The Exorcism of Tate Modern, Caffeinated at 40,000 ft.
by Reverend Billy Talen on Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 10:40am
We wrote “Excorcise BP from the Tate Modern” in our press release. We used the phrase easily, and people took it and ran with it. “Drive out the Devils.” “Exorcising the Taint from Tate” and so on. Everybody had their own slant. But all of us were glibly plugging in a basic ritual from old priesthoods, going back through Jesus to the first nations.
Exorcism - the act of driving out a dark spirit that has possessed a person or a place, by commanding it to leave in the name of a more powerful power, in our case the life of the Earth - this is one of the oldest of our human rituals. However, exorcisms are also embedded in the arts of our culture like little noticed but powerful micro-climates.
I’m listening to Muddy Waters sing “I'm Your Hootchie Cootchie Man” on one of those audio feeds in the British Airways 767. Atlantic Ocean in the windows. Muddy Waters makes me want to go on to Howlin’ Wolf. That’s one tributary of magic - up from New Orleans. By the time they were throwing sticks in Chicago in the 50’s – what had the African ritual become? Well, a sexualized parody, but in the funny threat there is something dark and focused. Waters says, “I’m gonna mess with you.” That makes me want to continue on to Little Richard, the medicine man with multiple genders, the radical faerie exploding with incantations, the Tutti Fruttis and Good Gollies ringing out across puritan America.
We want to find a new kind of power to use against the destroyers of life, the coal companies and the Pentagon, the marketers setting the bait for babies, and the Wall Streeters with their damaging false prosperity. Our protests that look like parodies of 60’s marches – and I’ve served my country in a hundred of ‘em! - that’s a form of dissent that has “lost its magic.” The on-line petitions, the “encourage your congressperson!”, - well that’s a pale imitation of the magic of democracy. Democracy as actual magic? Example: When Abraham Lincoln gave his Malice Toward None speech and Frederick Douglas followed him into the White House with his analysis of it. That political speech is artful magic.
Tim DeChristopher out-bidding the oil companies for pristine southern Utah. THAT was magic. He called the auctioneers on their theatre, and taught us all how naked the Emperor had become. His hex-prayer was to just recite higher and higher numbers of imaginary wealth. Tim declared that he was the richest man in the room. He imitated their empty power ritual – and then became powerful himself. His jail time will have its magic too, and we will walk in the land he saved from George Bush’s friends while we wait for him and he waits for us. What Tim did – you could call it art, or politics, or law, or medicine – all of those words and none of them. The Earth spoke through him and re-united all those old categories. The feds want to keep it legal, but his power is deeper than that.
Whole sections of our culture have slid into a kind of provincialism, because they aren’t singing about, poeming about, painting about – the Earth’s crisis. You can’t be hip ignoring life itself. The wasteland of the arts is a painful thing for those of us who grew up in that world. Now serious actual magic – even just the possibility of it - is forgotten. What we have now is technique and careerism. Broadway has become the provinces. It is not primary culture. Whole theatre seasons go by without life of the Earth in the storyline of any play, at a time when the physical life of the Earth is in the throes of dramatic pain.
But the incredible six-months long Miro exhibit at the Tate Modern – with BP money backing it? Here we have the destruction of meaning. If the Director of the Tate meets you at a cocktail party and says, “Well mobsters have been financing the arts since the Medicis.” You tell that guy to look in the window. The Thames is an oceanic estuary which at high tide is about 4 feet below the edge of the Tate’s lawn. The Tate has actually hung a climate change exhibit, paid for by fossil fuels money, while the Thames rises in the window. Doesn’t that being-possessed-by-dark-spirits-is-the-real-world-honey cycle need to be broken by some high-velocity mockery?
Beauty wants to begin again. We climate change resisters need to go back to when communicating wasn’t separate from life. Miro has much in his work that is from the Earth, bio-morphic shapes, as if he knows where life comes from. He is at home with the comedy of fundamental particles. He could be painting at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, that is, before the dark spirits of British Petroleum changed the picture.
If you got to the end of this long writing – will you suggest some authors who are looking into these kinds of questions? Caffeinated at 40,000 ft. I fell like I opened a doorway