Sunday, June 03, 2007


All experience is mediated - by the mechanisms of sense perception, mentation, language, etc., - and certainly all art consists of some further mediation of experience. However, mediation takes place by degrees. Some experiences (smell, taste, sexual pleasure, etc.) are less mediated than others (reading a book, looking through a telescope, listening to a record). Some media, and especially "live" arts such as dance, theater, musical or bardic performance, are less mediated than others, such as TV, CDs, virtual reality. Even among the media usually called "media," some are more and others are less mediated, according to the intensity or imaginative participation they demand. Print and radio demand more of the imagination; lm less; TV even less; and virtual reality the least of all - so far. For art, the intervention of capital always signals a further degree of mediation. To say that art is commodi ed is to say that a mediation, or standing-in-between, has occurred, and that this betweenness amounts to a split, and that this split amounts to " alienation." Improv music played by friends at home is less "alienated" than music played "live" at the Met, or music played through media (whether PBS or MTV or Walkman). In fact, an argument could be made that music distributed free or at cost on cassette via mail network is less alienated than live music played at some huge We Are The World spectacle or Las Vegas night club, even though the latter are live music played to a live audience (or at least, so it appears), while the former is recorded music consumed by distant and even anonymous listeners.
The tendency of high-tech, and the tendency of late capitalism, both impel the arts farther and farther into extreme forms of mediation. Both widen the gulf between the production and consumption of art, with a corresponding increase in "
alienation." With the disappearance of a "mainstream" and therefore of an "avant-garde" in the arts, it has been noticed that all the more advanced and intense art-experiences have become recuperable almost instantly by the media, and thus are rendered into trash like all other trash in the ghostly world of commodities. "Trash," as the term was re-de ned in, let's say, Baltimore in the 1970s, can be good fun - as an ironic take on a sort of inadvertent volkkultur that surrounds and pervades the more unconscious regions of "popular" sensibility - which in turn is produced in part by the spectacle. "Trash" was once a fresh concept, with radical potential. By now, however, amidst the ruins of Postmodernism, it has nally begun to stink. Ironic frivolity nally becomes disgusting. Is it possible now to be serious but not sober? (Note: the New Sobriety is of course simply the ipside of the New Frivolity. Chic neo-puritanism carries the taint of Reaction, in just the same way that Postmodernist philosophical irony and despair lead to Reaction. The Purge Society is the same as the Binge Society. After the "Twelve Steps" of trendy renunciation in the 1990s, all that remains is the thirteenth step of the gallows. Irony may have become boring, but self-mutilation was never more than an abyss. Down with frivolity - down with sobriety.) Everything delicate and beautiful, from Surrealism to Break-dancing, ends up as fodder for McDeath's ads; fifteen minutes later all the magic has been sucked out, and the art itself dead as a dried locust. The media wizards, who are nothing if not Postmodernists, have even begun to feed on the vitality of "Trash," like vultures regurgitating and reconsuming the same carrion, in an obscene ecstasy of self-referentiality. Which way to the Egress? Real art is play, and play is one of the most immediate of all experiences. Those who have cultivated the pleasure of play cannot be expected to give it up simply to make a political point (as in an "Art Strike," or "the suppression without the realization" of art, etc.) Art will go on, in somewhat the same sense that breathing, eating, or fucking will go on. Nevertheless we are repelled by the extreme alienation of the arts, especially in "the media," in commercial publishing and galleries, in the recording "industry," etc. And we sometimes worry even about the extent to which our very involvement in such arts as writing, painting or music implicates us in a nasty abstraction, a removal from immediate experience. We miss the directness of play (our original kick in doing art in the rst place); we miss smell, taste, touch, the feel of bodies in motion. Computers, video, radio, printing presses, synthesizers, fax machines, tape recorders, photocopiers - these things make good toys, but terrible addictions. Finally we realize we cannot "reach out and touch someone" who is not present in the esh. These media may be useful to our art - but they must not possess us, nor must they stand between, mediate or separate us from our animal/animate selves. We want to control our media, not be controlled by them. And we would like to remember a certain psychic martial art which stresses the realization that the body itself is the least mediated of all media. Therefore, as artists and "cultural workers" who have no intention of giving up activity in our chosen media, we nevertheless demand of ourselves an extreme awareness of immediacy, as well as the mastery of some direct means of complementing the awareness as play, immediately (at once) and immediately (without mediation). Fully realizing that any art "manifesto" written today can only stink of the same bitter irony it seeks to oppose, we nevertheless declare without hesitation (without too much thought) the founding of a "movement," immediatism. We feel free to do so because we intend to practise Immediatism in secret, in order to avoid any contamination of mediation. Publicly we'll continue our work in publishing, radio, painting, music, etc., to be shared freely but never consumed passively, something which can be discussed openly but never understood by the agents of alienation, something with no commercial potential, yet valuable beyond price, something occult yet woven completely into the fabric of our everyday lives.
Immediatism is not a movement in the sense of an aesthetic program. It depends on
situation, not style or content, message or school. It may take the form of any kind of creative play which can be performed by two or more people, by and for themselves, face-to-face and together. In this sense it is like a game, and therefore certain "rules" may apply. All spectators must also be performers. All expenses are to be shared, and all products which may result from the play are also to be shared by the participants only (who may keep them or bestow them as gifts, but should not sell them). The best games will make little or no use of obvious forms of mediation such as photography, recording, printing, etc., but will tend toward immediate techniques involving physical presence, direct communication, the senses. An obvious matrix for Immediatism is the party. Thus a good meal could be an Immediatist art project, especially if everyone present cooked as well as ate. Ancient Chinese and Japanese on misty autumn days would hold odor parties, where each guest would bring a home-made incense or perfume. At linked-verse parties a faulty couplet would entail the penalty of a glass of wine. Quilting bees, tableaux vivants, exquisite corpses, rituals of conviviality such as Fourier's "Museum Orgy" (erotic costumes, poses, and skits), live music and dance - the past can be ransacked for appropriate forms, and imagination will supply more. The difference between a 19th century quilting bee, for example, and an Immediatist quilting bee, would lie in our awareness of the practice of Immediatism as a response to the sorrows of alienation and the "death of art." The mail art of the 1970s and the 'zine scene of the 1980s were attempts to go beyond the mediation of art-as-commodity, and may be considered ancestors of Immediatism. However, they preserved the mediated structures of postal communication and xerography, and thus failed to overcome the isolation of the players, who remained quite literally out of touch. We wish to take the motives and discoveries of these earlier movements or their logical conclusion in an art which banishes all mediation and alienation, at least to the extent that the human condition allows. Moreover, Immediatism is not condemned to powerlessness in the world, simply because it avoids the publicity of the marketplace. "Poetic Terrorism" and "Art Sabotage" are quite logical manifestations of Immediatism. Finally, we expect that the practice of Immediatism will release within us vast storehouses of forgotten power, which will not only transform our lives through the secret realization of unmediated play, but will also inescapably well up and burst out and permeate the other art we create, the more public and mediated art. And we hope that the two will grow closer and closer, and eventually perhaps become one.
From Dharma Combat no. 11, P.O. Box 20593, Sun Valley, Nevada 89433


Blogger murmurists said...

The last temptation of Chris

He's been called 'TV's sick joker'. But if you want to tell the truth, sometimes fibbing is the only option

By Tim Adams
Guardian Unlimited

Sunday April 4, 1999

Chris Morris is, among other things, the most articulate of television critics. When I meet him, in a bar across the road from his office in Soho, he is immediately in the middle of a rant about the previous evening's Newsnight, which had featured footage of the opening salvo against Serbia.

Morris replays a voice-over in his word-perfect Paxman: 'Aaaah. Thass a bomb. Bang,' he slurs wearily. 'Dunno what that was - don't suppose John Simpson knows either… ' He raises a lethargic eyebrow at an imaginary talking head on a screen: 'He says bombing is the only option. Yeltsin says no way.' And then with curled lip and disdainful vowels, he delivers the trademark insolent payoff: 'Who's right?'

Morris, who first made his name on TV with his exquisite parody of the bombast of news presentation on The Day Today, has a professional interest in the performance of his alter ego: 'I really feel it's gone beyond mockery,' he says, a little sadly. 'You've got Jeremy, because of his loyalty, cast under such a spell of melancholia that he can hardly raise a question and Simpson wittering away on the phone like some old turkey… The whole show, rather than telling you much about Kosovo, becomes a monologue about a loss of nerve at Newsnight. There is,' he says, more generally, 'a kind of seriousness crisis. People [in journalism] have been mocked out of believing that there is a constituency who want to be informed as well as entertained.'

Some might see this as a surprising line for Chris Morris to argue. After all, this is the man who was once suspended from the BBC for announcing the death of Michael Heseltine on national radio (and getting MPs to offer on-the-spot obituaries); a man who is known to readers of the Daily Express as 'a sick joker' who has, with his 'spoofs on child abuse and Aids plumbed new depths on television'. In fact, his attitudes are entirely consistent. Like all great satirists - though he would never say as much - Chris Morris is obsessed with truth-telling.

Perhaps this is a result of his upbringing. The son of two Cambridgeshire doctors, he attended a strict ('but not run-naked-in-the-hills strict') Jesuit boarding school, and it is tempting - in a 'show me the child at seven' way - to see in his manner a legacy of this, a formal, inquisitorial quality. Whatever the case, there is no doubt that his greatest service to fidelity was the laser-guided assault on TV pundits that was Brass Eye (and if in the process he did not destroy the practice of celebrities offering opinions on subjects of which they know nothing and care less, he at least, as he says, 'spanked it until it bled').

On Brass Eye, Morris discussed at length with Rhodes Boyson the question of whether the crime-prevention methods of an American called Bruce Wayne, in a place called Gotham City, would translate to Britain's inner cities; he looked on, straight-faced from behind a Groucho Marx moustache, as Carla Lane denounced the horrors of men fighting weasels in the East End of London; he discussed with Eve Pollard the medical ethics of keeping a giant, genetically modified human testicle alive in an incubator; and he famously persuaded Bernard Manning, Noel Edmonds and the idiotic Tory MP David Amess to autocue against the evils of the made-up drug 'cake', a pill the size of a football, while wearing T-shirts bearing the acronym 'F.U.K.D. and B.O.M.B.D'.

Oddly, it was Morris, rather than his rent-a-quote interviewees, who got most of the flak for what he refers to now as his 'bollock in a cot' series. Michael Grade, then head of Channel 4, almost caved in to the tabloids who had labelled him Britain's 'pornographer-in-chief', and tried to stop the show being aired. Grade was persuaded otherwise only by the combined intervention of his commissioning editors, and (perhaps) by a fax campaign from Morris. (Paul Simon, for example, received a note wondering if he would care to comment on the fact that Grade had always considered Art Garfunkel to be the superior musical talent in their duo.)

Morris, taller and scruffier than you imagine, looks tired just remembering that period. 'I was deeply hammered afterwards,' he says, looking back. 'You're completely played out because you've been forced to be a lawyer for four or five months. When friends said, "How are you?" I'd go, "I refer you to subsection paragraph B subclause 2.1 which states that in certain circumstances I'm actually feeling well though the over-riding situation is that I'm not too good."'

Is he on speaking terms with Grade?

'Let's just say we haven't exchanged cards or trousers,' he says, smiling.

Morris 'rebooted' by throwing himself into his radio show Blue Jam: an inspired mixture of ambient music and edgy sketches which had a tendency to unfold slowly into nightmares. Morris tried to get Radio One to put the show out at four in the morning, 'because at that hour, on insomniac radio, the amplitude of terrible things is enormously overblown'. In the end they broadcast it at midnight, but the effect was the same.

After Brass Eye, Morris had thought he might never do a stunt-driven show again, but he suffers, he says, from 'compulsive interview disorder'. He can't stop himself 'meeting people just to see what happens' and as if to prove the point he has just released on tape a series of improvised conversations he had with Peter Cook (Cook in the guise of his character Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling, bee-keeping raconteur and discoverer of the remains of the infant Christ). The interviews were recorded in 1994, but Morris has only now got around to doing anything with them.

On tape, Cook and Morris make a perfect pair. Morris's approach to interviewing is a simple, but fearless one: 'I just say the sort of things you might say on a whim to someone you've never met before at a party.'

The result with Cook was that 'the questions I asked him are really harsh and the answers he gives are totally good-humoured'. Sometimes, the exchange is reminiscent of the later, crueller Derek and Clive dialogues. On one occasion, Morris recalls, Cook, who was drinking heavily, arrived at the studio in some pain: 'He'd crashed around his bathroom and banged his arm into a lump of marble and his arm had come up to about the thickness of a thigh and gone purple.' He thus opened his interview with the observation: 'Sir Arthur, you're very shortly going to be dead. And the idea of this amuses me.' Cook fended him off effortlessly but there is, on tape, as Morris says, 'a tension there that comes from playing on real frailty. As Cook was well aware, dialogue can be about power, and power is always intoxicating.'

If Morris is intoxicated by power it doesn't show outside the studio. Despite his critical success, he has resisted the temptation to become a media property. He very rarely talks to the press, refuses to be photographed off set, and, unlike his friends Steve Coogan and Patrick Marber, has no plans to move from his 'studenty, Soho kind of world' to Hollywood or Broadway. He says this allows him the freedom to do only the projects he wants to do, and to set his own standards. The adjectives that attach themselves to him tend to be 'driven' and 'perfectionist', but he is relaxed and self-effacing in person.

He describes himself as 'a pathological self-criticiser' and relies entirely on this instinctive judgment to guide him on questions of taste: 'You have to be very aware of what you are doing all the time,' he says. 'I will happily cut excessive language or excessive images. But other things I will defend to the point of lying to the broadcaster, giving them the wrong tape to transmit [as he did with Brass Eye]. Ultimately I think the degree to which you are prepared to fight for something says how much you care.'

Morris will not be drawn on what he is working on next, though many of his recent interviews have taken him to the States. He has confronted Bret Easton Ellis with the question of why he writes in 'those chapter things'; and floated an idea for a Jerry Springer show that had Jerry Springer muttering about going too far: 'I fell in love with the man who was shooting my kids.'

And he has also been talking, triumphantly, to Michael Moore. If Morris prides himself on anything I would guess it is that he comes to things with no agenda other than to collapse pomposity, and to make people laugh. He therefore loathes the more politicised, bandwagon-jumping pranks of Moore. 'His tone is That's Life,' he says. 'I made up a corrupt English businessman with a totally ludicrous name who had sacked all his staff and then methodically patrolled local schools, carrying a big banner that read "I sacked your Dad because he's totally fucking useless". And Moore is such a knee-jerk that he's saying, [he adopts a perfect Moore whine] ' "You know what, we've gotta get this guy. Why doesn't anyone do this in Britain?" And I said, well there is a guy called Mark Thomas who also goes around and bullies receptionists. And Moore goes, "NOT THOMAS. You need a guy who really kicks ass." '

If only Moore had realised that he was talking to him…

Sunday, June 03, 2007 10:11:00 pm  

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