Contribution in "Critical Art in Contemporary Macedonia" (2016)

Book: Critical Art in Contemporary Macedonia
Editor: Jon Blackwood
Publisher: Mala Galerija, Skopje with the help of  the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland
Year: 2016
Contributor: Jasna Koteska, pp. 307-317.
ISBN 10: 6086598703
ISBN 13: 978-6086598709

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JON BLACKWOOD: What Are Your Earliest Memories of Art?

JASNA KOTESKA: I have a twofold answer. 

On the one hand, I don’t believe there exists such a thing as earliest memories for each individual. Even if one starts to honestly enumerate the earliest lyrics one remembers, or colors, or scents, it would still be a lie. Humanity has long memory, but humans don’t. Freud has an article On Screen Memories and in it he says that earliest memories are always false. When I positively claim I remember a given childhood scene, it is either a scene told and retold so many times by my parents, that I later adopted it as “my own” memory, or it is an event which took place in my adolescence, but I later “projected” it onto my earliest childhood, as on a screen, Freud says. We should not disregard his insights as psychoanalytical cynicism. The neurosciences of today offer multiple evidences that Freud was downright correct. Every time I remember a given episode from the past, neurosciences say, I am already erasing the previously existing memory, and forming a new one instead. The older the memory, the more twisted and reworked it appears to be. What constitutes my past are the mosaic pieces, tesserae, with which I “decorate” my personal history in order to be able to say that I, too, am “complete”, just like the rest of us. Which is a nice assemblage, but it has a little value regarding the truth of one's being. 

When people say “You can take away everything from me, but you cannot take away my childhood”, it is not without a certain irony that one of the things which people never truly posses, might be precisely their own childhoods.

On the other hand, your question is crucial for any discussion about art. Humanity does have earliest memories of art, only, they are not individual. One of my favorite documentaries, Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010) by Werner Herzog, tells about the oldest human painted images yet discovered in the Chauvet cave, crafted some 32,000 years ago, twice as old as the Lascaux caves. The birth of art, I believe, is neatly connected to constituting a territory and then transcending it. Each territory is formed through lines, colors, and sounds -- precisely the three basic determinants of art in its pure state. However, the striking part of the film, for me, is that the painter left palm prints on the paintings, but on each prints the opposable thumb is missing. The most common artist of the Paleolithic is the one who has one or several fingers disfigured. One hypothesis says that young hunters were undergoing certain initiations, in which they were having their fingers cut off. But a second hypothesis says that if digits are missing, it is because it is a mythogram, it is meaningful; the artist is trying to tell us something; the artist wants to leave a testimony: everybody has five fingers, but I, the artist, must tell you that no perfect model exists; all that is complete is a lie. The only perfect model of a human is a human who is disfigured, incomplete, without the possibility to point to her completed identity, deprived of the possibility to tell her personal history, etc., just like Freud tells us. 

In the Chauvet cave the oldest artistic signature in the world is stored; that signature teaches us that art becomes art only when it deliberately leaves the territory, leaves the finger cut off, leaves the cave. Art is about leaving a thought, a memory, a habit, a value, a friend, a lover, an object, a finger, a territory. Leaving is not a gesture of selfishness; on the contrary, it is a selfless act. Appropriation is selfish, leaving is on the side of transition rather than death, it is about being out of stasis, and the artistry of leaving is something we learn from the Earth. People don’t know how to die because we rarely learn how to leave. Animals, on the other hand, seek a corner to die in, seeking a territory for death; they know when to leave places still hospitable, sites still livable.

Art is impossible without leaving. Take a look at Kafka, or Kierkegaard and their broken engagements. Or the colors in Van Gogh or Gauguin, the two greatest colorists: in their works, they employ color with greatest hesitation, Deleuze says, it took them years and years before being able to take on color, to consider themselves as worthy of color. Art is about leaving the known territory and going into the unknown, it goes with certain insanity; it is also a slow process of making a portrait of something one reaches for the first time. In the 19 century Van Gogh saw the starry nights as they were photographed only at the beginning of the 1930s by the first star trail photographers. Van Gogh was the first to leave the earthly gaze; with no technology and with a naked eye, to see for the first time the actual motions of starts in the night sky due to the rotation of the Earth. Recently I was amazed to learn to which extent the star trails of one of the greatest star trail photographers of today, Lincoln Harrison, resemble the Van Gogh’s Starry Nights paintings and drawings. Great art precedes science, it paves a path towards the deeper knowledge, and it is always by means of leaving. To your actual question, my earliest conscious memories of art would be, than, when I first learnt that once I would have to leave; when in something I recognized the biological reminder that there is an embedded necessity to depart.



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