The tragedy of the applause or The tragic nature of the work of art
Luk Lambrecht - (14 December 2009)

It couldn’t have been better: a project by OHNO COOPERATION – an offshoot of the Brussels group Needcompany – taking place at LA CONDITION PUBLIQUE in the northern French town of Roubaix. Onstage, success is converted into virtual currency by the applause; works of art are priced on a rising scale in pieces of silver at prestigious auctions and in fashionable galleries that promote themselves like trendy boutiques. In some rather unconventional rooms in Roubaix, Jan Lauwers and Maarten Seghers were able to put a brilliant concept into practice that turned the stagnated rules of art round into situations/circumstances in which most of the works of art only became ‘authentic’ art when manipulated by the spectators. The principle of creative chaos washed over the rooms, where the art let itself be snared only by active participation in each ‘silent and inviting’ work. The Tragedy Of The Applause was by no means a zoo where the spectators get to watch works of art that sparkle with their self-satisfied serenity. In Roubaix the tension could be both seen and heard and for the visitor it was pretty tense in the face of the inviting works of art, which cast the accepted passive feast of popular entertainment back into the realm of each individual visitor’s responsibility. Jan Lauwers and Maarten Seghers were able to take into La Condition Publique works of art and hybrid installations that made the previously unsuspecting users take a point of view. The art public, with its nomadic mode of consumption and numbed by cultural indigestion, is no longer used to this at all. The audience watches the show from a plushly ‘settled’ darkness or strolls around museums and galleries as if they were window-shopping at the most elegant retail emporia. The cultural products are usually recognisable and their style traceable, but what happens to works of art and installations that do not conform to the easily digestible needs of the cultural omnivore? The conclusion of The Tragedy of the Applause was one of them: a ‘state of pre-meaning’. By which is meant that art does not allow itself, beforehand, to be browbeaten or shackled into clichés and caramel meanings served up by artists piping hot and ready to eat. On the contrary, the works of art/installations in Roubaix were ‘frozen’ in time and only assumed any meaning when they were pushed off into an unpredictable ‘Lauf der Dinge’ like a bobsleigh. This project was a polyphonous and many-layered alternative; a concept that could be labelled not as ‘against’ but as ‘in parallel’. One could view the exhibition as if looking into a broken mirror where extracts from ‘la condition humaine’ brought ‘worlds’ to the surface by way of works of art that had to be ‘stirred into action’. Works of art that tuned and plucked at the deepest and most secret mainsprings of creation. OHNO COOPERATION scratched open a bit of lost ‘utopia’ with works of art in which desire was on the look-out for freedom, and this shaky dance on a slack rope simply scares people stiff. The mental and/or physical complementation of works of art was a thread/vademecum that ran through the exhibition project and again and again led to ‘differently’ tinged experiences for those who were open to it. The works of art were playful and rebellious prostheses of the loss that did not give in and which contained life within it. This dynamic process in the exhibition, in which a notable and humble yet considerable respect could be found for the individual, was provided by videos, mobile sculptures and interactive installations that formed a dazzling tribute to creativity, the driving force behind beauty, which according to Jan Lauwers only man can produce. The Tragedy Of The Applause: an exhibition like a carousel on which art defied centrifugal force and gave the spectator a leading role… Like a gruff and monstrous creature, Jan Lauwers’ Last Guitar Monster wormed its way into the room in a mechanical fashion to end up somewhere in the shelter of a field tent. A glittering electric guitar like a self- and feedback-gratifying supreme symbol of rock music appeared inside as the golden calf of popular mass culture. This tremendous archetypical sculpture stood alongside numerous fragile sound installations by Maarten Seghers, who frequently uses cardboard boxes as sounding boards: here they point in the direction of transit, homelessness and (ultimately) shelter. This festive and almost carnivalesque show retained a sour edge… As did the crazy installation by Fritz Welch who, with the leftovers of the consumer society, set in motion the flow of a sculptural installation that ended up in a sort of circus ring of silent drums… Nicolas Field was (as a drummer) able to transform his sense of subtle rhythm into a self-generating subtle sound installation fuelled by light and heat and with an ocean of ‘ears’ and ‘organic’-looking video images that made a lasting impression. Sound was also an ingredient of the works by Rombout Willems who, referring to installations reminiscent of the generation of American artists of the sixties, let the audience itself perform a ‘free’ choreography with machines that produced sounds in response to gesticulations… And also Thomas Lélu and Liquid Architecture, who in Broadcast Your Life enticed the spectator into imagining themselves a pop hero, even if only for a moment; a ‘hero for one minute’, to the rhythm of steaming French rock music… In the highly imaginative contribution by Egill Sæbjörnsson & Marcia Moraes, in which live performance ran in perfect synchronisation with a pre-directed video film, reality and fiction were utterly interwoven into a disarming and magical spectacle. The imagination is limited by neither place nor space; the imagination struck Roubaix through the unspoiled totalising creativity of ‘free’ artists who found that the audience that turned up to be challenged were ‘ardent’ partners. The applause subsided in the midst of this fragile and atonal inter-play.

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