man. They meet in the rooms of a building as it is being demolished and talk about their daughter in whispers, with their heads down, against a dark green spaceship background of bricks and iron spattering onto a shit-coloured sky. In the last scene of Still Life, a tightrope walker walks on a rope from the roofs of a house towards nothingness, against a background that recalls the dark surrealism of Dali’s bitter canvas. Still life is a lyrical account of Chinese capitalism, acted inside out, from the standpoint of submerged life.
In The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen (2001) speaks of psychopharmacological adjustments used by a humanity devastated by depression and anxiety to adapt to an existence that must pretend to be happy. Corrections are the adjustment to a volatile stock market to avoid losing the money invested in private pension funds that might suddenly disappear. Franzen recounts the old age of a father and mother from the Midwest who have gone nuts as a result of decades of hyper-labor and conformism. Corrections are the small and unstoppable slides towards the point of turn-off, the horror of old age in the civilisation of competition; the horror of sexuality in the world of puritan efficiency. Franzen digs deep into the folds of the American psyche and describes in minute details the putrefaction of the American brain: the depression and dementia resulting from a prolonged exposure to the psychic bombardment of stress from work; the apathy, paranoia, puritan hypocrisy and the pharmaceutical industry around them; the psychic unmaking of men who are encapsulated in the claustrophobic shell of economic hyper-protection; the infantilism of a people who pretends to believe, or perhaps really believes, in the fulsome Christmas fairy tale of compassionately liberalist cruelty. By the end of the long awaited Christmas dinner, as the psychopathic family happily gathers together, the father tries to commit suicide by shooting himself in the mouth. He is not successful.
Yakizakana no Uta starts with a fish in cellophane wrapping on a supermarket shelf. A boy grabs it and takes it to the till; he pays, leaves, puts it in the bicycle basket and cycles home. “Good morning Mr Student, I’m very happy to be with you. Do not worry, I’m not a fish who complains,” the fish says whilst the student briskly pedals home. “It’s nice to make the acquaintance of a human being. You are extraordinary beings; you are almost the masters of the universe. Unfortunately you are not always peaceful, I would like to live in a peaceful world where everyone loves one another and even fish and humans shake hands. Oh it’s so nice to see the sunset, I like it ever so much,” the fish becomes emotional and jumps in the cellophane bag inside the basket. “I can hear the sound of a stream … I love the sound of streams, it reminds me of something from my childhood.”
When they get home the boy unpacks the fish and puts it on a plate, throws a little salt on it, as the fish gets excited and says “Ah! I like salt very much, it reminds me of something.” The boy puts it on the grill in the oven and turns the knob. The fish keeps chatting: “Oh Mr Student it’s nice here, I can see a light down there … I feel hot … hot …” until its voice becomes hesitant. It starts singing a song, more and more feebly and disconnectedly, like the computer Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey as his wires are unplugged.
Yakizakana no Uta, by Yusuke Sakamoto, is perhaps the most harrowing animation film I saw in June 2006 at the Caixa Forum of Barcelona, during the Historias animadas festival. Yet I perceived a common tone running through all of the works presented at the festival: one of ironic cynicism, if you allow me this expression. Place in time by Miguel Soares recounts millions of years from the standpoint of an improbable bug, an organic insect, as the world changes around it. Animales de compania by Ruth Gomes uses ferocious images to tell the story of a generation of well dressed anthropophagi, young beasts in ties; they run and run to avoid being caught by fellows, colleagues, friends, and lovers who wound, kill and eat them as soon as they fall into their grip, with terrorised smiles and dilated eyes.
This art is no denunciation. The terms “denunciation” and “engagement” no longer have meaning when you are a fish getting ready to be cooked. The art of the 21st century no longer has that kind of energy, even though it keeps using expressions from the 1900s, perhaps out of modesty, perhaps because it is scared of its own truth. Artists no longer search for the way to a rupture, and how could they? They seek a path that leads to a state of equilibrium between irony and cynicism that allows them to suspend the execution, at least for a moment. All energy has moved to the war front. Artistic sensibility registers this shift and is incapable of opposing it. Is art simply postponement of the holocaust?
We are imagining art of the future as a process of chaosmotic skizotherapy. When Deleuze and Guattari wrote Antiedipe, becoming skizo was proposed as a way to deterritorialize subjectivity, a way to emancipate subjectivation from the Father, and from the ideological framework of Dialectic historicism.
But now that process of de-territorialization is fully accomplished. The rhizome is everywhere, and the Unconscious is saturated by panicking flows of de-identification. Paranoic reactions of ri-territorialization are erupting: racism, religious fanaticism, need of belonging, aggressiveness.
The political problem that we are facing is an aesthetic problem: a problem of re-tuning, or re-synthonization. We need chaoids, operators of synthonization with the morphogenetic vibration.
Deleuze and Guattari have outlined the cartography of their (past) future. Description of the mutation to come, in the last period of the modern-fordist-edipian age.
But now that map has become the territory. Rhizome is the world. And the world-rhizome is collapsing because human Reason has become unable to govern the global transformation. Power is impotent to understand. Therefore power is unable to act effectively and consistently.
I have never been a fan of the Italian filmmaker Nanni Moretti. I like some of his movies (Bianca is a wonderful surrealistic work) but dislike often his arrogance and complaisance. But his last movie, Habemus Papam, is an outstanding work. It is one of those movies that mark the self-perception of an epoch. The movie is about power in the age of depression. The window of power is empty, as psychic frailty of humans is intimately jeopardizing the force of decision.
A pope has been elected, and the good people of Christ are waiting to see his face and to listen to his words in a moment of global disarray. But Melville, the sensuous old man who is elected by the Holy Spirit embodied by the red-jellow dressed chanting baroque cardinals, after accepting the election is taken by panic when the oceanic crowd gathered in the Vatican square wait for his appearance. Michel Piccoli-Melville feels the frailty and inadequacy of his humanity to cope with the infinite complexity of the will of God. The depressive intricacies of his human (too human) mind revoke and nullify his ability to de-cide.
Decision is the act of choosing a possibility among many. In order to decide you have to know what is best and what is worst in the possible different scenarios, you need time to see, to understand, to compare, to choose. This act becomes impossible when the surrounding environment gets too dense and to fast for the human attention to follow, for the human decision to ensue.
Government becomes an empty baroque mystery play, and Leaders of the planet cannot hide their helplessness and their hopelessness. Meanwhile the daily business of life is pursuing its course thanks to the blind automatisms of governance. Technolinguistic devices are embedded in social communication, protocols of cognitive behavior are formatting the social mind and connecting the social process of production.
Future art is to be imagined as a therapeutic gesture of chaosmotic re-tuning: skizotherapy. Neither psychic re-teritorialization, nor existential normalization. Armonization with the singularity of becoming, morphogenetic vibration.
— Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi