Bill Viola’s Easter Eggs
29 March 2004
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The French National Theatre has a new Director General for the Paris Opera and Opera Ballet, Dr. Gérard Mortier, fresh from ten years as head of the Salzburg Festival.
In a recent keynote address to the International Society for the Performing Arts Congress at Vienna, Dr. Mortier stated,
"I am convinced that the end of the 20th century is the end of an epoch (...). It is the end of the epoch of rationalism (...). What we have today, with (...) the music of Mozart, polyphonic music, is all the fruit of individualism and rationalist thought. But we have seen a great deal of criticism of that tradition since the end of the Second World War and at the end of the century the facts that confront us make it impossible to solve problems by means of that traditional thought.
"After the end of the First World War the rebellion against tradition began with surrealism in painting and Dadaism in literature.
"The themes are those of social opposition and erotic relationships, of the possibility of destroying things."
Might Dr. Mortier be saying that "destroying things", like DADA, is the wave of the future ?
Here is an actual quote from history, signed by the leading Dadaists:
On February 6th 1919, DADA declared war on the Weimar Republic.
"Dadaists against Weimar
We shall blow Weimar sky-high. Berlin is the place ... da... da
Nobody and nothing will be spared.
Turn out in masses !
The Dadaist Headquarters of World Revolution."
BAADER, HAUSMANN, TRISTAN TZARA, GEORGE GROSZ, MARCEL JANCO, HANS ARP.
The Weimar Republic was, of course, blown sky-high, and something like eighty million Europeans were to die something other than a natural death as a result.
The possibility of destroying things ?
Timed to arrive in the post for the Easter, a whopping-thick colour brochure for Dr. Mortier’s first season, viz., 2004/2005, at the Paris Opera has just been delivered.
One opens it to find not only that post-modern "dance events" have virtually replaced the classical ballet next season, but, equally importantly one suspects, Dr. Mortier has put pen to paper to inform us that all its (WEIRD) photographs are by Dr. Bill Viola, known as a "videast" (sic), a "great artist", who "proposes imaginary reflections around the Passions (sic) that these works arouse in us".
Going by Dr. Viola’s Website appearances and by the new Opera brochure, his unoriginal, but manipulative message boils down to weird forms of sexuality, and an absorption with death better suited to the walls of a Roman Emperor’s Villa, than to one of the world’s great classical theatres.
The Opera brochure leads with a double-page pastiche by Dr. Viola of the Entombment of Christ, one that sweats something rather worse than mere disrespect for the leader of the relevant religion.
The Passion (not Passions) of Christ puts the question of suffering and death in the body, for a higher ideal. Probably the most insightful modern study is neither that by Dr. Viola, nor Mel Gibson’s latest slathering outrage, but that by Frederick Schiller in his work "Ueber das Erhabene" (On the Sublime).
The issue is relevant to our time, perhaps more than at any other time since the Roman Empire.
Perplexed as to why Dr. Gérard Mortier might wish to lower a great national theatre in this way, I searched Internet for the name "Bill Viola". The "videast" holds a string of honorary doctorates from American universities, and has exhibited all over the globe, even in posh locations such as London’s National Gallery. Dr. Viola is clearly an Establishment figure, integrated into an influential faction of US policy-making institutions that one would hesitate to qualify as benevolent.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle on January 22nd 2004, "Computer gaming ideas, says Visual Arts Curator Rene de Guzman, are infiltrating the visual arts in much the same way that video images have done for the past few decades. In fact, Bill Viola, perhaps the best-known video artist, is said to be working with artificial-intelligence researchers at Stanford for his next project."
In an essay entitled "The Morphology of the Amorphous: Bill Viola’s Videoscapes", Professor Marjorie Perloff of Stanford University tells us rather more than one would wish to know about Dr. Viola. We learn that one of his concerns is for the "relationship of human to animal consciousness", and one example she gives, is his video entitled "I do not know":
"This quiet sequence is followed by the [Viola’s] solitary late-night dinner (....) huge close-ups of the artist’s knife and fork dissecting an ordinary fish - a fish that in turn defamiliarizes those in the blow-ups we have seen in slow-motion in the prior chapter, the artist himself reflected in the giant pupils of their huge eyes. In the eating sequence, an ominous silence is punctuated by loud intermittent cutting, crackling, and swallowing sounds that suggest large-scale dismemberment (...).
"In a diary entry of 1980, Viola writes: ’I want to look so close at things that their intensity burns through your retina and onto the surface of your mind....’"
Elsewhere in the Perloff essay, Dr. Viola is quoted referring to the mind as "human software".
What Dr. Viola is talking about is thought-control, and it is not pretty.
The human mind is not software. Man creates software, which is based upon a purely formal, logical construct. No matter what the Stanford artificial intelligence project may claim, the human mind is not a formal, logical construct, nor are its operations restricted by any outside force other than our condition as mortal men.
And unlike Dr. Viola’s work with video, classical music, and its main branch, the classical dance, are not art forms designed to control the public’s thought-processes.
The musician, the dancer, is not attempting to "mind-bend" you, or to "alter your consciousness" through subliminal images. He is not concerned with brainwashing his public, nor is he concerned with getting them to "perceive" any weird, occult message as an ersatz for thinking. He is attempting to solve a difficult musical, technical and dramatic problem, in the service of higher ideal.
Bill Viola, Nine Inch Nails and Easter Eggs
Not coincidentally, Bill Viola has built up a relationship as "videast" to a rock group called Nine Inch Nails, founded by a man called Trent Reznor (born at Mercer, Pennsylvania, in 1965). Why Nine Inch Nails ?
Well, the Website known as www.amiright.com tells us of Nine Inch Nails: "the stories of the crucifixtion (sic) nails, coffin nails, and state of liberty’s fingernails are indeed true, but 100% coincidental. This is coming straight from the source (trent reznor) himself."
Nine Inch Nails too has a Website, known as http://nothing.nin.net. On opening the site, bizarre symbols and images come up. Not to put too fine a point on it, they indicate that we are not dealing with mainstream Islam, Judaism, Catholicism, or even Buddhism here.
Not a religion of life shall we say.
Bill Viola would appear to have a concept of Easter Eggs peculiar to individuals who engage in activities that may not be entirely "up front" as one Michael Messmer (sic) writes reviewing a Nine Inch Nails DVD in Volante OnLine,
"This two-disc DVD does not include a lot of extra footage or special options up front. In fact, the only extras that are officially included are a variety of still photographs that are really cool and the usual audio commentary by the director and artist of this DVD, Bill Viola.
"The DVD does, however, contain several Easter eggs that are only brought about by using special combinations on your DVD player’s remote. One in particular includes Marilyn Manson coming onstage and joining Reznor and the rest of the band during "Starf#$*ers, Inc." Directly after that, Manson and NIN play "Beautiful People," one of Manson’s most recognizable songs. That is just one of the many hidden surprises, which you’ll have to find yourself - a task which is more than worth it."
What is this business with Marilyn Manson ?
Pursuing our research, we read at www.vh1.com,
"By this time, Reznor had relocated to Los Angeles, building a studio in a rented house at 10050 Cielo Drive, which he later discovered was the scene of the Tate murders by the Manson family (much to his disgust, due to eternal interview questions thereafter about the contribution of the house’s atmosphere to The Downward Spiral). occupying the middle ground between the styles of previous releases, The Downward Spiral’s multi-layered blend of synthesizer textures and guitar fury provided a fascinating soundscape for Reznor’s Exploration Of Human Degradation Through Sex, Drugs, Violence, Depression And Suicide."
One doesn’t "later discover" the truth about 10050 Cielo Drive. It is the most notorious address in Los Angeles.
As for the rock singer who calls himself ’Marilyn Manson’, his real name is Brian Warner, and he has been associated with Trent Reznor since the start of his career about fifteen years ago. The change of name from Warner to "Manson" is perhaps unsurprising, given Mr. Reznor’s street address at 10050 Cielo Drive. On opening the Marilyn Manson Website, one discovers imagery that we shall tactfully refer to here as "redolent of certain events in Germany in the 1930s and 40s".
During 1996, Trent Reznor produced Manson’s album, "Antichrist Superstar".
One then discovers from the Nine Inch Nails Website, that the group produced the soundtrack for "Natural Born Killers", a film that attracted considerable attention both in the USA and in France, owing - inter alia - to murders perpetrated by Florence Rey and Aubry Maupin in 1994, and the Gournay murders in 1996.
Copied verbatim including the original spelling mistakes, from the Nine Inch Nails site http://nothing.nin.net/s1.html:
"Music from Pretty Hate Machine
"NINE INCH NAILS - DOWN IN IT. reznor’s first single (...) the video for this song, while it may not compare with the ones recently released, is still decent. the uncensored and extended versions (rare sights) depict reznor lying dead and disfigured in a pool of blood, his flesh covered with cornstarch. during the taping, the camera floated away (mounted on a baloon) and was recovered to be seen as a snuff film. an investigation followed and the rest is hard copy history. also known as halo one. "
A snuff film, in case you didn’t know, is American slang for a film that shows people being murdered on camera, live as it were.
In this context, one might be entitled to wonder how, or why, a man named Jérôme Bel, a product of the notorious Centre national chorégraphique d’Angers, and who calls himself a "student of semiotics", has just been commissioned to create a New Work at the Paris Opera in September 2004.
In the official programme of the Théâtre de la Ville’s 2000-2001 season, Bel famously wrote,
"Je rêve actuellement de poser de vrais cadavres sur le plateau. Heureusement, c’est impossible. (At the moment, my dream would be to place real dead bodies on stage. Fortunately, it cannot be done."
On to Video Games
Much information is available about Nine Inch Nails and video games at www.computerandvideogames.com.
"11:16 Apparently, John Carmack from id Software has been in talks with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame regarding his possible composing of the in-game music for the new Doom incarnation." And another source, the on-line encylopaedia Wikipedia writes that "Trent [Reznor] returned to working with id Software in 2003 as the chief sound engineer for the widely anticipated upcoming video game DOOM 3...."
Might one advise the reader to conduct an Internet search for articles by Lt. Col. David Grossmann, Professor of Psychology at West Point Military Academy ? Lt. Col. Grossman is the author of "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society", and has studied the video-game industry in rather more depth than we can here today.
To sum up:
- Has the Bill Viola/Nine Inch Nails lot been given a look-in at the Paris Opera ?
- Does Gérard Mortier have any ties of any nature whatsoever, to the Bill Viola/Nine Inch Nails lot ?
- Do we want people like Bill Viola and Nine Inch Nails having any influence whatsoever, no matter how remote, on the policies of the French National Theatre ?
- What does our Directeur de la danse, Mlle. Brigitte Lefèvre, herself think about all this ? What is this business with Jérôme Bel ?
- The overwhelming majority of dancers in the Paris Opera have deliberately chosen the classical dance, not a Post-Modern troupe, a strip joint, or a death cult.
Have these artists been consulted on the 2004/2005 repertory, one likely to have a sudden and perhaps not entirely felicitous effect on both their peace of mind and career ?