The Rehumanization of Art
“Her artistic response to telematic’s two-dimensionality lies in the depth of her installations, bearers of the artist’s specific intention to offer to the viewer’s gaze forms that are the outcome of a personal creative process and not of a featureless, socially- determined assembly line of taste. The creative process becomes the neo-humanistic sign of a renewed level of resistance that the subject adopts not to blot out the present, but rather to bring it back to a time that runs from the past towards the future. The solitary aspect of artistic production suggests a potential for individual emancipation that could achieve a possible controversial coexistence with technical progress, which by now has extended to virtual reality.” - Italian art historian and theorist Achille Bonito Oliva writes about Oksana Mas (Oliva also curated Mas’ project for 54th Venice Biennale). Neo-humanism here is an important principle for understanding modernity.
The inevitability of movement, changes, anticipation of social needs and manners are embedded in the very existence of art. It is not only responding to the social calling, but is forming it. Not only in the way of more acute perception of potential interests and problems of humanity, but rather accenting its focus on the new artistic challenges. Through stages of skepticism, misunderstanding, even ridicules sometimes, the new discoveries of art fill the humanity’s life invisibly and change it on the ethical and household levels: topics previously banned lose their demonization, strange and formerly unacceptable combinations and images bloom in design and decorations of everyday life.
Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset acted as an analytic and futurist of art and its interaction with society in his works “Art Today and in the Future”, “The Dehumanization of Art”, “The Revolt of the Masses” in the beginning of the XX century. The century, which actually made his predictions and
Ortega y Gasset diagnosed the appearance of the “mass man”, the one who wants to be like all the others, and the appropriation of politics and aesthetics by masses, as well as the displacement of everything related to minority. He outlined the dehumanization as the only way of art development itself — its separation from the collision of human life and experience, from melodrama
and realism to the cold forms of
Stéphane Mallarmé. An apotheosis of “mass man” and narrative realism, fully corresponding to his understanding, had happened at the times of totalitarian regimes of the previous century — communist, nazi, fascist. Undoubtedly, art of that kind had it’s peaks: soviet memorials for the Second World War, created in the end of the XX century, for example, are really fascinating monumental pieces. Though, as the ancient pyramids or medieval cathedrals, they are offsetting human and his individuality, stand for common fate,
postulate typical instead of personal.
The second line destined to be understood by a narrow circle of people is the “artists for artists” art where the one to comprehend has to be a creative one,
who values super emotional component; according to Ortega y Gasset, it emerged from expressionism, cubism and Debussy’s music. The “Black Square” by Kazimir Malevich becomes The New Testament here, giving up feelings and emotions for the sake of mind and will. This tendency had reached its highest point in the revolutionary avant-garde which turns down common human in the name of transformation of the whole humanity and the idea of the new world, and had finally blossomed in individualistic avant- gardism, surrealism and non-figurative art. Marcel Duchamp’s idea of ready- made, Jackson Pollock’s paint poured on to the canvas, Lucio Fontana’s scarred canvases, Joan Massanet I Juli’s melted imagery, Salvador Dalí’s total surrealistic installations and objects — all the newest history of artistic search more or less denied the experience of human’s perception, aesthetics as the reflection of the relevant nature of things, demanded the viewers to
abandon any comparison of the piece of art and the possible experience.
Still, the new unavoidably turns into the old, this is the law of life impossible for humanity to neglect. Diagnosis, made by Ortega y Gasset, didn’t foresee any mutations. Mass man was selfishly aiming for more and more goods and rights, started occupying more placem, thus stimulating capitalistic production. Liberalism which produced the “American dream” had based itself on the mass man and won over the totalitarianism exactly because it offered more comfortable life. It is ironic that the origin and the effectiveness of today’s humanistic Europe lies in the willingness of the masses to be like all the others, but look up to better quality of life. Not to be worse than your neighbour, preferably being better.
The phenomena of fashion played a huge role here. Whispering to the mass man whom he should be, serving to the consumer society, fashion slowly but surely has tamed art gone into the dehumanization. Previously being something to outpace time, something revolutionary and elitist, obvious to the few, seeking for answers in formal experiments, art has become the item of mass consumption and desire.
Postmodernism of the second half of the XX century which announced the ideological nihilism and the deconstruction of hierarchies, has turned art to the side of anti-humaneness.
It’s Cy Twombly who following the path of formal artistic search puts provocation of humanity into his abstract tracings — literally reproducing the motility, opening up the world of culture for the human, pushing him to seek allusions with erotic or spiritual texts. Meaning emotions and feelings
Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” has migrated to
woolen blankets, Mark Rothko’s paintings — to the wallpapers and printed fabrics, Malevich’s suprematist villagers — to matryoshkas in the souvenir
shop in Hermitage, Dali Lips sofa — right to the furniture stores.
Joel-Peter Witkin’s corpses and human body
catastrophes, Robert Mapplethorpe’s and Jeff Koons’s pornography, Oleg Kulik’s zoophilia, Damien Hirst’s mortality, Balkan art wave after the Breakup of Yugoslavia, which trampled on any value of human’s life in the images of war and violence, — had, in fact, an opposite effect. Anti — is an opposition, not the detachment. Turning human’s ethics inside out and sadistic
volatilization of the futility of being helped activize humaneness.
responding in one’s experience. Olafur Eliasson turns art into the attraction which is impossible without actual human wow-reactions.
The idea of being alike with all the other people spreaded today into the understanding that all of us belong to the same biological species. Space researches and technogenic catastrophes helped realize the overall vulnerability. Looking from the other side, comfort as the product of capitalism, increasing amount of leisure, disastrous increase in information pressure and freedom to take part in it through social media ruined the possibility of monopolistic sameness of the mass. It started segmenting, making people listen to themselves, search for salvation in self-identification, psychology, exotic spiritual practices and solidarity based on specific features. The mass man blew up with the process of emancipation which broadens the definition of “acceptable”. Feminism, anti-racism, gender movement show more and more new minorities, parts of society affected by violation of rights, on one side, and on the other one, make definition of “all” wider. As the Europeans needed to overcome national borders to keep living looking ahead to follow the vector of his civilization, according to Ortega e Gasset prediction, pretty much the same all the humanity faced the need to widen understanding of humaneness inside itself. Ethics and sociology have become the philosophy of our time. And art, as usual, is anticipating this process.
Oksana Mas who, like Kazimir Malevich, was born in Ukraine, is among the artists of the new era, who turned to neo-humanistic imagery, the rehumanization of art. Continuing the formalistic searches of XX century, she refers to humane, transformed by catastrophes and recent history achievements, through abstract. To the mass man of today — who’s looking for spirituality, humanistic rescue from the impossibility to digest new challenges of rapidly developing technologies and ecological changes. Taken in the new-edge culture and turning to the roots not to become just a dust in the world vortex. Grasping the straws of identity and psychological searches of self, ground and pivot.
The artistic language of Oksana Mas is the balance between the perfectionism of the master of high-tech epoch and individual heart-beat rate. The rhythm, signal — that is what unites humanity today via the Internet. The key for communication with others and the possibility of immediate reality- check — is the Wi-Fi signal. It is intermittent just like the heart-beat, rhythm of the development of the world economy and politics. In African, Asian and post-Soviet countries youngsters dive into debts and loans just to get a new gadget with maximum online-possibilities. Economic rise of China and Latin American countries ruin the Europe-centered perspective of culture and art. The mass man opens broader symbolic spectrum for himself.
“Total Wi-Fi” is the project which was first shown in 2018 by the Italian museum MA*GA in the Sotheby’s Milan Space — the humanization of non- figurative, artistic reconciliation of abstract and commonly understood. The desacralization of art for the sake of superhuman, belonging to human. Black on black, Mas’s pastose brushwork creat rhythmical textures, somewhere
Schlingensief concentrates on the one dying from cancer, playing with direct
feelings, fears and pain of anyone, mass man, who is just like all the others.
becoming image-codes — hearts,
Alberto Giacometti-like silhouettes, eastern
ornaments, hieroglyphics, signs. The search for human code, bringing the massive to planetary, — that’s what artist is concerned about. It’s no coincidence that we often meet egg or scull images in her projects. Though here she refers to the black color in its ancient Chinese meaning — as to the color of concentrated divine light, the Universe, the color giving birth to all other colors. This understanding amazingly echoes in the newest theories of the dark matter, cross-cutting the Universe. And makes us recall the feeling of
blinding after looking at the Sun, the bright light source.
“Even in the evolution of prehistoric art we observe that artistic sensibility begins with seeking the loving form and then drops it, as though affrighted and nauseated, and resorts to abstract signs, the last residues of cosmic or animal forms. The serpent is stylized into the meander, the sun into the swastica” writes José Ortega y Gasset in “The Dehumanization of Art”. Oksana Mas unites and loops this thousand-year rhythmology of imagery, allows its existence simultaneously within one project and space. Makes the viewer looking at the black live through the moment caught in the darkness by the flashlight — seen clearly, but just for a moment, producing numerous
senses and guesses.
“Erasing the present” is the willing and aim of the human of the XX century. For the sake of the bright future and great ideas, because of the existential crisis and Sartre’s nausea, running away from wars, destructions, poverty and individual nevroses. Willing to hide in the escapism of illusions, downshifting, virtual reality. However, Oksana Mas is the artist of the XXI century, the century of global transparency. So rich in information that could be compared to the new darkness. We have to look for new optics to see through it. Not the most exact one now, as we are aware that nothing absolute exists. Still, constructive, conciliating the human with the universal diversity. With principal impossibility to be the same with others, and equally impossibility to surpass. Not to accept, not to hide, not to destroy or build, but live the present through — that’s the challenge for those living in the age of rapid changes. To live through does not mean to get stuck, and various tools are needed, not only
“The contradiction of mind and feelings, established in the traditional conscience, does not match the reality. Instincts and feelings are not the opposite to intelligence, but its evolutionary earlier form — before the functional shift. Species preceding the humanity used only instincts and feelings, and that forms of intelligence were quite enough not only to survive, but to evolve into human after all. Brain has truly become more complex, not better (“better” category implies having an aim, and evolution does not have any). It has rather become more fancy. Intelligence did not appear as an ability polar to feelings and instincts. Instincts still existing to help us survive have gained more complicated structure being finally realized. An ability to experience feelings appeared this way, and also the intelligence as we call it today. Instincts, mind and feelings do not work apart, as each more quaint form of something does not destroy the previous one, but use it as a basis of functioning. It also means that feelings cannot be turned down to leave only
mind in action — mind itself is this more complicated form of feelings” — states Julie Reshe, the philosopher. This way, the dehumanization of art is not
relevant and not possible anymore. As manicheanism, as every unambiguity.
The world re-opens dialectics on the new stage. Multi-dimensional as never before. “Jumped into the puddle - turned up to be in Space” — Oksana Mas
jokes about that.