This was first published at Perfect Sound Forever.
Dror Feiler and the Eternal Return of the Irreal
“As a new dimension and complement to the orderly dialectics of classical Marxism it uses the theory of complexity: a method of complications and implications as an antithesis to the dialectic method of restricted sequence of cause and effect. To complicate means crossing the borders of categorization, exposing and even creating unexpected relations; like composers do in their computer, sampler and synthesizer based music and DJ’s do in the mix.” -Dror Feiler
When not lulled into the pleasant distraction of catching up on how Nick and Jessica are doing on MTV, there are times when I opt for headier entertainment. I head right for the racks, too. And this last week is no exception. The world was treated to a subversion by art unlike any other in recent history, certainly trumping Serrano’s pathetic Piss Christ episode and playing to a larger, international audience than did any of the hullabaloo surrounding the purportedly pornographic works of Robert Mapplethorpe. Dror Feiler and his wife Gunilla Skold Feiler created an installation entitled Snow White and the Madness of Truth at Stockholm’s Museum of National Antiquities as part of an exhibit meant to coincide with the anti-genocide conference being held there.
Dror is an Israeli-born expatriate living in Stockholm with his Swedish-born wife Gunilla. He has resided there since 1973 after completing service in the Israeli Defense Force. In 1970, as an early exponent of the movement known as ‘the refuseniks,’ he turned down service in Gaza. The commander at that time was Ariel Sharon. As recently as 2002, Feiler was president of Jews For Israeli Palestinian Peace. His anti-establishment, oftentimes controversial roots are essential to understanding his art and music.
The installation featured a large basin full of red water. Atop the water floated a sailboat mounted with a picture of Hanadi Jaradat (as a sail?), who attacked a restaurant in Haifa last October, killing herself and 21 others. “Snovit” or Snow White was written on the side.
In protest to the piece, Israeli ambassador Zvi Mazel unplugged the cables of a mounted spotlight, which then caused the lights to crash into the work (water). Prime Minister Sharon later praised Mazel’s actions. Feiler reportedly called him an “intellectual dwarf.”
When Picasso debuted Guernica at the Paris Exposition in 1937, it was received with contempt, and in many cases dismissed outright as being childish and dissolute. But Picasso opted for a sophisticated and much more “real” representation of the atrocities at Guernica. It was no quick way for him to win friends. But what did he care; he was an artist in search of truth in representation, no matter what ostensible paradoxes that may raise to a more prosaic mind.
A little more than a half-century later, humanity hasn’t advanced much in its perception of the arts. Feiler’s somewhat open-ended, multiple discourse piece has again rigged the adversarial worlds of art and politics with a short fuse. But it would be an unlikely party to detonate an explosive controversy in an act of protest heard the world round. You may question the use of these terms in context of the sad events that continue in the Israeli-Palestinian debacle. In reality, there is no other language to use. Anything else merely pimps dross over a situation riddled with the every conceivable shortcoming of history. And as Feiler’s work strives for a semblance of an honest representation of a bleak fact, our language -at least -must conform to the everyday atrocities of murder, of rival worldviews and of age-old paradigms; worn out and redundant, acted out over and over again. But it must also stand as a marker, as Feiler’s work does, to a potentially more constructive mode of thought. Our language, our art and music, must stand up in the face of stubborn idiocy and point the way to a better world. Consequently, it must damn laziness and embrace complexity as being virtue, not vice. If man continues to demand (or be oppressed by) slothful forms of thought, he will continue to exercise atrophied paradigms and eschew crucibles meant for evolution. In other words, we aren’t going anywhere fast.
At least if one judges our progress by the eroded measure of the status-quo. And it’s certainly a measure that has the world in its grip.
If anything today, the war is a war of opportunities within the war of information. Both Dror and Gunilla seized upon their opportunity to confront a failed paradigm with that of a forward linking, subversive track of thought via a mix up of expectations and politically correct burdens. The results are devastating in their portrayal of tragedy and their condemnation of an over-simplified, near Zoroastrian embrace of worlds so relic as to even make the blustery Museum shudder in chills. Far from being any apology for an act of mass-murder, Snow White is a diatribe against inhumanity. More specifically, it is an indictment of the socio-economic and political systems of which terrorism is a behavioral offshoot.
Dror Feiler’s art and music stand up to this complacency, demanding better of everyone. At least that’s what it attempts. The nobility of the higher goal is intact, no matter how misunderstood.
But what of his art, and moreover, in contemporary art is that takes these formidable tasks to hand? And how does it, if at all, propose to offer any solution to the dilemmas which at present time seem insurmountable?
In Fieler’s case, both his music and visual art are testament as action in the war of opportunity, but to varying degrees of success. One of the premises of Feiler’s art is that it demands that aesthetics take a back seat to truth. It even holds that aesthetics can be a dangerous thing, and no doubt he is right. It’s no secret that in consumer culture, sensory pleasures (and by extension, collective and subjective notions of beauty) exceed substance. Meanwhile, the pursuit of truth has been relegated to a heroic, if failing fifth column. It’s certainly a misunderstood virtue in many cases. But it is precisely this aspect of subjugation that lends historical opportunity to an art and mode of thought fueled by the pursuit of truth, not beauty. There is not a more fertile playground than the art world for the clash of truth and beauty, of class structure and of political and religious arrogance. What must be demanded however, and what Feiler’s work does, is the resolve of the dialectic through travesty, through portrait of tragedy and good ol’ monkey wrenching. At least in this brief instance of liberty utopian ideals have a moment to appear, however apparitional. It was enough to cast centuries of doubt on a miserable situation.
Feiler’s writings often resort to the advocacy of shock value to jar the listener or viewer out of the ordinary realm of associative meaning: “Noise, as sound out of its familiar context, is confrontational, affective and transformative. It has shock value, and defamiliarizes the listener who expects from music an easy fluency, a secure familiarity (it can be a “modern” one), or any sort of mollification. Noise, that is, politicizes the aural environment.”1
Unfortunately for Feiler, noise as an art form (or anti-art) is rarely heard outside of the listener’s comfortable context. It is, for the most part, an esoteric form which appeals to the converted, to those driven by theory, and then by mechanism as a means to an end. In other words, more often than not, the listener expects nothing less than a bone-shaking assault (and wants it). Any number of suppositions might be deduced from the experience, but in the end, noise more often reinforces one’s worldview; it rarely shakes it up. But when the above idea is executed in a setting where normal associations are put into [volatile] play, the scripted theory works beautifully, as it did in Stockholm. At its very core, Snow White was an assault on and critique of presumption. And it became so by being the analog of what noise was to music 15 years ago something which approaches what Feiler contends noise to be in his writings.
In the context of art against anti-Semitism, Feiler’s piece was a charged vehicle of associations at war. By taking his work a step further than did Picasso with Guernica and creating a politicized space where no explicit condemnation is apparent, Feiler was able to successfully pull the veil up on each individual viewer, forcing them to either face their assumptions about the Israeli/Palestinian dilemma or perhaps be faced with their arrogant presumptions. Such was the unfortunate case of Mr. Mazel.
It appears that the ambassador didn’t pause to reflect on the multiple possibilities of meaning the work might contain. He failed to realize the higher considerations of the initial shock The smiling, clean image of Jaradat is a terrible thing floating on a sea of red.’ And the urge to react emotionally must seem insurmountable. Now, has the art worked to reveal this essentially flawed dynamic in behavior? Yes, it has.
One can certainly empathize with his visceral reaction given the circumstances, but does this not perhaps highlight an inherent arrogance, on both sides of the fence, in the pervasive worldviews at work? At the beginning of this new century, does Feiler’s work, with all of its unfolding meaning(s), subtly direct the viewer into a more heterogeneous paradigm? Culture evolves slowly; perhaps too slowly. Might culture be shaken up by fits and starts? A good shock to the system has the ability to do that, but out of the context of an extended space of intellectual liberty, one is more likely to drift right back into the comfortable confines of an exclusive view of the world. While optimism does (and must) exist, people are only jaded by a repetition of history. And at this juncture, Feiler’s visual work subverts that repetition. As Feiler himself states, “The [music] of the NEW AVANT-GARDE is the differential that neither compromises or thinks of surrender, but carries on even in the shadow and disguise like the guerilla fighters and draws active disappearing lines in the field of society. The music of the NEW AVANT-GARDE is a labyrinth, a rich ensemble of relations; diversity, heterogeneity, breaks, unexpected links and long monotonies. It is the vision of a life that opens the ways and allows the horizon of resistance to light up. The right to life, the right to power for all.”2
Those lines certainly describe the action of events surrounding the display of Snow White and the Madness of Truth. As for theorizing on the musicit would have to have a similar space to play out these revolutionary ideas. No doubt the potential is there. But because the signs and meaning of music play differently inside our subjective web of associations, a similar incident is highly unlikely. The meaning of music is more an inference than a direct digesting of sign and letter (direct lyrics excluded); and particularly music like Dror’s The Return of the Real, which is as brutal, fast and cacophonic as any in existence. It’s difficult to deny the revolutionary import of the sound, but by saying that, I’m merely begging the question of what my expectations were/are at the outset of the listening experience. More than likely any real subversion on par with what happened in Stockholm will fail to happen. Quite simply, noise doesn’t have the prominent stage to which more staid forms of visual art may gain access. It does not have the same potential crease in the war of opportunities; it will not, in all likelihood, electrify a vulnerability in history. But it can be a reminder, much like Dada, of the nonsense and absurdity of a contemporary world in the grip of archaic paradigms. And in that it can, at least, be latent impetus for social change.
A friend once said she doesn’t think about art in good or bad terms, only whether it is living or dead. For it to be living, it must spark dialog. Feiler’s work is living work.
1. Dror Feiler – About My Music and Noise (Stockholm, Feb. 1998)
2. Dror Feiler – About My Music, Che Guevara and the Revolution (Stockholm, Feb. 1998)
3. Dror Feiler – Position 2000: About Music & the Anti-Fascist Existence