hunting the big fish

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Originally uploaded by nardac.

Many a time in my life I’ve written that art is something we know when we experience it, and that it needs no definition. For the most part, I was speaking from my own experience, when a certain idea/image/sound/moment hits me with such metaphysical force that I am forced to bend for it. It made me want to define how and why, to develop a system of proof for why I had to call it art. But each time I burrowed into classifications, by experience, by knowledge, by understanding, by finesse, it seemed to elude me, always slipping just beyond my fingertips.

Art, she is a fickle and unreasonable lover. Often when asked to make something that is art, I find myself laughing at the idea, because one never knows if it will be anything to live up to that definition until it is done. One just has to try. There is no sympathy for enormous glaring failures and there is no voice for mediocre failures. It’s a thankless job.

Training is done to have taste enough to say what is and what isn’t art, and, for the life of me, I have trouble agreeing with most critics. It’s true that there are unanimous successes, such as Carsten Holler’s success this year in Marseille, or Wim Delvoye’s shit project, Cloaca, heralded by a snowball of glittering praise. However, there are others that are despised, or ignored, in their lifetime. Sometimes, in their distant future, and unfortunately sometimes posthumously, these people meet with the recognition that was theirs by right. The obvious example is van Gogh, but there are others, like Nick Drake, or Henry Darger. What’s even sadder, though, are those who disappear, never to be known, their pleasures passions submerged forever; these Lycidas with no Milton.

Why is this my topic today? It’s because Dacnar is in the ranks of the almost-unknown artists in the world right now. And, today, after a brief search, he encountered his first negative review. Dacnar makes films, really strange films where I could describe the sequences, but never properly capture the spirit. Of course I’m not the most objective of judges, but even before I became his bed partner, I was always intrigued with his way of thinking and expressing himself, or rather evading expressing himself. The truth was to be found elsewhere.

If he is careless in social circles, invisible in others, strangely anti-social, or sweetly contemptuous, it’s not out of fear or ambition, thank god, but out of choice. I have the strange feeling I’m married to a type of Bartleby, which quite naturally presents several problems. But it goes beyond this facile description.

So his work is like taking a peak into his head through an Alice mirror with trick prisms. There’s enough there to cause problems, and enough to understand his grace. The last two films he made are two succeeding episodes in a series entitled “Laïkapark.” The offical summary is as follows: at a construction site for an amusement park dedicated to animals lost in space, the Lovermann workers are on strike. The sketches are lovingly mocking of a certain everyday man culture, while the workers themselves live in a void, set up in laughingly tragic situations. It points in several directions at many times but is hard to pin down.

The core idea, or so it would seem to me, is a profound sympathy for the incredibly futile and ridiculous methods we employ to defend the meaningfulness of what is essentially a void.

It’s not that the work is without fans. It has a small but loyal following in france, where complete unknowns rave madly after screenings. There is a group of prominent art critics that greatly respect what is his genre. But, and I’m not sure why, he remains invisible, largely unknown. I’d like to think it has something to do with being prolific, since he makes about one film a year. But I don’t think so.

I think it’s vision. Because truly original vision, when first encountered, provokes bewilderment and often distaste. Those who are already part of the inner circle often reject what they cannot support as threatening to their own mediocre power holdings.

Here’s an anecdote: Michel Houellebecq’s first novel, despite the fact he was in Perpendiculaire, a hip Parisian literary circle at that time,met with questioning editors. His publisher finally said, “we’d like to publish Houellebecq, he is undoubtably a great writer, but we won’t.” His writing was dangerous unknown territory, malicious, sexual, and most of all, without sympathy for false emotion. There was no redemption; writing so dark and unsympathetic. Houellebecq isn’t always right, but he’s one of the few writers of our age, besides Coetzee, that I can respect, both in craft and message. Finally, his girlfriend, who was working at the publishing house at that time told the publisher to “put his money where his mouth was,” and a literary legend was born.

There are those who despise Houellebecq with an unnatural passion. He was unanimously expulsed from Perpendiculaire, and after his openly anti-Islamic novel Platform, he fled the country for anonymity in Ireland. There he lives now, infamous, malicious and fragile. And why? Because he went hunting for the big fish.

Dacnar is hunting for big fish. He’s not looking for monetary success and social acceptance. In the immortal words of Lloyd Dobler, he’s looking for a dare to be great situation. If he is an artist, it’s not to join the merry-go-round of socialites, in their yellow ballgowns and latest dress. It’s because it’s a choice, a way to be what he would like to say. I admire this, immensely.

After reading the nasty critic we found online, he turned to me, a little shocked, with a funny smile on his face. It’s hard to deal with negative criticism, let alone the pointed contempt of this reviewer, but Dacnar handled things with calm and remarkable aplomb. He kind of giggled and went, “oh, that’s really not nice. But what hurts me is that he thought my humour was gross. I thought it was quite sweet.” I fumed and thundered in the kitchen, boiling oil and imagining all sorts of schemes for skewering the blasted critic.

And then I went back to his little desk, to see how he was. He was doing some preparation for a job he’s shooting for, very practical writing. I hugged him and minced no words about how stupid I thought that guy was. He turned to me and said, “oh, we don’t have to mind about that.” For Dacnar, it’s in the making that counts. As for whether other people think it’s art, “we don’t have to mind about that.” When you hunt the big fish, all concentration must be focused in the right place.