Tuesday, December 23, 2008

In trying to articulate my own "theory" of art, of drama, what-have-you--in short, an explanation of the why my work is what it is--I find myself coming back on attempts at representation in art, by which I mean literal representations of an issue or event in a given medium.

None of my writing, for the screen and the stage, is naturalistic. I don't take an extreme, Samuel Beckett-lite absurdist route, and I always grapple with issues of motivation. But the behavior of my characters, whether it's in speaking entirely in iambic pentameter or committing genocide on people of a certain hair color, is not something you would ever see in the real world, even amongst the craziest of crazies. In those given examples, it's actually a heightening of a characteristic that already exists. The best explanation I can think of is that in dealing with issues and ideas, art (or at least my art) works best when naturalistic representation is eschewed in favor of symbolism, or a warping of reality into something more extreme. Since we all interpret events differently, what better way to communicate that interpretation than by presenting not as it literally is, but how I see it?

MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.

This sounds totally ridiculous, but this post was spurred by the video above, one Andrew Sullivan's Mental Health Award Nominees. I have no idea what, if anything, it's trying to say. But the bizarre imagery on display in the graffiti freaked me out much more than anything I saw last night in the first two parts of "House of Saddam" (which nonetheless looks like a pretty good mini-series) last night. I think the very unrealness of the animation is what makes it so unsettling. Live-action representation of the extreme can never fully succeed, it seems, because the real is attempting to recreate, in a fictional context, real horror. An animation, because it is, voices excluded, wholly removed from the real world, operates in its own context outside of regular reality. This is why Peter Weiss, in his forward for The Investigation specifically warns against trying to re-enact both the Auschwitz trials and the atrocities described. Nothing can possibly do them justice, and so we reach for symbols and gestures to illustrate the horror.

I could write a play directly addressing some issue burning a hole in my mind, but I don't. For one thing, most straightforward, "issue" plays don't interest me and come off just in concept as extremely preachy. I prefer to make the situations even more extreme, absurd, grotesque, in order to highlight their folly without having to spell it out. Religious fundamentalism, and much of religion, aspires to supremacy but is intellectually impoverished; what better way to illustrate this than to re-enact a particular religious atrocity with the characters speaking the kind of heightened language of their holy books employed to beguile others? Even with the linguistic and dramaturgical benefit of the doubt the vacuity of the religious (fundamentalist) case is there for all to see.

This isn't to say I don't enjoy naturalism. If I didn't, I'd have to skip most cinema, even drama. But for me, addressing ideas, which are themselves intangible, is best done by symbol and metaphor and employment of the unreal. Attempts to manipulate the real world for such an end will never be fully successful. For me, anyway. Better artists seem to do quite well.

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