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CURARTE – ART THAT CURES/CARES Speech at the conference "Holism and Informational Therapies”, Milan, Guna, November 7, 2008

We publish the speech by Massimo Silvano Galli at the conference "Holism and Informational Therapies" (Milan, at the Guna Auditorium, November 7, 2008), with the participation of: Ervin Laszlo, Pier Mario Biava, Sergio Maria Francardo, Anna Masera, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Franz Di Ciocco, Denis Curti, Marco Roveda. Here images of two works by M.S. Galli: "Study for the reversal of Duchamp's Fountain" and "Urinal – wiki art”.

Expressive languages and Informational therapies

Duchamp's Urinal – or the art that cures by Massimo Silvano Galli

Study for the reversal of Duchamp's Fountain” 2007The debate about the therapeutic functions of art, and more generally, about expressive languages, is quite complex and disjointable along multiple perspectives not reducible to a single array of sense. What I would like to try to do is a kind of hermeneutic exercise, chasing some of the possible directions of the many that could have been chosen.

However, before beginning, to make sure that any interpretation, for as much as heretical could , is understandable, I think it necessary to start with a distinction with which I would define this contribution, a distinction that qualifies the probed concept of therapy not as healing from ... but to cure, take care of ... in the sense of taking care of something or someone.

Art it does not cure anything, if can do anything at all, can penetrate into the curing process, and self healing in particular, by listening to the Other than himself, whether inside or outside us, object or subject; art can break free from the confines of his own biography to go into the boundless and benefical space of the "mythobiography" where – exactly - the creative act gives rise to the birth of the Other than himself: the Adam, the new man, reborn... cured.

M.S.Galli, “Urinal – wiky art” (2007)Art therapy is, in short, the art of change, where the languages, all languages, gather and withdraw in a dance full of opportunities, even if improbable and discordant, but always revealing the infinite masks of our living experience.
That said, the first suggestion I would like to propose along this route, lies among the pages of a wonderful and famous novel by Manuel Scorza "La danza inmovil" and states: "Man is a metaphor temporarily dressed by meat, or meat that feeds on metaphors? ".

This summary is, in my opinion, phenomenal, on one hand witness of that feeling of disguise and betrayal which man is constantly subjected to, and, therefore, all of his creations, and on the other hand, the profound need to have access to this nutritional and soothing treason.

The most basic creative act that everyone always does, albeit unwittingly, is performed, in fact, through the treachery of the eyes in the sense that each of our observation is indeed an active process where the eye and brain not only watch and record, but through a particular deforming lens generated by all the things they have already noted, the concepts that have previously learned, stories that have absorbed, pre-structures that affect our gaze and adding subjective layers subject to those observations that we would like objective, do not return to us a world as it is, but every time they do create a new one.

To better understand this statement we must climb a step on the ladder of creation's complexity. At a second level, in fact, where the human tries to carry out for himself what had first caught with his eyes and registered with the brain, we are witnessing another equally creative act, so to speak, non-intentional. This is the realm of speech, language, which best clarify the characteristics of betrayal and nourishment hidden in the question of Manuel Scorza.

Language is, in fact, always a metaphor of reality. The word feeds us and betrays us translating us; in the same way as the word "bread" is only a representation of the real thing and certainly does not feed our body, but feeds our psyche helping to make sense of the reality around us.
Finally, going up to another level and moving in a deliberate area, or at least more intentional area, we meet the creative act in itself from which emerge the work of art and finally are revealed the intrinsic properties of betrayal and nourishment. Let's see how.

For each of these levels (but especially in the last, when the work occurs), any product of human creation, originally configured as an object in itself which does not belong to the world of nature and still belongs to the world of culture. Each created work is a hermeneutic work that gives name and form to a formless nature, becoming an intermediary between his reign and the domain of culture that feeds on such mediation works.

John Dewey in "Art as Experience" allows us to share a significant, funny anecdote which explain this being a “in itself” of any act of creation.
During the inauguration of an exhibition, a very attractive lady, peering with one eye at a painting and with the other to the author, comments: "If I may say something, I think I've never ever seen a woman resembling this portrait. "

"But ma'am," answered the piqued painter, which incidentally was Henri Matisse, "this is a painting, not a woman!"

The work, in fact, does not belong to this world and yet belongs to it, it is, as Heidegger says: "[...] only an echo, in the end truly unreal.".

Our body and our psyche feed on this paradoxical "truly unreal" echo and they need more than we may imagine and believe. A human being, in fact, can adapt to everything, even to situations of direst suffering, but can not survive in a world that is unable to explain, of which is unable to make sense. As Picasso said art "is not truth but a lie that makes us realize the truth.."

To understand the cure that we can practice with art, I believe we should extend this concept, this saving and nourishing "truth of a lie" to all human activity, even that work which we call science, and that, too often, we mistakenly wrap in a cloak of objectivity, avoiding the imaginary impulse from which must necessarily arise every scientific act. A human being, in short, is primarily a visionary animal whose peculiarity is to transform any already given into any other, beginning to imagine it differently.

This fictional character that permeates all the activities of a human being, leads us to a new suggestion: a short and meaningful tale. Like all fairy tales begin with ... "Once upon a time ..." but in this case it is truly just once ... at least forty forty-five thousand years ago, a small community of men and women, as used in that era, lived in a cave.

Every day they got up and performed those three or four operations that made that kind of life... their life: hunting, gathering herbs, berries, fruits, eat, reproduce and go back to sleep ... so, without stopping, waiting, not unlike us today, the end.

One day, however, like in all fairy tales, an extraordinary thing happened.
One morning, while the community was preparing to leave to get food, two of them stopped.

"What up," asked, "You don't feel well?".

"No," answered those, "we're fine. We'd rather prefer to stay here to draw."
"To...what? draw?" They looked stunned. "What does it mean?".

Well ... maybe things did not go this way, perhaps they did not even speak, probably most of the others thought they sick or something - crazy, they would have said a few thousand years later. The fact is that those two stopped there and that evening when the group returned home, actually... returned cave, found themselves facing with some sort of a miracle: the cave walls completely frescoed.

After an initial moment of embarrassment the wonder burst in, and they began running across the cave, recognizing the things that were in the world and now, as for a magic act, were there, on those rocks.

"Look," said one, "that's me while hunting.".

"And that," said another, "that's me while I pick berries.".

In short, they knew that those two were not exactly crazy but, rather, they had something special, and if they were not special, by sure were special those strange things they did on the rock and that they called drawings.

So, from that day, the group began to hold them in some regard.

They asked their suggestions when something was upsetting the group, when they had to make some important decisions, they went there when they were sick, and these men, sometimes doing a drawing, sometimes making a dance, could, surly not always, but often heal them and, surely, by sure they were curing the others, in the sense that they were taking care of them.

They went on for years and then, and we came to the happy ending, one of the two artists (at this point we can call them like this) said: "Listen ... you know what? ... I am fed up with drawing, I guess I'm going to be a doctor.. "

"A what? Doctor?" asked the other astonished. "And what is a doctor?".

End of the story.

A human being, according to Jacques Lacan, becomes so when entering the symbolic relationship, a step that, if we move from the subject to the species, the paleontologists tell us, marks the development of humanity just around forty to forty-five thousand years ago and is defined not by chance: the great leap forward in human evolution.

A real adaptive revolution, in which suddenly appear early forms of body decoration, ornaments, cave paintings, sculpture, works so refined whose sudden appearance is still an enigma.

So emerge new and immeasurable cognitive abilities compared to those of other primates and social behavior reached levels of extreme complexity and articulation. Here's the missing link which have always been searched by the Sherlock Holmes of evolution, that have spent the past centuries to examine and compare skulls and splanchnocranium: not a fossil, but the ability to create symbols, which means the ability to operate, more or less knowingly, those betrayals and those nutrients that we quoted at the beginning of our conversation.

Through our ability to create symbols we become a singular species among the living beings. But one of the peculiarities of the symbol, we said with the example of the word "bread", is to have no direct relationship with reality-the referent, but only with the concept and the idea of mind- the reference. This is what makes each symbol a cultural product that, in order to be learned, must be transmitted.

Our ability to create and symbols to communicate, to transmit to others, differentiates us from other creatures which depend mostly on the information already embedded in their brains.

The astronomer Carl Sagan called this uniquely human ability, "extrasomatic knowledge”, arguing that this makes the difference between us and, for example, pre-symbolic primitive man who lived in the cave of our tale, it is not our gene kit, which more or less remained unchanged.
This means that our being human being is the ability to create and communicate symbols.

Manipulating symbols our brain acquire (acquired) the ability to perform tasks otherwise impossible, while at the same time, the symbols change (changed) our brain's most powerfully and radically than genes. The symbols, therefore, are not mere arbitrary associations, but actual agents able to actively shape our brains and act on our own wellbeing.

Richard Dawkins gave these agents the name of "meme", a sort of "gene of the mind." If the gene is the replicating molecule that prevail in biological organisms, the "meme" is the basic unit of cultural transmission that can be transmitted from person to person undergoing evolutionary changes, but with a vastly superior speed. Moreover, while we can not act on genes, if not using the most sophisticated and almost inaccessible technologies, the creation and transfer of new "meme" is not precluded to anyone.

We know that diseases, like their remedies, are purely culturally shaped and draw scenarios that go far beyond any disease that health administrators of an era can diagnose and heal, so do not be surprised if most of today's scientific research is all centered on the study of genes and is not concerned, if not marginally and for example, the study of "meme.

Not that I want, with this, to dimish the great decoding the human genome, but I would like to try also to support a different idea, another concept of care/cure where, for example, people are not treated as mere objects of investigation, but returned of their dignity as individuals able to reflect upon themselves, diagnose their suffering and to cooperate in the cure of their problems through a process – obviously – which is cultural and at the same time educational, that puts them in a different position concerning self-care maybe, let's say, learning to manipulate their own personal "memoma”.

How come in our time, however, intermediaries of all disciplines of knowledge have subtracted us from, and subtract us the right and pleasure to recognize us as masters of our body-knowledge, annihilating our natural ability to question ourselves, to understand ourselves, to heal ourselves and to produce knowledge.

To go back to the contributions of art, almost a century ago Monsieur Marcel Duchamp has challenged this and tried to bring the subject to its role of producer of knowledge, unfettered by any authenticity certificate governed by the authorities of the moment.

It was, to be precise, 1917 and Duchamp was preparing to attend the first American Society for Independent Artists exhibition with a work intended to close forever the millenia old meaning of making art: a urinal purchased from the catalog of a specialized company that Duchamp tips and call "Fontaine." A revolutionary work that creates a genuine epistemological break with the Western tradition but, more importantly, it invites us to make the same, to break on all fronts of human knowledge.

Until before Duchamp, in fact, "What art" has always been the representation of the Thing. Not a woman, as in the example of Matisse, but a painting, the representation of a woman. Duchamp, however, puts the real thing where we have always witnessed the representation, and makes the real thing fecundate itself and generate itself as a Thing of art. The result is a new Thing that perhaps can no longer even be called art. In fact, unlike all his previous similar, this new Thing is not in context as art in itself, but calls the gaze of the Other, the viewer/user, to become such.

The urinal / Fontaine of Duchamp, to be called work of art, must be placed in an area that qualifies as such, because out of that space is nothing else than a reversed urinal. Then it can receive the visitor's gaze that confronted with an object which is in no way artistic, not representative, in the classic sense, is obliged, if wants to understand the work, to make an effort and thoughtful try to give to it a sense. For this reason it is called the definitely unfinished work, that can find its finitude, its meaning, or rather one of its possible senses, only in the gaze of the Other-User. This means the User called to finish the work, intenting meanings to it, fully enters into the creative process, he becomes an artist, ie someone who is no longer passively standing in front of the the work but, somehow, re-creates it.

If we now try to broaden the field of scope suggested by the work of Duchamp, for example, bringing it into the field of cure/care, we realize that we are facing a real revolutionary act that frees us breaking the bar (of power, Foucault would say) that separates those who hold hermeneutical tools by those affected by them, in this case the bar that separates the patient and therapist.

Duchamp's work, widely misunderstood in its deepest meaning and trivialized and distorted by many of his own followers, invites us to reclaim our creative eye, to become our own shamans producing the manipulation of symbols or, if you will, the creation of new "meme”.

"Art," Heidegger says, "is something to which something happened”, and the care/cure that may be accessed by art is configured in the awareness of this ability to make something happen to things, starting from that Thing that everyone is for himself.

It should start a real educational process capable of looking to art and aesthetic dimension as an event which does not separate from human experience, to work with and into everyday life experience, going back to the time we were children, get our hands dirty (and fearless) while "doing" the work, aware that, as John Cage said (and this count as my own medical prescription) : "It 's better to create a piece of music than to play it, better to play it than to listen to it, listen to it is better than abuse it as a means of distraction, entertain or acquire culture."

M.S.GALLI - info@msgdixit.it
Translated into English by Marco Maurizio Gobbo

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