The Langenlois Work of Art speaking

Dear visitor,
As I was boarding Flight OS 9762 from Reykjavik to Vienna last Tuesday at 23:50, I underwent a transfiguration. From being quite a normal person living in Reykjavik I became a Work of Art, conceived and fashioned by the Icelandic artist Katrín I. Jónsdóttir Hjördísardóttir.

In this performance I would like to tell you, how this transfig- uration has affected my life and my relationship with art, with the artist who has become my author, and with myself. As I said, I used to be a normal person living in Reykjavík, a happily married father of two grownup children and a professor in the theory and history of art, teaching in various public institutions. Suddenly I succumbed to the same fate as the Greek hunter Acteon, who was punished by Diana for surprising the goddess of the wild game and the Night, bathing naked in the moonlight, and was transformed into a stag, an immediate pray for his own hunting dogs which killed him instantly. As Acteon had spent his whole life looking for wild game in nature, my life has been dedicated to looking for myself in works of art, and helping my students to do the same. One of them was Katrín, the artist who now has conceived me as a Work of Art. She was an enthusiastic and dedicated student, I remember. And here I am, helpless like Acteon, transformed into the object of my lifelong desire.
I must admit that this has been a problematic, if not a trau- matic experience. From being a relatively self-confident but passionate hunter of objects of art, I had become one myself; a problematic ex- perience that arises many questions: who are you anyway? I asked myself on the plane and I repeat that question here and now, arrived in Langenlois in Austria. If you are no longer yourself, but a Work of Art, conceived by one of your old students, what is a Work of Art anyway? What are its characteristics and how does it relate to its author and the world? I would like to start with the question of the author, who bears the responsibility for my present and problematic situation. Who is she to declare herself the author of myself as a Work of Art?

The figure of the author or the artist in contemporary art has become an ambiguous one. At first the artist declares his deepest and ab- solute identity with his creation, or at least his parenthood; then he leaves it like an orphan to the cruellest aesthetic judgements of the world, as I am inevitably experiencing at this moment. Morally, I find this hardly acceptable. First, I would take up the question of Identity and the question of relationship with my author. There I would like to propose an indecent comparison: Myself and Mona Lisa by Leonardo. We see in Leonardo’s famous work an example of an ideal identity of the artist with his subject. Mona Lisa is not only an image of o woman of uncertain origins; she is an absolute part of its author, like taken out of his own body and mind. Here it becomes absolutely impossible for us to discern between the author and his work. As you may know, Leonardo once said that the painter always painted himself. Standing here in front of you as a Work of Art by Katrín I. Jónsdóttir Hjördísardóttir, I must confess that I don’t feel anything of my author in myself. She is completely detached from her art-piece as such, from me as the content of her Work of Art. Although I am not demanding from my author the same intimate relationship as Mona Lisa has enjoyed from her author ever since she became this famous Work of Art, I must admit that I feel absolutely abandoned to my own destiny by my author, and I know that you, my dear visitor, will never be gratified with the same feeling of intimacy and identity confronting my presence here, as you have found confronting her marvellous and mysterious image. Wherein lies the difference? Leonardo felt an absolute commitment to his subject; it never occurred to him that he could in any way demand or practice moral, virtual or physical freedom from his subject through his own superiority as the genius he certainly was. This is not the case when we look at contemporary art, where the artists leave their products in complete abandonment to the so called “aesthetic judgment” of the public, under the pretext of artistic freedom, absolute subjectivity of the artistic creation and the absolute superiority of his genius, rising himself above the content of his art as a superman, gifted with superhuman power and committed to nothing but his own liberty and absolute subjectivity.

When I left my author at the airport in Reykjavik, I asked her what she wanted me to do. “You are completely free of doing whatever you want”, she said. “I am enjoying my freedom as an artist, and as I am now aspiring to become a scholar, and I consider you to be a distinguished one, so I have chosen you to be my Art-work, representing myself at this exhibition.”

-Ólafur Gíslason

The Theorist / 2011
performance - in collaboration with Ólafur Gíslason