Saturday, September 22, 2012


Whether it’s omission by repression I couldn’t say, but I’ve been talking about the role of the minister in terms of prophetic (warnings and predictions, often political) versus pastoral (reassuring and counseling) while entirely neglecting the priestly.  Not surprising for a former Presbyterian claiming atheism.  By priestly I mean liturgical -- exactly what I’ve been claiming to talk about in “The Bone Chalice.”  Maybe I’m writing that manuscript in an underconscious effort to remind myself of the power and danger of liturgy -- not just in church but in life itself.

I googled “performance arts” and liturgy and what did I get but an art prof at a Christian institution trying to make a case for social disruption!!   Actually, this is a pretty powerful lecture.  If you can’t stay for the whole thing, go to the 70 minutes point.

So the main enforcer of order, which has claimed the whole field of liturgy for its own so thoroughly that all of the experts I’ve consulted on the subject define it within Christian terms, is now still conservative but advocating disruption.  This means using liturgy as a terrorism.  Surely that’s not new, and Performance Arts knows it.  Is there a more potent and final liturgical act than burning someone at the stake for heresy?  But we have thought of liturgy in terms of Sunday morning sentiment and idealism.

Performance Art as a discipline allows us to escape the Sunday hymn sandwiches into the world that we often call “Third.”  (I know English-speaking Christians are supposed to be the First, but who is the Second World?)  Dangerous territory.  Liturgical tropes may be one way those people manage their lives and possibly a way we can enter into their world without being destroyed.  Or not.  Islam does liturgy, too, you know.

Not that the “third world” is always in Africa or Asia or South America.  Consider the ghettoes of any city and their layers of ethnic enclaves or drug cultures or sex work.  Are there not liturgies of drug ingestion or sexual transaction?  As the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines liturgy, “People performing”?  An intense and repetitive act with high significance relating to the core of life.  Like a GIF.

Tim says:  “GIF is an entirely new or different way to present poetry. GIF is technically animation but animation with photography. Instead of a video digital signal, it's collating about 100 photos per 4 seconds of playtime. It takes a bit of power to run them. But sometimes competition on the Internet is a good thing. Running that many photographs in four seconds does tell a story. Kids have been making GIFs for years. I am new to it. But I want my GIFs to be more seriously symbolic than pop culture, and, in fact, I want them to comment on pop culture itself.”   

If you went to YouTube and asked for GIF’s you’d see some.  Tim makes his GIF’s run in a loop, like a litany or mantra: repeat and repeat.  The same sequence goes around and around at the top of the page and then the poetry comment stays stable underneath.  

For instance, reacting to the icky sweet overoptimistic people of the world, Tim has his own disruptive riff on a GIF called tim barrus: “the world is a shit hole.”  (This will not shock kids, but adults might better go wash dishes or mow the lawn.)

something tells me the world has always been a shit hole/ i still have some friends who do not buy my kafkaesque vision of reality/ their loss, it will get them, too/ and most of us are just post-World War Two. It was a big deal back then if we can remember it or not

Or not/

the world is a shit hole/ you will not stop global warming/ you will soon be living in a microwave oven set on high and the only thing in the microwave is you and a cat/

it’s over/ when you need hope, go get your little fix, but it’s over/ some people know/ it’s too late/ the world is a shit hole and you live in it/ fuck your religions/ fuck your jesus/ and fuck you/

and some of you evil bitches get what you deserve/ eat me/

you will find a way/

i have not one remnant of a fucking illusion/

Classic existential nihilism, but when you add the GIF images, it jumps to a different level of “performance art.”  In quick succession you see: 
a man sitting in a chair in a warehouse with a fire off to the left.  A gunman is about to shoot him in the head.  
Then a flash to what seems a microscope photo of a cell.  
Then a man in a strange apparatus, a head cover like a deep sea diver with hoses coming and going.  
Then a bare-chested man in a chair with his hands bound behind his back.  
A second version of that.  
Strands of something organic.  
Then it starts over.   Every four seconds.
These images come fast,  too quick to assimilate until you go around the loop several times. The statement is brutal, industrial, life at the cellular level.  Life-support (steel and hoses). helplessness in the face of mysterious enemies, death, decomposition.  Nothing we don’t see on the nightly news report.  But somehow disconcerting when it goes around and around.  Just as life and death do.
Often the ones the kids make capitalize on reversibility, people going backwards into high windows -- originally filmed jumping out.  The first one of Tim’s that I spotted was him throwing a pillow but seeming to have it thrown AT him.  A cartoonish effect might be a destructive crash but -- like a cartoon -- when the 4 second loop comes around, it’s back to intact.  There’s a fascination in this that can become a meditation.   Or an obsession.  But also a philosophical issue: can time be reversed?  Is time a loop?
Meditation, litany, mantra -- these are liturgical terms.  The content may be anti-inspiring, urging contemplation of the apocalypse with no relief, and yet the mechanisms of the art, the reactions of the brain, are not different from what the religious institutions use all the time.  Maybe it’s time to disrupt them.  Something needs to change.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Animated GIFs have been around since the early days of the internet in the 90s. Actually the static GIF was in use by 1987. A GIF (Graphics Interchange Format) is another static image format, like a JPEG/JPG. It takes lower memory (fewer KB) than a JPEG; it's simpler. That's why you can take a lot of photos, save them as GIFs rather than JPGs and run them in a loop, animated still images, an animated GIF. They are often still used for advertising, including porn sites. It takes way less memory than either true video or even Flash animations.