>>Finally got around to it: August 2014
“We though the new filmmaking was about blurring the line between what’s scripted and real. And there’s nothing more real than sex.”
“Death is more real.” It just slipped out. It was absolutely the last thing she meant or wanted to say. She was nervous, uncomfortable, it was unlike her. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that anyone should die.” It was unlike her to apologize.
“But that’s what’s so powerful about the new filmmaking,” Steve was really trying to persuade her. “When you fuck you really fuck, when you die you really die.”
“I suppose.” She was being evasive. She didn’t like this line of reasoning. This wasn’t what she had meant. She had only been searching for ways to make her life more vibrant, more alive, and to make this very vibrancy her art. Fucking and dying didn’t feel alive, at least not in the way she had meant.
“You don’t seem convinced.”
“I don’t know.” There was always some way out. “When you’re an artist, if you’re a real artist, in some sense you always have to kill the father. That’s our legacy: the modernist break.”
The last paragraph of the segment quoted above is both fantastic and maddening. The idea of there being a definition or defining set of characteristics for who is or isn’t a “real” artist has been a perpetual thorn in my side. In my younger days it was something I lusted after—to do or create something that would somehow instantly elevate me into the pantheon of “real” artists. When I was in the thick of it during my twenties, producing and exhibiting with some regularity, I did my best to shove the idea of the “real artist” out of my brain—it wasn’t something to strive for, after all, it was something to be (or so I tried to convince myself, but being someone with a great deal of anxiety and self-doubt… well, let’s just say I didn’t always succeed along that line of thinking).
Now, several years and at least one major career shift away from all that—specifically the visual and performing art world—I can step back and, with some clarity, see the modern art world for all its insecurity and inability to think for itself. It’s a reactionary world, one that at least on an academic level takes a look at its immediate surroundings and says “nope, not me, I don’t like this,” and then purposefully diverges—sometimes to great social commentary, sometimes in ridiculous, even immature ways.
I realize I’m being a bit unfair in this assessment, but it’s an unfortunately true stereotype of the avant-garde mindset: that in order for art to matter, it must divest itself from anything approaching social norms or acceptance. Because art needs to constantly challenge and be challenging. But while I agree that art is essential in forcing audiences to stop and second guess their established social order instead of simply taking things at face value, the placement of the avant-garde at the top of the elitist hierarchy, with all others creators of art subservient to this ideal, is horseshit. Art is art—whatever your reasons, political or personal, commentary or beauty, if you make art, you are an artist.
This is why I so thoroughly enjoyed Jacob Wren’s Polyamorous Love Song—it simultaneously analyses, exalts, and condemns the strange reactionary madness of the art world. And it does so by constantly questioning and satirizing the notion that once an artist’s season has passed, so too has their purpose.
Wren’s novella is a post-postmodern book. It is a continuous thematic story told in nine short vignettes that jump between time, place, and style, revisiting a specific set of characters from a variety of perspectives. The characters themselves are thinly drawn, in many ways existing more as ciphers for the discussion of ideas. There’s Filmmaker A, who seeks to expand the definition of filmmaking by removing the cameras and having day-to-day existence become the film, where everyone is simultaneously acting in and viewing the works of others at all times; there’s the artist seeking to gain the trust of the Mascot Front—a group of militant furries who exist in many ways as a counter to the new filmmaking, hiding beneath plush characters and products anathema to the authenticity the new filmmaking seeks to promote—in order to do a piece about them; and Paul and Silvia, authors, the former writing about Hitler fucking a dog—because no postmodernist story would be complete without talk of a generously lubed Aryan erection. Naturally.
That the characters feel thin, however, is not a criticism; this isn’t a narrative in the traditional sense, but, as previously stated, a collection of ideas meant to rile expectations. That there’s even a loose narrative to it at all feels like a bonus. In many ways, Wren’s book is a natural extension of Janet Wolff’s The Social Production of Art, which presents art and artists as being wholly reliant on externalities to provide them with meaning and/or relevance. In Wren’s world, the art, artists, and audience are one, an Ouroboros both devouring and providing constantly: the Mascot Front forms to provide resistance to the new filmmaking, which exists to catalogue the “real lives” of its subjects—in other words, all of us, because the only way to subvert a style of filmmaking that both exists at all times and in all places by virtue of its actual non-existence is to live an “unreal” life, masked, hidden in some way.
The success of Wren’s book is that it manages to straddle the thin line between satire and possibility: the new filmmaking is, conceptually, aggressively postmodern. It is hilarious in its total absurdity, yet also totally believable, and more than likely an idea at least one avant-garde filmmaker has already had at one time or another. Similarly, there’s the cocktail, “the drug to remember phone numbers, the drug to supress jealousy, the drug to keep you hot and bothered and a little something extra to keep you going all night.” Like the new filmmaking, the cocktail is an artificial X factor introduced into this all-artist world to transform every interaction into a form of performance art.
While I thoroughly enjoyed Polyamorous Love Song, it will more than likely frustrate many readers. It’s not a difficult book to read, but it does require a willingness to dig deep and pull apart the layers of what is and isn’t satire. Between the novella’s many absurdities is rather deft commentary on the art world’s own demand for newness, for the avant-garde, and for the conflicts that spring forth naturally when society is pushed beyond established norms and boundaries.