It’s Time To Get Together
We live in little boxes, tiny hand-held devices, or sometimes machines that sit on tables. We don’t talk to people anymore. We ship electric words to chimeras, not persons, but the idea that someone on the other side is a living, breathing human and not a fire-breathing monster with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail. We type in the hope of ending our isolation, of breaking the tether of loneliness, of making a connection. A dozen years ago, the French novelist Michel Houellebecq wrote in La Possibilité d’une île, “La solitude à deux est l’enfer consenti” or “Loneliness for two is hell agreed.” The irony of our time is that we are never alone and yet never together. Let’s change that.
In the past year, I have thought a lot about art and community. In essays and exhibitions, I have been looking for ways to counter the idea that “modernity is experienced as an individual, society is something to overcome, and loneliness is simply the price of admission to the new age” or that “the artist, as mythical figure, toils alone in their studio to weave a golden thread of creativity into a magnificent oeuvre.” “Good art is inherently social and the production of art is a community-based activity,” I claimed. “Good things happen when people get together. Great things happen when artists get together.”
To be completely honest, I enjoy being alone. I am an awful collaborator, ego-driven and sporadic in my work habits. Few things make me more uncomfortable than walking into an exhibition opening and seeing a dozen people I know I should say hello to. I dislike speaking on the phone. I am intensely guarded, private. I cringe at making dinner plans because then I am committed to the time it takes to finish a meal with someone. I would prefer not leaving my house, to read or sit at my computer writing or stand at my studio bench making art, occasionally sending missives out into the world. I would be a hermit were it not for the fact that I am fascinated by the lives of others. How did they come to be who they are? Where do they come from? How do they spend their time? What makes them happy? What causes them pain? I am voracious in my consumption of social media because I become engrossed in learning about people the what and how they are thinking. When I do walk out the front door, it is often to a bar where I can sit next to someone and over a bourbon and coke or two or three learn everything I can about them. And what pushes me to work harder, think deeper, try more is hearing the pain and struggle of others and hoping that maybe I can do something about it.
Jews have a word for the desire, the compulsion to heal the world, tikkun olam. The idea is that humanity is blessed with ability to bring light, to bring the divine, into the world. The Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz writes about how every action makes an angel. Good acts make a light angel who flaps its wings and brings the world closer to God. Bad acts make a fat angel that weighs down the world. I am not a religious person, but the notion that our actions can decimate or elevate the world speaks to me.
If you have read this far, you may be wondering what this has to do with collage. A few years ago, the economist David W. Galenson relayed the story of a lunch he had with the artist and writer Camille Saint-Jacques at Au Petit Riche on a cold, sunny day in Paris. Saint-Jacques spoke of what he learned while cleaning out the studio of his deceased mentor, the artist and critic Marc Devade. Saint-Jacques said, “That was when I learned what it meant to be an artist. I read his letters with galleries and collectors….I saw Devade’s studies. I saw the life of an artist…Devade had taught me that we have to take care of the lives of the artists of the past, then there I was, taking care of his life. Art is a tradition, and a duty. You are a link in a long chain, and you have to do your job.” If we apply this thinking to collage, a medium we love and cherish, we quickly realize our job is to champion this artform, to help find its place in the world, and to celebrate it.
We cannot do this alone. We cannot do this solely through little boxes, tiny hand-held devices, and by furiously typing into our machines. We must come together. And we must bring others with us. We must sit in a room and tell ideas and share our stories. That is our job. That is how we heal the world.
Heal the World by Ric Kasini Kadour
digital collage; 2018