THE MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND THE MUNICIPALITY OF AIX-EN-PROVENCETHEATRE SEXTIUS - 9 JUNE /27 JULY1982
The matter of silence is central to any discourse on art. Its importance appears to beinversely proportionate to the speechless silence of the work. While exactly graduated to the fraction of a quaver, silence was once considered a void in the body of music, much as the hollow in sculpture, or immobility in the dance, or whiteness on a sheet of paper. These notions were, and still are packed together as negative values, vaguely primal backdrops against which one is expected to give birth to an artistic being. The idea of a ainting conquering its existence against the whiteness of the canvas is founded upon a logic of emptiness, and pictorial or plastic saturation was seen as a means of compensating the deficits of the void.
The contrary notion, that the quantitative sparseness of signs inscribed on a canvas is indicative of a soundless climate, emanates from the same ideology. The attitude it denotes is that of a eader rather than of a "seer". The expression "to shine by one's absence" sums up the ambiguity of the void.
Works can, of course be more or less calm or agitated. And to mention just one painter, his Boogie-Woogie cannot be expected to refer explicitly to silence, at least in consideration of the works of the preceding period.
Yet, on the other hand, it is indeed in the wild atonality of the "Great Fugue" or the abundance of trills of his last sonata that Beethoven most intensely unfolds and enfolds this inconceivable silence through which Webern reduced all his work to an allusive and sacred geometry.
The fact is that the silence to which I refer is neither a visual nor an auditory silence - the sort of silence that can be reduced to pure a graphic convention. Such silences can justify various levels of istorical, sociological, and even specifically pictorial interpretation. The density of their silence does not in any way depend upon the informative quantity of the data they provide. Beyond mere sight-reading, art requires the condition of a seer.
This sort of grace, acred but not liturgical, does not always take hold of us. It becomes very tempting, at the paroxystic moment, to remain on the look-out for vanishing points by which to articulate the most ingenious diversions. The artistic ordeal shakes one like a thunderbolt. The master stroke of art is to lift humanity>out of its language. While Jakobson is no doubt right in saying that language is a prerequisite to every cultural phenomenon, one should add that the whole linguistic phenomenon mposes silence. This silence brings about a radical shift of identity, an exclusion from self which abruptly interrupts the usual techniques of communication, in the twinkling of an eye that is worth centuries of verbalisation.
But for this, one must accept the trial. Even the artists are not always ready to confront what might well turn out be a very harsh reality, in joy and in sorrow. But surprise also plays its part here, and the greatest rationalizers are not immune to this sort of naivety. “The Wedding at Cana” is a hymn to silence. This great sacred feast with its pagan liturgy, unfolds in a horse shoe structure set within the intestinal tissues of a spasmodic bowel overheated by a superabundant meal. All the wealth of the world unfolds there, (of the nether world that one is pted to discern beyond the trinitarian arches), in view of this divine architecture over which appears to hover the primal silence of forgiveness. The chlorotic palor of the twilight of the gods points to a beyond. In the heart of this derision, the artist plays his tune, itian and Tintoretto included. Locked together in their soundless trio, alien to the surrounding noise, most certainly misunderstood, they seem to be elaborating a curse. Etc... An enumeration of the silences latent in this depiction of the tohu-wa-bohu would require an endless discourse. Ever since Masaccio, it is commonplace to center the composition of a painting on the facer of God. So too, the Byzantine theocentrism offers posterity a divine gaze which questions the believer in the first person. Beyond the fact that God descended to earth long ago, it remains that Veronese’s singular genius is the only one to have so highly exalted solitude and silence in the thick of a turbulent crowd. The silence of the artist addresses the silence of the divinity, who sits surrounded by the scandalous excess of the human vaudeville. Despite the unusual complexity of the composition, Christ’s pale face embodies the vanishing point with which he coincides in the center of a triangle formed by the prolonged sides of the table. In this way the earthly and celestial rays are his by right, very classically so, one might say, and he becomes the mystical point of transit from below to above, and also from presence to absence – the crucial point of intersection of two irreducible worlds, the world of two dimensions, and the world of three dimensions. Beyond the civility of our compositions, the whole labor of being is to emerge constantly at the point of encounter of these two world, where our most silent terrors keep moving about restlessly. Jesus in his own gaze, isolates himself from the rowd, and the spectator, chosen for this exceptional dialogue is, by that very fact, excluded from the feast and from the world. But this scenography in the Italian style does not conceal a more organic, more essential silence, which resides in the ordeal of the loss of identity. For, being thus identified with Christ-Veronese (who rchestrates these chords) and by Christ-Veronese, not only do I cease to be myself, but I also become his vanishing point, and that of the entire painting, the far peak of a rhombus which scans all the dimensions of every form of space. I am also “The Wedding at ana”. Like a hypnotized shrew, I stand mystified and I interdict myself. Neither living nor dead, I utter lies on either side without eing able to tell which is the true lie, which the false truth. In a moment of vertigo, I wonder, is the scene just beginning or is it about to end? Veronese, the inventor of a Pompeian moment, has frozen a petrified scene in its arrested movement. His exact Sabines float in the panic gusts of their abduction, his odd facades of planes and surfaces stand in for worlds beyond, though none can say on which side they are to be found. His doors, eternally ajar, conceal whatever they allow me to see, and no one will ever come to close them.
DAVID LIPSZYC Paris, 14 February 1982