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July, August, September 2003 Angel Orensanz in Venice

From: Stephan Balint
Category: Exhibitions
Date: 01 August 2003



Part One

Venice during the 50th Venice Biennale is home for one of the most comprehensive presentations of a retrospective exhibition and new works byAngel Orensanz. Visitors of the city are greeted by his trademark sphere floating on the water in one of the lagoons below Palazzo Malipiero. The building itself is dressed in banners representing the exhibitions of Iran, Estonia and Angel Orensanz, as they all share - and shape - the exhibition stage in this magnificent palace.

On the Orensanz banner we see the drawing of a face that duplicates, in reality it triplicates in diminishing sizes, and in three steps. The expression of the faces reflect desperation and horror as the man blocks out the sounds that accompany the sight that seems to drive him to madness.

What does he see? Could his vision be our present reality? His gaze reminds us at the crazed look of William Blake's Nebuchadnezzar. Do we see a scream, as in the Munch painting or do we only hear deadly silence?

We wonder, as for all us, what so maddening about madness is that it is simultaneously real, terrifying and catastrophic, and moments of uncertainty make us list ourselves among the suspects. We do wonder about who is sane. And as the young Charles Darwin was to remark, “My Father says there isperfect gradation between sound people and insane – that everybody is insane atsome time.” That face drawn by Orensanz vibrates with its exploding lines: blue, rusty brown, ash-gray and charcoal black lines: as if it were drawn by a lightning rode. Is this man in remission or is he in one of his lucid intervals? Is he the artist himself, or the archetypical madman, possessed by visions and transcendental fire (furor), a divine inspiration that thrust him out of himself?

Have no doubts: BURNING UNIVERSE, the title of the new Orensanz show offers the solution to this puzzle.

The man is sane and the world around him just passed its stage of latent insanity as it went up in flames around him. The horror on the man’s face is the expression of sanity. He is rather the artist of the modern age, normal rather than transported or possessed, intrinsically endowed with powers, in particular, imagination and judgment, which nurtures organic genius. In that blue lined face of the Orensanz banner – seen all over on the streets of Venice- we catch the moment as meaning arises from processing the atoms of recent experience: the organic activity of the mind acquires a mysterious aura, becoming an alchemical laboratory of infinite ferment.

Walk through the rooms of his Palazzo Malipiero exhibition and you will be bombarded with violently beautiful images: the complex imagery of a new artistic period:a burning universe! His new genre: the art-diary videos of moving images are part of the projected multimedia presentation that is an important segment of the his Burning Universe show.

I recall his first video that he recently created and was shown on televisions all over in the world: paintings, statues, the first New York synagogue, his transparent sphere, and Orensanz himself at the scene where 20th century history ended for us a few years ago. When I first watched it, as a man of theatre, and son of a painter I accepted the challenge: I turned into the generic spectator and imposed my own inner dialogue on the moving images:

Part Two or Reflections in the mirror of a VIDEO: Instant gratification in the Golden Synagogue as the Angel Orensanz Post-Art SPHERE rolls along on the trash-heap of Post-History

Scene 1. GIANT BEACHBALL ... FLOATING IN THEWATER...maybe it moves - and sinking alittle, but floating, like God’s soul. And slowly gets into the frame somevegetation around the BEACHBALL... SPHERE... SUN.. EARTH...?...

Scene 2. A beach, and some buildings of a town...ametropolis..... Creation is happening, in front of us. ...and now aBRIDGE.! The bridge, that is so important for his wandering , and thebridge is so important for all of us. To bridge. No matter how imperfect thegiant ’beachball’ is, it still recalls, in a subtle way, the perfect moment....and yes, it’s a double exposure: the perfect moment of Creation and thevery imperfection of our world. And what’s next?

Scene 3. The creation and the creator in one body. The human being in general, and Mr .Orensanz, the artist in that order. Let’s talk first about the actor as a person andthe person as a performance artist. Mr Orensanz with a funny gesture starts to roll his sphere..!. Any happener would do the same...but not the same way! Orensanz oes it simply, without grace, or agression and with gestures not stylized at all. He is like a shopkeeper who has no customers, and in his free time he fools around on the street. A cross between Chaplin playing a hairdresser and a hairdresser playing himself for a street audience. Mr Orensanz -- very consciously is playing the EVERYMAN and also the one he knows best: himself.

Scene 4. Our bigger than life beachball appears now in a sacred place, in the Synagogue. It’s the Orensanz Foundation Center for the Arts, the oldest and one of the most historic synagogues of New York’s Lower East Side. It is saved and renovated by Mr Orensanz for exhibitions and other cultural events. In this place even the air is gold. And the beachball globe becomes now a sacred sphere.. It’s again a twist and a doubletake on the contrast of the sacred, hidden holy of the holiest and the transparent gold object swims in gold in the synagogue. The sacred ’as we like it’.

Scene 5. And the ball is rolling along with us around the world.

Scene 6. Next stop is Venice, old and beautiful Europe, roots of the Jewish connection with money (Shakespeare!) and a new, social order: capitalism. Venice, where the sea is trapped in the canales, and Mr Orensanz acts as a tourist would: showing off– with his sphere - in a gondola. When we speak about ball, or sphere, or globe, we are talking about its transformations too, from sphere through roundshape signs to a piece of rubber...

Scene 7. A big jump from Italy across time and space, and we are landing in New York, today. Present heaven for all wanderers, and for Mr Orrensanz, too. The new homeland.

Scene 8. Drawings of crazyness. Faces and fury. Expressionism and abstract expressionism!. New York.Remembrance of Pollock and Co.... And the sphere evokes the new expressionism before posmodern was ever invented!

Scene 9. And in a moment of horror in our traveling through arts and places: we are now in the homeland of perfect copies, among them, the perfect copy of the American genre: the horror movie! On a painted paper-path a little monkey is led on chain, he is walking for the big fun of the local audience somewhere in a big Japanese city park.

It’s avant-garde. Give chance a chance. . Walking is painting! Horror Art, like so much of the avantgarde: lonely sound and fury. Freedom of art led on chain and the creator as a little, miserable monkey. Thank you Mr Orensanz for showing it to us. Don’t make a mistake: He knows what he is doing!

Scene 10. The next scene, a field, killing field, where no artist in right mind would lead the ball! It’s a place, where my own daughter, stranger than paradise, lives and where people were jumping almost on her head, and into their death.

Talking about horror!

Her life, and ours won’t be the same ever since. Orensanz as an artist and a human being steps over the boundaries of the unspeakable.

GROUND ZERO. A name is a name is a name. News footages of hell, and the deadly killing ground. And the big ball bursts here. How does he dare to play ball here? Reality and film were united here, and from now on everywhere in the world.Reality and virtual reality. Our world is one again. Art and Life. No illusions and allusions. What can be done after this new Holocaust? We paint, write poems...we live..and we must survive the unspeakable.

The show must go on --overcoming the deadly silence.

There is no solution, and there is no redemption:only pain and heartache for the living and resurrection for the dead – at least in our soul. And Orensanz overstepped another boundary again: the moral of the esthetical. But he knows his own heart best, and he makes me believe in him.GROUND ZERO ? He doesn’t pretend to be a hero; he earns his money with an innocent heart. And makes it Art.

Scene 11. And here we are again in the New York traffic. He pushes his ball in front of the synagogue, against some motorbike parking there...Playin’ one on one? And toward the end must come the happy end.. THE KIDS! The kids from the streets playin’ ball, eagerly and cheerfully chasing it, what man makes: the toy, the big Orensanz sphere. It’s all running and laughter

Scene 12. The beginning and the END! The bigger than life ball in the water, sinking,floating again. A profane game with the sacred? What is it now? Our World, our Sun, our Earth -- is swimming in the World Sea to die and to ressurrect...and to die and to ressurrect... Deadly play, as Art must be.Videoart? Waves and smiles...

Ladies nd Gentlemen, may I introduce you Mr Angel Orensanz: the one and only postmodern artist of our time – with atmoSphere. Play ball, World! The magician arrived!

Part Three

Orensanz returned to Venice this summer with a generous series of exhibitions that extend until the end of November and take place on three prominent locations. It is one of his most triumphant returns to this city.

He was also here in February for an invitation by the organizers of the Venice Carnival. While these present exhibitions celebrate with their wide range of new and old works the complexity of Orensanz's artistic talent, his previous visit had major importance if one seeks to understand his oeuvre that spans over more than 4 decades in intricate zigzags all over in the world.

What was so innovative and extraordinary in his Carnival presence? Above all, it was the fact that for the first time during his long artistic activity Orensanz looked out and winked at us. He threw us the key to understand his complex art that he constantly juxtaposed with visuals and dramatic elements from classical works, performance and happening culture.

It was his visual “arts poetica”.

Roland Barthes, in an interview published near the end of his life, suggests the delight he derives from the imposition of a meaning which allows language to operate independently of reality: “There is a labor that I enjoy enormously: it consists in establishing a relationship between text and image.”

Until this February Orensanz never used text or offered personal verbal explanations for his works. A long line of art historians and prestigious art critics gave glimpses at certain aspects of his works. He himself mainly operated with action and powerful images.

His presence at the carnival – dressed as a Renaissance clown - provoking,amusing people and interacting with the crowd while pushing his huge transparent sphere along the streets of Venice was his first personal confession about his own art. With a wink of the eye he offered us the key to understand his powerful artistic presence. It was indeed his visual “arts poetica” – and he himself connected for us text and image – as Barthes understands these notions.

His carnival presence is best understood in the context given by Mikhail Bakhtin, a Russian theorist in the 1930s, and an often-cited scholar in contemporary thought. Bakhtin’s immediate point of departure is FrançoisRabelais, the French writer during the Renaissance. Rabelais and His World analysis the peculiar language and practices of the carnival environment. The Renaissance carnival culture involves the "temporary suspension of all hierarchic distinctions and barriers among men … and of the prohibitions of usual life".

Bakhtin made contemporary theory aware of how much popular culture in early modern Europe involved flourishing traditions of the carnivalesque that mocked those in authority and parodied official ideas of society, history, destiny,fate, as unalterable. With its masks and monsters and feasts and games and dramas and processions, carnival was many things at once. It was festive pleasure, destruction and creation; a theory of time, history, destiny; it was utopia, cosmology, and philosophy. The extravagant juxtapositions, the rotesque mixing and confrontations of high and low, upper-class and lower-class, spiritual and material, young and old, male and female, daily identity and festive mask, serious conventions and their parodies, gloomy medieval time and joyous utopian visions. Carnivalisation thus "makes it possible to extend the narrow sense of life”, or as Foucault observes, it helps to "extend our participation in the present system"..

The aspiration of carnival is to uncover, undermine - even destroy, the hegemony of any ideology that seeks to have the final word about the world, and also to renew, to shed light upon life, the meanings it harbors, to elucidate potentials; projecting, as it does an alternate conceptualization of reality.

And that’s what Orensanz does when he operates with images: throughout his oeuvre we see him challenging our concept about art, architecture and the social space as he boldly revisits and reinterprets our established canon by interacting with Michelangelo’s works, with the Louvre, or the Kremlin on the Red Square, the UN building in New York or the Cathedral of Cologne– just to name a few. His Groznij bus imposes artistic chaos on real life drama urging peace and understanding.

Bakhtin argues that by being outside of a culture can one understand his own culture. This process: "multiply enriching" opens new possibilities for each culture, reveals hidden 'potentials', promotes 'renewal and enrichment', creates new potentials, new voices, that may become instrumental for a future dialogic interaction. "Dialogism is a fundamental aspect of the carnival - a plurality of fully valid consciousnesses" -says Bakhtin, each bringing with them a different point of view, a different way of seeing the world. "Two voices is the minimum for life, the minimum for existence"- if dialogism ends, reveals Bakhtin,“everything ends”.

It is not by chance that the diary-like new video works of Orensanz are in an open-ended non-narrative form. His Bunuel “totem pole”: Homage to Bunuel, that will stand at the entrance of the Venice Film Festival as well as his participation in the Wandering Library project – are all acted out in historically charged public spaces that transcend cultural and intellectual taboos. As Barthes describes a photographic image, his oeuvre becomes “an arbitrary connection between the present and the past” attesting to a referentiality of a different kind: it becomes the authentic personal reflection of a true post-modern artist.

Istvan Bálint- Stephan BALINT /Budapest – New York – Budapest /

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