A compass to orient themselves in the boundless territories of the arts, from Wagner to the avant-garde, from '68 to computer graphics and augmented reality. Because the world has changed, and there is no turning back.
Towards the middle of the eighteenth century the German philosopher and playwright Lessing proposed a famous classification of the arts inspired by ordinary common sense (for those times) in which the spatial arts such as painting, sculpture and architecture, characterised by immobility, stood out, and performing arts, such as music and theatre, were immersed in the flow of time. This classification initially encountered denials and infringements with the avantguardes, in particular with Futurism and Dadaism, but not until the climate of ‘68 did it come to a definitive end. That year was truly revolutionary, not for politics, in which little happened, but rather for aesthetics (at least if we interpret it in its etymological sense) as an invitation to rely upon the senses and let them break out into the open.
The preaching of the Canadian Marshall McLuhan was gaining attention. This involved the notion of a “global village” which envisaged the fall of geographical, ethnic and sexual barriers to give free reign to a devastating electronic wave. Due to this, representative techniques entrusted to the paintbrush which required direct intervention of the body (body art, behaviour, performance), or installations large enough to be quickly eroded by atmospheric agents, were condemned so that to ensure that an image would last, it was necessary to make use methods of the time such as cinema and, in particular, video recording, which actually made its first appearance with the German Gerry Schum, and aimed to secure the otherwise precarious Land Art creations. I remember a Bolognese exhibition, of which I was one of the curators, which took place in January 1970, which the title itself indicates. For the first time we made an on site, outdoor visit to record the presentations of the most advanced artists, in particular those involved in Arte Povera, to then transmit their works to a network of closed-circuit monitors in the rooms of the exhibition.
Since then it has been a triumphal march to the abolition of old barriers. I have been a professor of Art Disciplines, Music and Entertainment (the famous DAMS at the University of Bologna) for a long time, but I would always introduce myself to my students with a joke. I would announce that in reality we could call DP, Disciplines of Performance, the final unit capable of embracing the various visual, sound and gestural aspects, thus inheriting the old dream of Wagner to achieve a work of total art, the Wort-Ton-Drama. But more specifically I should clarify that our course brought together this entire collection of perceptions and events in a video stream, all the while maturing and growing in technological mastery, including the ability to divide itself into two parts: those who grasp the direct reality and those who, on the contrary, cleverly create a virtual laboratory using computer graphics, rivalling those of cartoons or commercials. After all, since the days of Toulouse-Lautrec, there has been a relationship between avant-garde expression and the purposes of advertising.
These days it is difficult to distinguish between levels of '"high", "medium" and "low": they all go into one fascinating melting pot. One could, however, lament the fact that, because of this - with the prevalence of technology - certain types of craftsmanship which have been around for centuries, if not millennia, are at great risk of being lost. For example, think of the video art of the South African artist William Kentridge. He shows us how to follow a unique path starting with a fresh, vibrant design, rich with all of the strength already inherent in the works of German Expressionism, but at the same time he animates those robust graphic schemes which give him that priceless movement, marching in procession, accompanied by the appropriate soundtrack.
Kraftwerk at Sónar Barcelona.