It is about creating moments of recognition. Almost a delicious and delightful sense of reverse-traumatism. Anti-traumatism. Flying so far gone, its actually earth bound illusion. Barbara Kruger as a detonator of some kind of feeling or understanding of lived experience; a dealing, a confrontation with the complexities of power and social life, that in terms of visual presentation, purposely avoids a high degree of difficulty, yet with finesse straddles the thin and non-linear line between comedy and tragedy.
Kruger is known for thick, white Helvetica ultra-condensed letters on a black background to write out statements regarding power, gender roles, social relationships, political issues, consumerism, and individual autonomy and desire. A subversion of slogan, gender and the “normal” that is mocking, thought provoking and pierces through the veil of mundane banality that is the daily bread and reward to most; a pacification of their fear of not having enough fuel to heat their cave in the winter:
“Know nothing, forget everything, believe anything,” “Plenty should be enough,” “In violence we forget who we are” , ”If it screams, shove it,” “If it vomits, starve it,” “If it sees, blind it,” “If it laughs, choke it,” “If it cries, drown it,” “If it sighs, shame it,” “If it loves, buy it,” and “If it moves, fuck it”, ”The globe shrinks for those that own it,” ”Between being born and dying.” …”You make history when you do business,” and “A rich man’s jokes are always funny.”
…Denying the optimistic implications of Darwinism, Nietzsche pointed to man’s “ontological predicament”: “Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman — a rope over an abyss.” Caught between the all-too-human and the superhuman, man, if he is not to despair, must stretch across an unbridgeable chasm to the revalued ideals of the overman. Nietzsche himself felt mocked, even in madness, by this impossible struggle. As all-too-human he knew only anguish, terror, loneliness, desperation, disgust, “the great seasickness” of the world without God.
This last phrase was picked up by Sartre in his first novel Nausea, a classic of existentialism. Walking in the city park one day, Roquentin was overcome by the nausea of the meaninglessness of life. Looking around him, he concluded, “Every existent is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness and dies by chance.” He was forced to the unhappy conclusion that the key to life is its fundamental absurdity. Man as man has to reach towards being God in order to fulfill his aspirations, yet with God dead and the world as it is these aspirations are limitations cast back in his face as an absurdity. Sartre’s reluctant conclusion is that “man is a useless passion.” …
Q: One of your famed artworks ends with the line “Who Laughs Last?” What do you think is the answer?
Barbara Kruger: I don’t know. There were a lot more questions that led up to that one! Overall, I think artists are reflections of the times that contain them. I read the newspaper every day, I see what happens in the world. I’m interested in that difference between road rage and violence, and how it can warp depending on different situations. I’m interested in the capacity to adore and to destroy that’s in everyone. In the end, I always say I try to make work about how we are to one another. That’s the broadest statement I can possibly make.
Q: How else has the power of images changed?
Barbara Kruger: Well, I’ve been interested for a long time in the way pictures tell us who we are and who we want to be – and who we can never be, too. But time online has changed people in incredible ways. I really see a difference in the attention spans that people have, particularly young people, who I teach at a university. Just look who goes to movies — a lot of people go to “event movies,” but other kinds of narrative don’t hold them. I think sustained narrative is in a real crisis. Sometimes I ask my students, “Do you ever think you’d be interested in going to a movie that’s not about you?” They’d rather go on Twitter and talk about what they’re doing. I don’t say that judgmentally. It’s just a way cultures have changed.
…A second symptom is mystification, the conscious or subconscious masking of the true nature of things. When a man feels his lack of basis, it leads to alienation, and when for all intents and purposes he ignores this and deals with other people on the premise that he has a sufficient basis, it leads to mystification. What is “normal” to him he takes as his “norm,” makes it an absolute, judges others who act differently as “abnormal” and treats them accordingly.
…Put another way, if there are no universals or absolutes then “normality” is also relative and must be dictated by an arbitrary absolute created either by the stat or by the consensus of the population. This is true whether “normality” refers to morality or sanity, badness or madness. One man’s “normality” can become an implied or explicit judgment of another man’s “abnormality,” whether mental or moral. Or, the assertion of one man’s “abnormality” may be an assertion of freedom from the other man’s “normality.” A man’s refusal to admit any degree of “abnormality” in himself leads to the process of rationalization required to maintain his “normality” at the expense of the other man’s “normality.” This process tends to rationalize violence, for men justify their mistreatment of others by considering them as “abnormal” simply because others differ from them.
This has profound implications in our culture. C. S. Lewis warned that in a society where law has objectivity, a man convicted under law can serve his sentence in jail and then demand to be released on the basis of the same law by which he was convicted. But if a man is judged to be “sick,” he must serve his time, waiting until the man in a white coat discharges him. Yet, if it was this very man who committed him and “sickness” is not objectively determined, to whom does he appeal?…
“…I wasn’t sure Jerry really said it. Maybe I was dreaming. But further questioning established that there was a demonstration scheduled for the stock market and the plan was to throw money. It was Abbie Hoffman and Jim Fouratts’ brain child. Abbie had plugged it big on Bob Fass’ late night radio show. What did this have to do with the Pentagon Demonstration? The National Mobilization paid for both our plane tickets and we work for them, so what does throwing money at stock brokers have to do with the upcoming antiwar march on the Pentagon?
I felt nervously at home on Wall Street, having once worked there in a mail room. Maybe some fellow worker would recognize me?
We lined up waiting for our turn to get out on the balcony. But then the private police tried to close us down. They knew why we were there and they weren’t going to let us use the facilities for our demonstration. They said the balcony was now closed for repairs.
“Hey, the only reason, you wont let us in is because we are Jewish,” declared Abbie Hoffman, who looked and was dressed like a handsome Jewish cowboy.
Reporters are taking notes. The guards’ picture was being snapped again and again. We were calling him a Jew hater and surely the accusation would reach Jerusalem.
The guard retreated and we walked out on the Stock Exchange balcony. Below us the millionaire brokers, apparently tipped to our presence, took notice and began gathering. Abbie then handed out the money, mostly five’s and ones, and we tossed them over the edge. They went slowly fluttering down into the brokers greedy hands. And they piled on top of each other trying to grab a fiver.
Trading halted. The immense floor of hi-speed greed was now paying attention only to me and my new friends. I thought I had wandered into a surreal Italian film about modern alienation and charismatic despair. When we ran out of paper and started throwing coins we were greeted with boos and derision. The guards came out and told us to make way for the tourists.
Down on the sidewalk we burned money, danced, and gave millions of press interviews. We told the world we were from a new generation that laughed at money and lived free. Some onlookers complained that if we wanted to get rid of money, why give it to rich stock brokers.
“Better give it to me.”….” ( Stew Albert )
“The fourth pillar is the belief in the self-sufficiency of man. A persistent erosion of man’s view of himself is occurring. The fact that man has made so many significant scientific discoveries points strongly to the significance of man, yet the content of these same scientific discoveries underscores his insignificance. Man finds himself dwarfed bodily by the vast stretches of space and belittled temporally by the long reaches of time. Humanists are caught in a strange dilemma. If they affirm the greatness of man, it is only at the expense of ignoring his aberrations. If they regard human aberrations seriously, they have to escape the dilemma raised, either by blaming the situation on God (and how often those most strongly affirming the non-existence of God have a perverse propensity to question his goodness!) or by reducing man to the point of insignificance where his aberrations are no longer a problem. During World War II, Einstein, plagued by the mounting monstrosity of man against man, was heard to mutter to himself, “After all, this is a small star.” He escaped the dilemmas of man’s crime and evil but only at the price of undermining man’s significance. A supreme characteristic of men today is the high degree of dissatisfaction with their own views of themselves. The opposition to determinism is growing not because determinism explains nothing but because it explains too much. It is a clutching constriction on that which man feels himself to be. Arthur Koestler attacks it as “ratomorphic,” Viktor Frankl as “modern nihilism” and Noam Chomsky as “the flat earth view of man.” ( Stephen A. Diamond )