At the beginning of this century, when rushing towards the New and Unknown, we finally reached the line where our world ends; when the end of History was announced and the colossal ruins of Religion, Philosophy and Art were left behind, when the time of the Great Feast (Baudrillard) and Great Stories was long gone, (Lyotard); when we stepped into the darkness of the Universal Night to the edge of the endless stellar space; suddenly an abyss opened before us.
Matter was almost dematerialized by science itself, particularly by quantum physics. Under the cold electronic eye of science, seemingly solid objects that surround us become just enigmatic fields of invisible and immeasurable forces, amorphous and formidable as they had been when the world was first created. Obscure, yet anticipated, endless, grim empty spaces discovered by modern physics emphasize the even darker, more enigmatic character of reality.
Faced with the void that suddenly opened before us, at the end of the world as we have known it, we try to look beyond the horizon and the starry skies above us.
It is dangerous to look beyond, it is dangerous to look behind, it is dangerous to hesitate and stop. It is necessary to rise above ourselves yet again. The man has to rely on himself, to lift himself on his sown shoulders, trying to outgrow himself. On the horizon of reality there comes the new man, making superhuman efforts to outgrow himself, with his head among the stars.
AND NOW SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT! OR HOW THE REAL WORLD FINALLY BECAME A FAIRY TALE
Our sky has long been the colour of the television screen, turned on an empty channel (Gibson). The world around us is in the rainbow shades of neon advertisements and glitters in the reflections of the images of the TV sets in front of which we sit motionless, with dropped jaws.
The image of the world we used to know no longer exists. Progress in science and technology has caused radical changes in the perception of reality. The world is governed by Orwel’s dystopia and Pohl’s advertocracy; semblance of reality is domineering, while immediate knowledge and experience is suppressed in the name of credibility of advertisements. The flashy shop windows in modern malls, the spectacular advertising settings in the streets and the moving images on advertising screens, commercials or teleshop programs, have replaced the former world of fairy tales, wishes and dreams and became the new wonderland. The new virtuous world is a fairy tale where we wonder spellbound (Williams defines advertising as a kind of wizardry that gives power to commodities). The transcendental power that used to belong to religion, philosophy and supreme art is found today in the branded, advertised commodity that miraculously turns us and our simple and ordinary lives into something exciting and unusual (Belk). Through the interactive action of the “vision machines” (Virilio), the whole social and cultural reality becomes machinery that produces reality. Spectacle becomes the apparent form of social organisation (Debord). The spectacle, in modernistic terms, is the capital; while in post-modernist terms it is the imperial power accumulated to the level that it becomes an image (Negri/Hardt). Spectacularized reality is based on media notions that are so imposing that they hide the truth that reality no longer exists.
These broken images obsessing our consciousness, the “countless small perspective worlds” (Nietzsche), rather than being just an expression of the manipulative media capabilities, become patterns according to which reality is perceived. It is a world view that has materialized.
This materialization of the virtual announces disappearance of everything that exists beyond things and phenomena, end of metaphysics, while our existence dramatically changes its meaning. So how did the man who used to be the measure of everything, the man created after the image of God, come to this miserable existential situation? How did the “little God of mud” become nobody and nothing, disappearing fiction (Foucault)? How did he become obsolete (Günther Anders)? Is this the time of man’s fall and man’s end?
WHAT IS THE END OF THIS FAIRY TALE?
The man can not be and is no longer the hero who discovers and explores new, unknown worlds, except in the virtual space as a surrogate hero, hopelessly wondering the world of endless repetitions of the same.
The man today is a victim of a systematic distraction and destruction, of intro-psychic implosion and de-corporalization of the body. This de-forming and de-formatting implies complex changing of man’s ontic beackground of “being there”, being present (dasein); it is disintegration of his ontological form. Deprived of form or entelechy, the man is just potential or matter. If there is no entelechy, its role is taken over and abused by a totalitarian society that rules over people. The role of entelechy is taken over by a transpersonal entity, such as public opinion, audience, crowd, political organizations, the social being…
With the development of cybernetics as new ideology – understanding the man as “information processor” – we enter an era of new anthropology and a society with no people. Baudrillard wrote about the “ecstasy” of communication, about individual consciousness that leaves the body when a man connects with displays or terminals; and Kroker and Weinstein discussed losing the body. Electronic media harass their users by making them leave their bodies, disintegrated and parsed into a network of extensions of their own nervous systems (McLuhan).
Computer networking is the answer to our deeply rooted need to transcend, to reach the immaterial, spiritual. It is a desire to be outside one’s body and mind, to transcend the limits of time and space – a kind of biotechnological theology (Ascott). Virtual machines supply the spirit with new bodies, pack it into tele-bodies and tele-organs, setting the stage for what Moravec called “expelling the soul from the body.”
From the standpoint of biology, genetics or cybernetics – we are all mutants. Therefore, metaphysics does no longer apply for mutants and there is no chance for transcendence. The religious, metaphysic definition of the being gives way to the functional definition in terms of the genetic code (DNA) and cerebral organization (information code and millions of neurons). The body used to be a metaphor of divine perfection, metaphor of spiritual supremacy over matter, in which the divine spark shines in the darkness of space. Today, “the body is no longer a metaphor of anything, it is a place of metastasis, mechanical adjustment of all the processes of the infinite programming, without any symbolic organization, without any transcendental goal, promiscuous with itself, which is also promiscuity of networks and integrated circuits (Baudrillard).
Liotard poses the question of the existence of human spirit without the living body at the end of the world, when the sun stops shining and the world sinks into eternal darkness, but what about the human body when it is ultimately merged with technology, networked and cybernated? What will happen when the final migration of the human spirit into machines is over, when this warm flesh is reduced to oesophagus, flesh that throbs, changes, grows, bleeds, defecates, breaks winds, has a runny nose, grows hairs and nails, rots and decays…?
TRANSCENDING OF MAN
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900) announced man’s historic degradation and tried to find a way out of the world in which man trapped himself. His idea of the necessity for the man to “transcend himself”, of “the present that lives at the expense of the future,” became a gloomy vision of humanity at the beginning of the 20th century. If indeed there are no eternal truths, no god, no intelligible spheres, no noumenal or transcendental truth, no chance to go beyond this reality we ourselves have created and in which we are trapped, then Nietzsche is right when he says that we are forced to re-create ourselves. The man must transcend himself.
A dangerous transition, a dangerous journey, a dangerous looking back, hesitation and stopping – this is what man is according to Nietzsche. That man should transcend himself, leave himself behind, and in an impossible feat – make a dangerous leap beyond himself.
The poem about Zarathustra, ‘the wicked faceless and bodiless goblin, the leader of the column, with a wreath of roses of laughter on his unprincipled head, with his ‘Be strong’ and his legs of a dancer, is not a realization but pure rhetoric, crazy pun, troubled voice and questionable prophecy, a shadow of the powerless grandezza, often touching and almost always painful, an apparition that staggers on the edge of ridicule…” (Mann). It is this Zarathustra, Nietzsche’s hero, prisoner of life, prisoner of suffering and pain, who actually shows the way in which the man can realise his abilities to become more than a man, to go beyond himself: “I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him? All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man?”
This overman overcomes and suppresses the weaknesses of the inauthentic man. Rather than live under the dictate of the Other, he in creates new values in his strife towards autonomy. That what makes us what we are is a set of choices and deeds and our self-creation can resemble artistic creation.
A LEAP BEYOND ONESELF
Today, in this post-industrial, highly technologized and cybernated phase of the development of our civilization, a work of art does no longer express structures of universal order in line with the metaphysical world view, where homology of structures results from the essence of reality itself and discovers the architecture of the universe. Man today – a network with no centre and not some secret, unreachable spirit of the religious and philosophical concepts of the past – is a product of complex social and cultural changes effectuated under the influence of virtual technologies, total mediation of the society, radicalized discourse of instrumentalized consciousness, genetic modifications, new biomechanical implants, medicalization and mediation of the body and the new universal, neoliberal market order and globalization.
Art has long lost its desire to be an illusion and glorify things in the overall aesthetic of the banal. It became trans-aesthetic. In a world like this, art can only be even more unreal, super transparent, a spectacle of new, small perspective worlds that extinguish in the darkness like soap bubbles bursting in the endless emptiness, or it ca become even more real. How super real, painfully tactile, aggressive and imposing it will be, so as to wake us up from the slumber before the TV sets, to excite us as an apparition or lull us to sleep as light entertainment and soft brain stimulation, depends on our ability to see the truth about ourselves and to cause a kind of spontaneous abortion when our womb, upset by the false reality, expels us into the real reality, together with the bloodstained placenta of the illusion.
The Macedonian sculptor Zarko Basheski (1957) returns to the man as the basis, essence and unsurpassed reason to create his works of art. The man has central position in this project. The man, his existential drama to be more than a man – is his pivotal subject he modifies in three sculptures that make up the project “Leap”.
The installation consists of three complex hyper realistic sculptures of the same man, with dimensions larger than life size, in three situations. The connection between the figures – a man carrying himself, a man leaping over himself and a man rising above himself – is the eternal human strife for self-perfection.
Zarko Basheski is a sculptor whose monumental bronze sculptures stand on several city squares in his country, such as the statue of Alexander the Great (Prilep) and the equestrian statues of the Macedonian national heroes Goce Delčev and Dame Gruev, in the centre of the capital city of Skopje. In his Project “Leap”, he turns to the ordinary man. By returning to the subject of man and his body, Baseski poses the question of the meaning of human existence. Baseski’s man, like Nietzsche’s, is in a constant struggle to go beyond himself: he is an acrobat, a juggler, walking the tight rope across the universe – a man trying to leap beyond himself.
Sculptures of men as the highest expression of the power of a civilization have always represented gods and heroes, but Baseski’s sculptures portray a common everyday man who takes the role of a superhuman in his efforts to surpass himself.
The constant strife towards self-perfection, pushing boundaries, rising above reality, reaching beyond – the very essence of human existence – is the pivotal subject in Zarko Basheski’s works. Symbolically, he re-creates and reaffirms the drama of human existence, facing the horror of the void around and within us, our personal limitations, as well as our determination to go beyond our personal boundaries, to step out beyond the horizon of the possible. These sculptures present all that spasm, pain, futility and pathos, but also the glory of the effort to be human.
Baseski’s sculptures are an effort to comment the possibility of the man to excel at this very moment when the world is at a turning point. He creates an obvious metaphor of the failure of the mankind. Absurd in his overproportions, this giant, spellbound by the electronic shimmering of the screens, unable to see himself, without an adequate awareness about himself and his position in the world, unable to make a breakthrough and rise above himself, plugged into a network of extensions of his own nervous system, sex organ of the world of machines, flesh that is just a biological growth of the virtual wireless world in which he is the tele-god – this is the hero of the new era.
This is why Zarko Basheski wants to portray the man as he is: unable to see himself, brought to the daylight, unplugged from the system, from the network, a product shaped in the Designer Department of the Great Reality Factory, now obsolete and discarded with the dirty water into the mud of the actual reality. In its hyper-reality, in the cold seriousness of the performance, in the overemphasized veracity of the details, these sculptures are real in an uneasy way. Losing measure means creation and destruction: creation breaks all the rules and boundaries and destroys the individual. Stopped in a moment of an impossible feat, in an effort to surpass himself, Baseski’s man is faced with himself. If these sculptures express a reality, the truth about this reality, then the question is: What happened to the man?
In the end, bitter laughter is all that remains, Zarathustra’s laughter on the square: “O, you higher men, this is your greatest failure: you have not learned to dance properly – to dance over stock and stone, beyond yourselves! It does not matter if you failed! How much is still possible! Learn to laugh at yourselves and overcome yourselves!”