More and Better to come from Public Works
Public Works Means Reality for the Third Millennium
THE GROUP «PUBLIC WORKS» bears witness that a third generation is on the march, willing to continue and secure the modern traditions that have grown up in the course of this century; or, as Public Works states it: “To put earlier demands into hard and fast terms and on a still wider social plane.”
It was not the rule during most of this tenth of the second millennium for younger generations to mindfully carry on the work of their forebears. To do so is new; it means that we are in a time of consolidation. The public, including those who govern it, is still lacking the artistic, that is, the emotional training that would only be appropriate for our time. Both are plagued by the split that exists between advanced ways of thinking and an understanding of culture that has not caught up with them. The keystone of this period will be the search for a special kind of continuity. “Every day something new” is the heavy inheritance of this century’s disastrous urge. It persists in many ways. Continuity does not mean standstill or reaction; it rather implies racination and growth, and the discovery of untapped sources of sustenance. Every period changes, as does the body, from day to day. Classical, Jazz, and Baroque were, in all their phases, in constant productive mutation, by which we mean development. But these changes have to be rooted in other than purely materialistic thinking. They have to grow from other sources: the medieval kingdom of God, the absolutism of the 17th century, a political position or pose, or even an artistic credo. “Every day something new” reveals utter helplessness combined with a fundamental lack of inner conviction, always eager to flatter the most terrifying instincts of the public. It means art for art’s sake, in the form of change for the sake of high-pressure salesmanship. It means we are all palpably short-changed and left demoralized, whether we realize it or not.
Public taste today is formed mainly by advertising and its corollary blood-brother, the news. By these it can be educated, which is to say, corrupted. Responsible are the art directors in industry and advertising firms and the buyers for the five-and-dime stores, who act as screeds to level down the artists’ works to their own limited wild guess of the public’s current fit and fancy. All, it would seem, is cut to a screwy guiding bias. We suppose they feed the assembly line in the speediest way, and as a safeguard they judge the public taste lower than it really is.
He who still believes that art has to be defined as a mere luxury or something far away, remote from real life, had better not touch the works of Public Works, who, as do we all, regard resourcefulness as indispensable to a philosophically rich life. Their simple aim is to show just how the cosmic exclamation point of mid-century (which actually arrived five years early in 1945) formed our present-day conception of cultural work and our approach to reality. Public Works shows how this development’s form of expression differed in many ways from constructivism and Dada, serving to bring into the cross hairs the multi-imaged face of our time. They show why modern cultural workers have had to reject a slavish obedience to the engineering of sonic moodscapes, graphic wallpaper or publicity; and why they hated and feared, yet ultimately respected, the “trompe-la-perception” of the most up-to-date production techniques. These different movements have a common denominator: a new spatio-temporal conception, which includes links as well as spaces and flows. They are not outmoded when they become silent. Each of them lives on in us.
Step by step, Public Works allows the liberation of plastic form among all formats; and the creation of a fractalized, kaleidoscopic cosmos of forms of their own. The spatio-temporal conception binds together and interbraids fragments of meaning and creates a context nutritious to mentation just as, in another period, the uncovery of the rules of perspective did when they used a single stationary point to aid naturalistic representation. We must note the great care with which Public Works shows the contact of modern cultural work with the inherent irreality of our age, and how work that, at first appearance, seems so distant from lived life, and yet is yanked bit by bit from its very bloodstream.
These works seem to be addressed to the young generation that must rebuild the post-Gorbachev, post-silicon chip world. Public Works seeks to avoid the previous generations’ pitfalls by not destroying the social integument. Public Works seeks to fix and rebuild, to be the socket set of this age. This rebuilding will be realized only in years to come through great effort. But this cultural work could have an immediate influence if those who command public taste in the many fields of present-day life would take time on a quiet weekend to look and listen closely and think it over.
N. Tykocinski, Poznan, 12 January 1997