Last Sunday, I went to see the SF MoMa show, “The Fifth Season” works by the Belgian-born Surrealist René Magritte. I had the pleasure to be joined by two of my closest friends; friends I have known for the last decade, or more. They are an extension of my family at this point in my life. The importance of these relationships will come up again later: #foreshadowing
The show follows the creative path of Magritte from Impressionist and Expressionist to Surrealist. I enjoyed watching his journey and progression from “expressing” feelings and “impressions” of the moment to the longer, more methodical thought processes of the highly calculated concepts of Surrealism. He was painting through the conflict of WWII and reflecting on the consequences after the war had ended. He saw people starving and suffering through the war years and as Europe was rebuilding itself. He witnessed two wars and all that comes with them. It was clear to me that his ideas and works were a warning, a cautionary tale.
Writing in the teeth of World War II in 1946, the artist argues that the “confusion and panic that Surrealism wanted to create in order to bring everything into question were achieved much better by the Nazi idiots than us.” By Steven Winn, The Chronicle’s former arts and culture critic.
When the world is turned upside down, Surrealism seems to be an understandable step in creative expression. The timing of the Magritte show “The Fifth Season” couldn’t be better. Once again, we are living in surreal times. The office of the US President has become one bad (Un)Reality TV show. The general population doesn’t trust credible news sources, the internet is a cluster of opinions not based on any clear reality, and people seem to be getting further disconnected. We live in a virtual world because of the internet. There is nothing cohesive about our current reality because we live in the age of spin; it is indeed Surreal.
In 1999, David Bowie essentially said, Rock and Roll was dead and “The Internet now carries the flag of being subversive, possibly rebellious, and nihilistic.”
Bowie continued in the interview to predict what the internet would become. “Until the mid-1970s we felt like we were living in the guise of a single and absolute created society where there were known truths and known lies, and there was no kind of duplicity or pluralism about the things we believed in. That started to break down rapidly in the 70s, and idea of duality about the way we live; and there are always two, three, four, five sides to every question. Singularity disappeared, and that has produced such a medium as the Internet which absolutely establishes and shows us that we are living in total fragmentation.”
Magritte saw the warning signs of disconnection and fear, using minority groups to blame the economic problems of society, and the outcome of these unchecked issues. He saw a devastating war, the building of the Berlin wall, and the forced division of groups of people from their families and friends. Is the MoMa trying to help us see how history is repeating itself? Is this show a cautionary tale of its own? Do we need a constant reminder to be compassionate, connected, and humane?
DONALD TRUMP, the American president, wants to deport undocumented immigrants. He wants to build a wall. The POTUS and his Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have cut out of the public school budget between $7.1 billion and $15.4 billion thus far. His Vice President, Mike Pence, has a long history of oppressing minority groups, specifically the LGBT Community. While Governor of my home state of Indiana in 2015, he signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in a closed-door ceremony surrounded by special interest lobbyists making it legal to openly discriminate against the estimated 800,00 LGBT citizens of Indiana. This law was a retaliatory backlash move after same-sex marriage was legally recognized in the state of Indiana on October 6, 2014.
Soon after Governor Pence said on ABC’s “This Week” that it was “absolutely not” a mistake to sign RFRA, throwing Indiana into a $250 million economic panic and putting Indiana’s “Hoosier Hospitality”, reputation in jeopardy.
This all seems rather surreal to me. I was educated in public school in Indiana to understand the United States was a nation of Immigrants, and Indiana was the land of the “Pioneer Spirit” that inspired Lincoln to unite all individuals in equality. It was always made clear to me growing up in Indiana that everyone should have the freedom to express ourselves, and that we need to take care of one another. Individuality was honored while being “close-minded” was regarded as the worst quality one could have.
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” ~ Abraham Lincoln
The beauty of the show was its ability to create an emotional response to these political situations. How do we remain human, while processing inhumane political situations that tear us apart? What does it mean to be conscious? What are the constructs of consciousness and reality in the first place?
During the show, I was texting images of paintings to my Aunt Theresa, who lives in Indiana, that related to a conversation we had earlier that afternoon over the phone. Technology was keeping us connected, allowing her to virtually participate in the viewing of the exhibition with me. At the same time, I was going on this emotional and intellectual journey in the actual museum galleries with my friends, I thought about my support system and family. We were able to engage and discuss the concepts in that moment and during a late lunch after the show. The three of us, all Americans, have very different cultural backgrounds. Yet we share a commonality and connection as friends. We thrive together via our shared experiences, humor, and a similar moral compass.
What would it mean if we were torn apart, separated, or abused? How would this change our ideas of reality? I hope we never find out the way René Magritte did. If history needs to repeat itself, I am hoping for “The Age of Enlightenment”. We, humans, are so much better when we are together.