The Art of Living Dangerously
Chantal Meza, The Art of Living Dangerously. Mixed Media on Paper. 150cm x 150cm. 2019
The only certainty for art lies in the belief that it too occupies the realm of the uncertain. Art doesn't measure reality; and it certainly doesn't seek to represent or interrogate the present in order to affirm what was known all along. Art in the face of uncertainty celebrates what is uncertain, and yet in the process, it affirms the future can be different. Art is openly aligned with the uncertain flows of time, countering those who would reduce it to mere propaganda or in repetition of an image of the world that looks like more of the same. Uncertainty can be terrifying. Especially for the tyrants of history. And especially for those who claim to speak in the name of others – the victims of the world – without truly listening to the poetry of the earth and confronting the collapse of a shared consciousness, which welcomes the uncertain like a child welcomes freedom. Art masters the art of living dangerously, never to kill, but to strike the heart and senses all the same.
We could argue that the conception of life as a work of art is in direct opposition to nihilism, indifference and alienation of the catastrophic subject. It is necessary to make several reservations here. We cannot be satisfied with seeing artistic production as something that generates a negative response to the realities of the world. Creativity must precede any version of the dialectic. Nor should we confuse the art of living with the adaptive arts that simply perform a well-rehearsed dance. Life as a work of art is necessarily affirmative because it appeals to what is not yet revealed.
What is at stake here is always the future. A future which by definition is always unknowable. But we should not be content to reduce life to mere stories of survival. Uncertain. Unknowable. Uncertain. Dangerous. Uncertain. Take flight. Uncertain. Mere survival. Uncertain. Insecurity, Uncertain. Desperation. Uncertain. Take care of me. Uncertain. We know what’s best for you. The tyranny of such uncertainty is all too apparent. And it seems that we have also exhausted - or at least should have done - the discourse and aesthetic practice of suffering.
Not have people become immune to media spectacles of “victims”, their suffering usually translates to pity, and the pity too often transformed into piety. The pious then assign moral supremacy to the justified indignation of others. We have already witnessed far too much politicization of suffering, so that the victim becomes a problem that needs to be resolved without ever questioning if they perceive their trouble as something that needs external help, which often denies them their abilities to express their creative agencies and political desires.
So, what can we do? How do we face the future without being suffocated by anxiety? Adaptation or “resilience” to the catastrophic is not the same as political transformation. It simply accepts its conditions of insecurity and vulnerability. What’s required is entirely related to a willingness to challenge political indifference with more affirmative expressions that demand replacing the vulnerability of catastrophism with a poetic confidence in the creation of future worlds.
This requires liberating the subjective and harnessing the transforming powers of the imagination. That doesn't mean we deny the possibility of disasters. It means we live on, despite them. That is why the prophets of reason with their worldly calculations are of little help to us. Reason does not imagine anything. Neither does calculation. Such technical dreams cannot create and cannot transform. But poetry does not arise spontaneously; it is a process that needs continued engagement.
This does not mean that the problem of politics today is simply a matter of constructing, in a philosophical way, an alternate image of the human, full of political potentiality in the practical reality of his absence. The image of the human, degraded and incapable of significant action or creation, is the true chimera. So called democratic regimes today put so much effort into producing resilient subjects in the face of uncertainty, they forget how the human world is full of politics, creativity, action, imagination and transformative potential. To live, Nietzsche once claimed, was to forever be on danger. What matters is how we embrace the open horizon of possibility without falling back upon narratives of survival, which threaten to destroy us all.
*This work was produced and inspired by the book “Resilient Life. The art of living dangerously” by Brad Evans and Julian Reid. The text written here takes concepts and words adapted from its narrative.