A Essay on Art and Civilization
By Ben Tritt, Judd Maltin, Nichole Argo, Batnadiv Weinberg, Hillary Reder
At the beginning of recorded history, art and architecture were inseparable. In the Bible, the introduction of art is woven together with the construction of the Tabernacle. The Egyptians embedded their art as an essential component of temples and tombs, which functioned as gateways to the gods. Indeed, by their entwining of framework and artwork, the Egyptian tomb, the Tabernacle and the medieval cathedral were alike. The intent of their design was to create a special, liminal space, a sensory threshold where the “real” world met another world, and the spirit of whomever stood within that space would be transported.
During the European Renaissance of the 16th and 17th centuries, however, the role of art changed fundamentally. With the advent of the printed word and the portable painting on canvas, art broke away from the integrated, architectural space of the temple or cathedral. Transplantable, metaphorical spaces supplanted ‘real’ space. This break between art and architecture was the foundational crack in the human experience of integrated conceptual and constructed space.
Prophetically, the perfection of the portable painting in the Renaissance can be seen as the beginning of Modernism, which quickly proceeded from the movable to the moving image. That is, the easel painting lead directly to the reproducible image centuries later, and eventually to the isolation hall of Modern cinema. Art was divorced from its context, isolated as an object. Unable to depict the sacred space of the temple or chapel as a print or poster, art began to pursue and package more commonplace images and ideas. Thus, when Modernism fully normalized the idea of art as consumption, it further alienated the classical version of designated space with designated images for a designated, even spiritual purpose.
Yet the unfulfilled need for sanctity leaves a vacuum that must be filled in one form or another. Where do we look today? To museums and galleries, which are treated with the reverence of chapels. Yet these are artificial, displaced spaces. The art on display is separated from its origin, aesthetically disconnected from what resides next to it, floating on a museum wall. Thus, even as the museum wall is a context that strives to erase itself so the art can stand out, it fails and makes itself all the more felt.
Michael Gluzman argues that one of the defining characteristics of Modernism is a valorization of exile, seen as “as offering unique possibilities for resistance and freedom…not only a mode of life but also as a form of art.” It is perhaps not surprising then that the quintessential Modernist space—the museum—epitomizes exile. Exile, at its root, is separating a thing from its origins. A forced forgetting. Museums are thus half way homes for scattered art works. Indeed, the artificiality and displacement of these display spaces only serves to heighten the distance between the “artistic” and “real” life, and in this scenario both suffer.
The inherent pleasure of art is its interface with reality. Art and reality function best when they meet at the threshold, where each is sweetened by its connection to the other. Goliath strives to be that place of interface, that threshold. It accepts the Modernist contention that the advent of Modernity pushed humanity into a perpetual state of exile. The “Modern era” that defines us, that elusive admixture of enlightenment philosophy and industrialization amidst staggering technological growth, has set us apart from our past as no other period has done. We are left refugees in body, mind and spirit. Goliath also accepts the Postmodern insistence on breaking down any definitive context. We have eaten the forbidden fruit and have been stripped bare, thrown out into a terrifying freedom outside the bounds of Paradise’s protective streams.
For Goliath, this is not reason to despair, but to create. We must remember that exile is animated both by the lost point of origin—a longing that can attain mythic proportions—and by the nostos, the journey to eventual homecoming. Exiles from a Paradise lost are always driven by a dream of Paradise regained, in all its utopic—and dystopic—permutations. Thus, coming from a transnational, exilic position, Goliath strives towards reintegration, to dissolve the artificial boundaries that have been constructed, allowing the natural overlap between real and conceptual space to develop. This reintegration is indeed a nostos, a return to the classic, pre- ‘specialization’ vision of art. But it is also a new creation. It engages the realities that have changed the practice of art, and—to invoke the Postmodernist universal language of diaspora —the global reality of cultures looking in on themselves from the outside.
Many subcultures have participated in the exilic journey sketched above, despite its focus on Europe. Indeed, the most influential names in the Modern and PostModern cannon are foreign to all that proceeded from the Renaissance. For instance, when Modernism defined exile as the emblem of modern man, it was to the Jew they turned to as model for survival in these uncharted waters—as exemplified by James Joyce’s Bloom the wandering Jew. More recently, immigrant populations throughout Europe struggle to assess and assert their cultures in a European context. In Africa, Asia and Latin America, societies struggle to remember and reclaim precolonial selves.
There is a global consciousness now. It is available to all people who have been touched by the alienating properties of Modernity and diaspora. The global consciousness imagines a new integrated space that will be a temple built by all, for all — not by living in the past, nor casting the past away, but by bringing each experience’s respective richness to a collective task.
We are artists from everywhere in the world who have felt the sadness of exile, the emptiness of Modernity, and the yearning for home; who are unafraid and share a vision for an integrated home, to pause for a while and join Goliath.