December 10, 2015

Open Letters: A Correspondence with Chilean Art Writer Ignacio Szmulewicz, 9

Ignacio Szmulewicz and I have never met but we talk about the weather as if we are old friends. Any letter should have an update about the weather, don't you think? Even those of art critics. This is the 9th letter in the series, and we're just starting!

Susan Sontag

Dear An,
I’m so glad that you refresh my memory of Susan Sontag. Every once in a while I read her essays for no particularly reason. I find that most of her life was based on the conflicts regarding critical thinking. On the one hand she was really committed to the idea of “la erótica del arte” (the eroticism of the arts). On the other hand, she was very affected by the events such as the one that took place in Sarajevo in 1992. In the documentary Regarding Susan Sontag she spoke on the meaning of critical thinking on the verge of such dramatic events.
I find that most of our lives consist of a series of detours taken to explore our contradictions. We can believe in the power of arts to transform and also experience the limits of every artistic intention. 
I talked about this with a friend of mine last weekend. She said that one needs to continuously expand one's knowledge of the world to get in touch with the dramatic conditions of all the people. I find that a very hard, very drastic, and very exhausting thing to do. But she was right about one thing. The pleasure of any art experience, including critical thinking as you put it well, doesn’t necessarily mean an abstraction of the world. Much of the current dislike with contemporary art has to do with this dilemma. 
In the same conversation I said to my friend: “I just still haven’t found something so compelling in the world so that I felt that the art experience isn’t enough”. And that doesn’t mean that there are no compelling things. On the contrary, it just means that I haven’t experienced anything more enlightening than the life of two lost poets in the search of a lost poetry movement in Los detectives salvajes by Bolaño; or the agony of a forbidden love in The piano by Jane Campion (for quoting two examples). 

Doris Salcedo
I think that critical thinking can be able to connect in such a profound way with the core and expansion of the artwork that it can show others the beautiful experience of being lost in a human creation. Creation that most of the times was conceived in different eras, distant spaces, or by other cultures. In that way, critical thinking has a diplomatic purpose, in the good sense of the word. It holds the key to understanding the collective nature of feelings, political intrigues, or cultural difference.

Wim Wenders, Der Himmel über Berlin, 1987

You ask me about the weather. Here in Santiago the absence of any kind of clouds is a synonym of the people being happier and happier. What I miss most of the south is the rain and the clouds. I feel so trapped in the huge blue. On the contrary, my imagination just gets empty by the look of that endless cyan gamma. Clouds, so said Leonardo, are one of the most fascinated objects of painting because of the connection with abstraction and free thinking. But I also have to learn that the myth of nature it’s connected with the idea of being in an immersive world in which it’s impossible to come out. The passive and endless calm of being in the clouds (like on a Win Wenders movie) has to be continuously broken or interrupted by touching the ground. I feel that critical thinking is an opportunity to get in touch with the most volatile  of nature phenomenons but also with the cracks of the soil in which all civilization has been uplifted (Doris Salcedo’s work in the turbine hall is precisely about that).

Leonardo da Vinci

What do you think about the contradictions of critical thinking? Have you experienced some? What kind of discussions do you get when you talk about art criticism?

I wish that you could send some of those beautiful clouds to the dry weather of Santiago,


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