Article by Ambra Mattioli: The "Decadentism" and the roots of "1.Outside" - part # 1
Updated: Jan 18, 2022
This is the first part of my article about the cultural roots of David Bowie's hidden masterpiece "1.Outside" - a difficult and controversial topic - published on the web site davidbowieblackstar.it.
It was 1995 and there was talk about the future in "1.OUTSIDE", a dark future: a dystopian society in the year 1999 decadent and corrupt in which the murder and mutilation of human bodies are the last tendency of a degenerate form of art.
In this future, detective "Nathan Adler" wanders through the neo-Gothic slums of a large city and investigates a series of artistic ritual murders. The investigations of Adler (who calls himself a computer hacker), lead him to the tracks of "Ramona A. Stone", a forty-year-old so-called artist, according to her acolytes a tyrannical and futurist priestess of the Caucasian Center of Suicides that collects in her shop abominations and amputated parts of bodies. Some other obscure characters roam in this disturbing suburban lowland. "Minotaur the Artist" (in turn aspiring to become a work of art himself, going on in a progressive phase of self-dismemberment). The sad 78-year-old Mr. "Algeria Touchshriek", a trader in artistic drugs, and quite disturbed. "Leon Blank", a young mixed-race male, who lures the young victim "Baby Grace Blue": a key figure in the story. She is the fourteen-year-old Baby Grace in whose arm Minotaur introduces 16 needles of preserving liquids, dyes, anesthetics and "interesting" drugs. With the last needle, he will remove all the blood. Subsequently her sectioned parts will be exhibited and admired as a work of art. However, is it really art?
What are the historical roots to which Bowie draws and which are the reference artists, but above all, what is "Decadentism"?
HISTORICAL CONTEXT: DECADENTISM
Decadentism, initially born only as a literary current, is later considered a true form of artistic and literary culture and civilization. In painting, Decadentism is defined the current of art that develops and intersects with the works of the Symbolist artists who operated between 1880 and the First World War and who expressed themselves through symbolic images and precious forms, favoring strange and artificial subjects. The movement finds correspondence in currents that took different names depending on the country in which they developed, such as the "Liberty" or "Floral Style" in Italy, the "Art Nouveau" in France, the "Jugendstil" in Germany, the "Secession" in Austria, "Modern Style" in Great Britain and "Spanish Modernism" in Spain. It was born in the last decades of the nineteenth century in France, in places frequented by young artists, painters, poets and musicians who tried to get noticed with extravagant works, which had the aim of shocking the public. On the other hand, the term "Decadence" gave the very image of a world and a society that was falling apart, as it actually was with the outbreak of the First World War.
From the literary point of view, the Decadentism, established as a reaction to Naturalism, reveals the precise need to express one's inner life and the exploration of the subconscious. The new spirituality is linked to two essential reasons of Romanticism: the obsessive feeling of mystery and irrationalism. Reason is decidedly repudiated no longer in the name of sentiment, but of the affirmation of the dark forces of the subconscious. With reason it is possible to see only appearance, which is why the decadentists rejected it as the only instrument of knowledge. This vision of the world produces in art a radical revolution, in content and in forms, which we could summarize in terms of symbolism and aesthetic mysticism.
In European art the artistic behavior is not an accelerator of emotions but an awareness, an anthropological act, a critical attitude and the production of allegorical images aimed at the recovery of a wider anthropological dimension (Beuys, Pisani, Chiari, Sieverding, Rainer, Ontani, Abramovic, Ulay, Rinke, Luthi, Zaza). The international trend favors the formation of numerous "tribes of art", groups of artists from different countries who have renewed collective languages and behaviors, affecting over time the mentality of new generations of artists and social customs. They are characterized by the crossing of the specific through aggregation and contamination of different languages in the desire to shorten the distance between art and life and tuning on a single high ethical and aesthetic register. These groups are Lettrismo (1947), Situationism (1952), Gutai (1954), Happening (1959), Fluxus (1961), Viennese Actionism (1965) with Hermann Nitsch, Factory (1963) with Andy Warhol.
The artists of these tribes have worked outside or on the margins of the international art system, preferring to carry out their interventions in alternative spaces to traditional museums and galleries and investing places and public in a radical and engaging way with their own creative energy. Often the works highlight the value of the creative process rather than a formal and refined product. In the end the artistic production consists in the foundation of an ethic of doing rather than of an aesthetic of training. These tribes have crossed the overcrowded and anonymous spaces of the modern metropolis without any pathetic anachronism, signaling the value of solidarity, of the artists among them and of them with the public. After the 1970s, art pervaded spaces of enjoyment that broadened the field of individual and social sensitivity, essentially placing itself in a mirror image, antagonistically to reality. Art retains a functional and functionalist value that assimilates it to the ideology tout-court, to psychoanalysis and to the sciences of its own project, of the antinomies and negative deviations of the world.
Under the suggestion of '68, art hypothesizes the possibility of an artistic practice that manages to give itself as a counterpart and image of the first examples of guerrilla warfare that begin to manifest itself in the great European and American cities. In an area of encroachment between theater and performance, Pistoletto and the Living Theater of Julian Beck and Judith Malina act respectively, an attempt to combine art and life together in the alternative spaces of everyday life. Basically the artists of the Seventies lived in this perspective the drama of politics and nature. An attitude that has led artists to consider nature as a regenerating and liberating reference, in opposition to the repressive and artificial social sphere. The practice of 'natural' becomes the device that allows us to give a political color to art. Art becomes the hiding place, the place of an ideal indeterminacy, which allows the artist to feel superbly sheltered from the utilitarian condition of the world. To a reality designated in all its functions, entirely named, the artist responds with works that carry 'untitled', which should preserve the art from every worldly capture, contrary to the great lesson of Duchamp. In order for this indeterminacy to increase, the art of the 1970s accentuates its preference for abstract and non-figurative languages, in the belief that this choice qualifies its work in a direction that, referring to its ancestors of historical abstraction, reaffirms its connotation progressive.
The art of the seventies, on the other hand, is no longer given as a pure grammatical presentation of the materials, but in a more wisely cultural attitude. In fact, a tension towards representation prevails. A tension towards the figurative narrative that shows the reference of nature in the context of the quotation, of the culturalized recovery filtered by the historical memory of the languages of art.
(TO BE CONTINUED ...)