Sunday, December 9, 2012

Aha-Moments and Modern Art

In a retrospect, one of the awesome things in childhood were these aha-moments when you realize you just learned something really fundamental. Being an adult, these moments are somewhat rare - and if they occur it is mostly in a job (science) related setting. But today I was lucky to experience a "true" aha-moment, in an area I did not expect. 
Today in the afternoon I went to the Kunsthaus in Zurich - a very impressive collection, basically from all epochs of European art (I highly recommend a visit). Usually I like the classics and old masters most. Maybe this is because they are often very precise, observant, almost analytic. I also very much enjoy photography, especially of nature and people, since it captures reality and has the power to directly convey feelings via empathy. I never could relate to most pieces of modern art, though. But this changed today - and is my personal aha-moment of the year. 
In Kunsthaus there was a video installation by contemporary artist Pipilotti Rist, which basically consisted of a dark, weakly lit room with a 70s-style floor lamp, velvet carpet and velvet bar seats, with opened woman's purses on it and silent, somewhat harmonic, but still unidentifiable sound coming from somewhere. When I entered the room I felt somewhat uncomfortable. Even more strange, I felt it was not so much the room itself that made me feel like that, but it was more the presence of the few other visitors. I kept on strolling around the room, somewhat observing the purses, looking into them, because the sound seemed to come out of there. And indeed, in every of these purses was a little TV, showing a private scene: a young girl swimming in a swimming pool with her mother; a woman swimming in a pool and being filmed from below, such that the only thing you see are her breasts; a scene of a woman with, what seemed to be, a lot of blood all over her body; big red lips moving like they would passionately kiss someone. All of these scenes made me feel even more uncomfortable, because it was basically some kind of a "peep show" - a short glance into a most private scene of the live of someone else. 
I left the room, thinking that there is no sense whatsoever in it. I could not say what the artist wanted to tell me, what she wanted me to see. Being back in the main art hall, I sat down for a second and started feeling comfortable again. And then I realized: this is what the artist wanted to "show" me. As the classic sculptures and photographs earlier made me feel the joy of beauty or feel empathy with other people, this video installation served the exact same purpose, although much more extrem and intense: to trigger an emotion. An emotion, however, you would not expect to be exposed to or even wanted to be exposed to. In our everyday life, most (if not all) of the things we do take place in our comfort-zone. But this video installation forced me out of the zone and triggered this very precise feeling of being uncomfortable. And that was when I realized that with a large number of modern art pieces I have seen so far, I completely missed the point. I was much too focused on what can be seen, and not on what do I feel. So next time you see a modern piece of art and you think it's shit because you cannot "understand" it: there might not be anything to "understand", but only to "feel". And rather than analyzing the art installation, you should analyze yourself in order to "see" what the artist wants you to "see".