Monday, March 02, 2009

Brian Eno: a painter in sound

Brian Eno as composer and visual artist. Brian Eno as arts experimenter with his "all-round" vision, the interdisciplinarity, the meeting and integration between different arts. Brian Eno as a thinker of the future. The example being his involvement in the Foundation of the Long Present, an cultural institution born to promote and spread long-term thinking "slower/better", while facing today's mentality of "faster/cheaper".
An artist who has always observed the world with his installations, and represent it with his meticoulous orchestration of lights and sound layers intertwined to create an unique experience, to become integral part of a place, a space. "Mind places that you can immerse yourself in".

The following talk was given by Brian Eno at the inauguration of the 258° Academic Year of the Accademia di Belle Arti (Venice).

Brian Eno on education and politics

Many years ago, during the time of Margaret Thatcher - who is our version of Silvio Berlusconi - the government kept reducing the money for the art schools, because they thought: "Artists aren't important, science, technology and defense, those are important." What they were really doing is saying: "We stop thinking about the future." And they kept cutting money for the art schools. What that story really means is that the governments don't take us seriously, they don't understand what the use of art is, what the purpose, what the function is.
It's true, but I think however that the real justification is of a different nature and has to do with imagination. There's one thing that distinguishes humans from all of the other creatures on the planet and as far as we know is unique to human beings in the all universe. That is our ability to imagine. What makes humans different from everything else that we know is that we can imagine a future that doesn't yet exist. So we can constantly make new realities in our minds. And then we can live in those realities, we can experience them. We call that a "gift of imagination". When a society loses its respect for this gift, that society has stopped developing, stop progressing. Whenever you see a government doing this, you see the beginning of the end of society. The active imagination is the thing that makes us human and makes us capable of thinking of a better future, thinking of the world in a new different way.

So I helped to make the study of the value of art schools. Of course people who come out of art schools don't only become painters or sculptors, they became graphic designers, textile designers, product designers, industrial designers. They became teachers, musicians - very often the case in England. There are all sort of people that come out of art schools. And I calculated that, as system of education, the art school is probably more efficient then any other in terms of creating income in a country. In economic terms, you can justify the existence of institutions like the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia.
What it requires is for you to stop trying to convince the population and the government in particular of why this is important. You can't just say: "Well, Venice has always been a wonderful place where the arts were developed. You have to do it in term of the future. You have to say: "For the future of our imagination to be secured, we need to support places like this. This is not only a 258 years tradition, it's actually a hope for how we can think in the future. You have to present that argument, a government isn't going to present it, nobody else would do it.

Brian Eno on his hybrid areas

I started my life as a painter. Like most english people who studied painting, fine arts and art history, I joined a band (Roxy Music). This is what english art schools really exist for, to create pop musicians (laugh), but that's a secret, most people who work in the art schools don't know(!). I didn't leave the experience of painting, which was probably always my biggest inspiration, I was more interested in painting, I suppose, than music. Gradually, I started making a kind of music that was more and more like painting. I made a very still kind of music, which I imagined being experienced in a way you experience painting. Then, in the late seventies, I started experimenting with video and light and I used that technology to make a very still kind of video, a kind of video more like music than like pictures. I have a chance to say thank you to Gabriella Cardazzo, who gave me my first serious exhibition of that work here in Venice. So I have a long history with Venice, I had several shows of that work here. What I ended up doing was working in a some kind of new medium which is halfway between music and picture making.
I continue to do that to this day. I teach sometimes in London at the Royal College of Art. There was one little department called the department of 'Illustration'. When computers appeared, they went into this department. Suddenly it started getting bigger and bigger. And then was called the department of 'Communication' and actually now has hundreds and hundreds of students, it's by far the biggest dept. in Royal College. The reason it is so big is because anyone who's doing anything that doesn't fall into the category of painting, sculpture, art history or industrial design, ends up in this department. It keeps growing. Communications is really just a word to cover everything else. And everything else is what I teach now. Everything else is what I do, really. One of the things you have to be careful about when you are trying to set up a course, is not to make boundaries that are too strict, because if you do, somebody else will just set up another course and will call it something like the department of Communication and you'll lose your best students.

Brian Eno on art and technology

I work, in one of my lives, as a record producer. That means I work with some of the best musicians alive, who are people like oil painters, people who know how to use quite traditional instruments: guitars, drums, bass guitars, violins and so on. I work in the same room with some of the most sophisticated computers in existence. I'm very aware of the possibilities of each of them.
The musicians can't replace the computers, the computers can't replace the musicians. They do different jobs. The two things will coexist quite happily. One of the things that's very interesting, over the last 35 years I've been working in recording studios, is the expansion of possibilities with computers and recording technology. I would say they double every year. So every year there's twice as many things that you can do with technology. There's an interesting effect of this, which is having many possibilities available to you. Imagine if you have a guitar with not just one switch that gives you three positions - which is what most electric guitars do, but a thousand switches, each of which gave you a thousand positions. You will spend most of your time on that guitar not playing the guitar, but exploring the switches. This is what often happens with technology, people spend very long time just trying to learn what is available to them and not very much time learning what they can do with it. So people have traditional instruments with a very limited set of physical possibilities, which means that they spend a lot more of their time exploring emotional possibilities.
Given billions of options, where do I start with computers? There's too much to do. One of the things I found I'm doing when I work with bands, is that I'm a lot of the time trying to cut away possibilities to say: "We won't do any of this, we won't do any of that." Now, what's left? I'm trying to make small enough space for people to be able to makes proper decisions in.
Options mean the number of choices you have available to you. It's very difficult to have a relationship with an absolutely unlimited set of possibilities. It would be like having a friend who behaves like an entirely different person each time you meet him. With limited instruments you can understand their restrictions and develop your relationship with them. The reason we still listen to people who play those instruments is that we respect their relationship and we gain something from it. This is the same with traditional visual art tools.

Brian Eno on 20th century

I was thinking about recording. Music had a huge breakthrough in the 20th century, the invention of the recording studio, which was as big as the 18th century breakthrough: the invention of the orchestra. It made an entirely new art form, just as the invention of film made a new art form. Before, there was theatre and the people started taking pictures of the theatre. But very quickly people realized that you can do original things with film: to change time quickly, to change scale, to have different points of view, all the things that we now accept as part of movies. Now movies are an art form and theatre is another art form. Of course they crossover with one another. Some of the skills that an actor needs are common to both of those jobs.
In music we still pretend to have the same name for people sitting in a hall playing instruments. It is the same as what happened in the recording studios, isn't it? We've got an entirely new art form called recording. There's always new art forms being involved, they continue with the old ones and very often they start as a little modification of the old form. With music we haven't made the jump yet, we shouldn't call this music anymore, we should give it another name, we should accept that is requires different skills, different people, different ways of listening, different understandings. So I don't think anything ever gets lost, good ideas never go away, new ones just keep getting added. New things just come along. In the 'digital' world, we are in a kind of tropical situation in terms of ideas. In the tropics new lifeforms constantly come into being: some of them are successful and take a huge expansion on the Earth, others exist for a short time and turn in something else. With art, new possibilities always come up, some of them will turn into a very big important future, some always remain as little niches (I think video-art may be one of those, to be provocative).

Related Post: Brian Eno at the opening of the 258° academic year of the Accademia di Belle Arti

[italian adaptation - via Digicult]

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