June 28, 2010
If ‘censorship is to art as lynching is to justice,’ artist Gregos Theopsy temporarily sported a loose noose around his neck—and not of the fashionable variety. Little did Theopsy imagine that the killing of three bank employees on May 5 in Athens would have any bearing on the presentation of his hand-crafted bomb in the Palais de Tokyo during the same week.
As Pericles once said, “just because you don”t take an interest in politics, doesn”t mean politics won”t take an interest in you.” It was deemed appropriate to postpone the presentation of his bomb, titled “Revolution Now!” lest the sensitivities of the public be provoked.
According to Theopsy, Revolution Now! was conceived more by his reflections on time rather than the crises that regularly engulf his country of origin, Greece. Indeed, the ambiguity between the radical action of displaying a bomb in Paris’ museum of contemporary arts—and the object as a symbol of time—is so well preserved by the artist that its duality creates a myriad of aspects to meditate upon.
More than being a powerful reference to political violence, which the artist considers a banal and irrelevant notion, Theopsy explains how creativity has always been a valid means of redemption as salvaging the unsalvageable:
“I wanted to make a bomb because it incarnates the tyranny of fear and the tyranny of time. I don’t like to be afraid and I don’t like deadlines…that’s why I made a bomb with my own hands, and put it in a display as a toy or an object of art, or even a souvenir…or whatever makes it look unreal enough. Anyway, it won’t explode…that’s the whole point: it never does explode.”
Much like the role experiential theatre plays in Gestalt psychotherapy, by creating Revolution Now!, Theopsy is practicing freedom from fear and is provoking his audience to do the same. Indeed, even though Theopsy points out that the bomb “won”t explode” because he disabled the detonator, he chose the context of his object carefully in order to recreate a confrontation with urgency and risk: rather than placing his convincing installation in the gallery of the Palais de Tokyo where people expect reassuring make-believe, he placed his object in its gift shop, the notorious Blackblock.
From behind its plexi-glass container, the bomb’s timer, set at 9999 units, decreases furiously and relentlessly, “true only to nature’s commitment to destruction and evolution.” The plexi-glass container itself reinforces the feeling that though we may witness the impending ravages of time, it is inaccessible to our control and indifferent to our instinct to suppress the uglier reality of the human condition—the inevitable process of aging, loss of beauty, loss of independence, loss of dignity, loss of love, and finally, the unpredictable transition to the ultimate unknown, death.
Nonetheless, Theopsy continues:
“This piece is just a still life you know… Just like the oranges and grapes you will see in the Louvre a little further down the Seine. These oranges were made to look good and fresh forever. Except that oranges are boring today while a bomb is not boring.”
Oranges and grapes, however, are hardly the tools of contemporary asymmetric warfare. And so, knowing how hard-pressed Theopsy was to comment on his own work and his penchant for red herrings, it is difficult to accept that to him, “this piece is just a still-life” or a mere mischievous attempt to see what he can get away with in a world increasingly oppressed by political correctness.
Indeed, unlike Duchamp’s Fountain stunt, where a ready-made object relies solely on its gallery context to have the status of “art” conferred upon it, Theopsy’s bomb was created by hand and using plastic parts from China and his imagination (Google couldn”t translate the instructions). More importantly, it was made to look as aesthetically pleasing as possible—showing full awareness that though aesthetic experience may begin with the senses, it does not necessarily end with them.
After all, man’s vulnerability and fear of time invoked by Theopsy’s “terroristic” bomb is the same gripping fear that terrorists have capitalized upon to cost-effectively win priceless concessions from the public. While Theopsy’s bomb blurs the line between real and unreal in order to show the pervasiveness and uncontrollability of time, terrorists have successfully blurred the line between civilian space and conventional battlefield to create this same overriding fear to get people to give up precious freedoms for a semblance of control and predictability over their safety.
Only as recently as April, after a group called “Revolution Muslims!” warned South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker that they will likely “wind up like Theo van Gogh” for their depiction of Mohammed, Comedy Central grossly censored their 200th episode and even went so far as censoring a speech at the end “about intimidation and fear.”
Toward the end of the interview, the hesitant Theopsy, whose bomb-making skills was hitherto unknown, gives the only tangible clue to the real message for Revolution Now!: “Have you ever felt the luck of the beginner? Because you see, like Heraclitus puts it—time is a child that plays backgammon. So to play with time, you must become a child too.”
Our agent provocateur appears to tell us that it is a child’s abandon and indifference to taboo, and their innocent ability to see things as they are—not censorship or pedestrian political correctness—that defuses our fears and loosens the noose placed upon us by bombs, real and unreal. Children after all, say the darnest things.