Expression or Depression?

Art—a method of expressing human imagination, emotion and skill. Art can be simply decoration, made to look pretty and fill up space in a room. Or, it could be conveying a deeper meaning. 

Straying from traditional mediums like paper or canvas opens doors for artists. This can be achieved through both digital art, which can include photos or videos, and performance art, which features a live display. While these variations could be beneficial for getting an audience more connected, certain artists have gone to extremes to communicate some stretched points. Many say art is limitless, but a line must be drawn between creativity and an attempt to justify insanity. 

Among artists’ deeper concepts, many seem to focus on the darkest thoughts and urges of the human brain. To put it simply, this is not something that should be glamorized. Yes, the world is terribly violent—we know. 

Adel Abdessemed, a so-called artist from Algeria, created a piece uselessly expressing human cruelty. The video Don’t Trust Me (2008) depicted repeating clips of various farm animals having their heads smashed by a sledgehammer… artistic, I know. 

Adel Abdessemed and his exhibition Hope (2011)

Describing his thought process to Annual Art Magazine, Abdessemed said, “Our reality is sick, Paul – sick with exiles, violence, inequality, scorn. I repeat: I am an artist, but I am a messenger of the minimum. I’m not on the side of de-struction, I’m for con-struction.” …Like, what? 

The problem with artists like Abdessemed is that they have an extreme superiority complex. Through overanalyzing a brutal, violent act, anyone can come up with a bullshit excuse that attempts to justify it. What Abdessemed is saying is, since murder happens in the world, it is the job of an artist to communicate that message of violence. However, if someone truly wants to see raw violence in our world, all it takes is pulling up the news or watching a disturbing crime documentary. No one needs an artist to dumb it down for them through a gruesome video of animals dying. That is not art because violence is not art. Through warped logic like this, even sporadic murder could be rationalized. 

Abdessemed continued to claim that he was just documenting a routine process that happened at that certain farm, as if he were an animal rights activist trying to stop the cruelty. If that were the case, maybe the video would be a bit more understandable. It could have served as an exposé of the horrors of the farm. Yet that is difficult to believe when so much care was put into camera angles and the work was advertised as art in a museum. A recent piece of his even depicted a line of chickens hanging upside down, set aflame. At least this time, thank God, the flames were said to be special effects. 

With all these graphic clips of animals ‘exposing’ the cruelties they suffer, one would almost be inclined to think he was an animal rights activist. But no—Abdessemed is intent on showing the violence of the world. He simply decided to use helpless animals as his method of doing so.

Some people seem to find something artistic about pain.  This contradicts the fact that if a normal person were to engrave a symbol into themselves with a razor and call it art, they would probably get sent to a mental hospital. But that wasn’t the case for Serbian artist Marina Abramović, who is still wandering around today.

One of Abramović’s performances titled Lips of Thomas (1975) featured her cutting a star into her stomach. This was supposedly a way to test her pain tolerance and defy the limits of the human body. 

Marina Abramović at the Museum of Modern, New York, performing The Artist is Present (2010)

A similar performance occurred previously in Rhythm 5 (1974), where she lay down inside a pentagram of fire until she lost consciousness. Abramović had to be pulled out by an onlooker, but she could have easily died during that performance. 

Abramović once said, “To me the pain and the blood are merely means of artistic expression.” 

She also sees pain as a sort of door to the subconscious. In an interview with Huerta Marin from Interview Magazine, Abramović said, “To me, the pain is so interesting because if you open the door of the pain, you go to the other side and the pain doesn’t exist. But it’s too easy to tell you. You have to experience it.”

The way she words it, you could say it sounds beautiful—defying the barriers of fear and pain. But are fear and pain not fundamental parts of humanity? What Abramović is encouraging is straying away from what it means to be human. Again, this comes back to the superiority complex aspect. She literally thinks that by being able to inflict pain on herself, she has reached a higher level of enlightenment than everyone else. However artistic that may sound, if we look at it plainly, it sounds like the words of someone mentally ill. 

A year before the star-engraving performance, when she was only 23, Abramović did something extremely powerful and bold. The performance Rhythm 0 (1974) is still heard of today because of its chilling results. 

Abramović allowed the audience to do whatever they wanted to her for six hours as she stood still. In the room with her was a table of 72 objects ranging from a pen to a loaded gun. By the end of the time, her clothes had been ripped off and a man even cut her neck with a razor blade and drank her blood. She was forced to hold the loaded gun up to her neck, all while staying completely still, despite the tears falling down her face. 

The items displayed in Abramović’s Rhythm 0 (1974)

This revealed a terrifying side of people, although, in the end, we know that bad people exist in the world—murderers, rapists, etc. It is not necessary to show that through a dangerous ‘art’ exhibition.

This undoubtedly traumatized Abramović for life, and knowing the horrors she went through, it makes more sense why she acts the way she does now. Her performances are methods of showing what is going on in her mind. While that should probably send her to a mental hospital, it technically fits the literal definition of art—expression and imagination.

The main reason people refrain from shunning this as much as they should is that they have a fear of being seen as closed-minded or anti-art. However, accepting the fact that these artists are not mentally stable can change these perspectives. Art is usually a healthy coping mechanism. That stops applying at such extremes.

Art like Abdessemed and Abramović’s is unhealthy and harmful. Whatever message the pieces may show, it is problematic to display them as if they are okay. Violence, pain and fear are inevitable parts of the world, but that does not mean they must be glamorized. Something beautiful about traditional art is that you can express pain and hurt without actually causing any harm. So, maybe, we should stick to that.

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