An interpretation of Patricia Diart’s performance with a piece of styrofoam

In her life as an artist, Patricia Diart has long been collecting found objects. As she writes on her website :

‘I have gathered ephemera from the streets of San Francisco for over fifteen years. As a collection of data, these bits of matter are in a state between culture and nature. In their condition, they carry what Walter Benjamin calls a “dream wish,” a thing which once had potential, but is now in a state of decomposition. Creating various assemblages or not (some objects have their own special power) is a kind of drawing’.

Patricia Diart, “Road, metal, balloon”
Patricia Diart, “Found objects, CDs and satellite dish cover”

Until then, Diart collected objects, and then, one day, she found a large one. When she brought it home, she decided to take it out again, to carry it, first on her back and then in her arms, everywhere she went, and this, for two years. This is a very long performance. As said in the interview (here), the styrofoam object somehow “embodied” the absurdity of the life P. Diart was going through and living at that time. But instead of pathologizing this absurdity, of making it lachrymal and self-pitying, she decided to comically tautologize her crossing of Absurdity by adopting this piece of styrofoam, exactly like a pet. And why not? The huge amount of people walking in the streets or standing still while constantly looking at their smartphones is after all only a lower degree of pet (lower, because the pet such as the dog at least understands you, in part, it interprets your voice and your feelings, not the smartphone). But SP (for “Styrofoam Piece”) belongs to another field of the pet; it is the incarnation of Absurdia (that is to say this political-sociological entity that always requires from citizens formular A to get the B, and if no form A then no B, let alone C, but maybe consider a request via a form D to get a substitute form B, in order to ask for a form A, for example, by feedback, but you have to wait 40 days to declare the loss of the form C, but as it has never been obtained, you start the procedure again) More generally, SP can also be seen as a symbol of many other absurdities, such as the one that requires every citizen to have a role, a social role, and, consequently, to “serve” something, and the medal of Absurdity cannot be denied to this injunction that makes it imperative that the human person be transformed into a useful object.

By her appropriation (performance) of SP, Diart associates his momentarily unusable “necessary utility” fate with a totally useless object. There is then a reversal of the situation in the integrated-conscious process of reificatory capitalism: Since society compels me to be a useful object and I am momentarily useless as exploitable by any administrative or salary treatment, here is my performative response: I display my counter-use, my inanimate double that literally serves no purpose; a waste, for it is very the nature of waste to be useless. Thus, Diart, living entity and artist, is always accompanied by his doppelgänger made in Absurdia, the “thing” — as she calls it —, that shows the true suspensive nature of the ontological Uselessness, which moreover all those people who live only for salaried work feel reduced to and who, deprived of this alienation, feel completely useless, which is, of course, a tragedy of thought, but which reveals, by the same token, the extraordinary multi-secular social conditioning of our civilization, whose mantra could be: “Become alienated or be nothing”.

Of course, one should not neglect the comic effect, absurdly comic, of the “Diart-PS” walk-performance. There is an undeniably funny and grotesque side to it, absolutely incomprehensible to the average person. Imagine yourself in the subway, with this person who holds on his knees this kind of styrofoam object … Imagine yourself in a restaurant, and suddenly, discovering this person who, in front of him, dines “with” this object… You don’t understand anything. It is irrational. Or, even better: Imagine yourself shopping, and seeing this woman with her shopping cart©, and, placed on top of it, this object which you immediately wonder what it is doing there, and what it is for? Great puzzling moment, without answer; because when we ask her what she “does” with this thing, Diart answers only that she walks with it; that’s all. No artistic or philosophical statement. All the more puzzling.

Patricia Diart, Image from Current Working Animation

But suddenly a new milestone in the P-SP odyssey is reached: SP is stolen. We have to go to the police. And this is when the SP object, the faithful one, officially changes its status; it is a work of art that has been stolen, not a bicycle, nor a watch or a bag. The theft of a work of art, in fact, acquires a status superior to that of a simple common object. SP has been ennobled by police consideration. Imagine the artist declaring to the officer: “Someone stole a piece of styrofoam from me”… The officer would think twice before registering the complaint, wouldn’t he? What’s worth a piece of styrofoam? Absolutely nothing. But that’s not what the artist said. She said: “I am an artist, and they stole my work of art”, and at this point, it is no longer a joke, a work of art is something serious, we’re not kidding with that. Note that, even with the photograph of the work of art, the police did not laugh, they proceeded to a regular investigation, and even found the thief, who, upon hearing that the victim had filed a complaint, replied that he was going to hire a lawyer! This is quite extraordinary [read the interview]. One wonders how the lawyer, and the thief, could have explained how a piece of styrofoam could be stolen? Another indication of the most complete absurdity. Indeed, the thief did not know that this object was a work of art. So how did the extraordinarily absurd idea of stealing this piece of styrofoam come to him? We would have loved to learn. But that didn’t happen, because the criminal case got closed.

Thus ended this long performance, which has not yet revealed all its signified.

Patricia = styrofoam = drifting, in pieces, like styrofoam, on the shores of Absurdia

More about Diart’s work : http://www.diartprojects.com/about/ and https://thecape.substack.com/about

 

Léon Mychkine

art-critic, AICA member, Docteur of Philosophy, independent researcher

 

 


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A kairotic encounter at the Centre Pompidou, with the artist Patricia Diart

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