In a controversy the instant we feel anger we have already ceased striving for the truth, and have begun striving for ourselves. — Buddha
Controversy equalizes fools and wise men in the same way – and the fools know it. —Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
When a thing ceases to be a subject of controversy, it ceases to be a subject of interest. — William Hazlitt
Art and controversy have long been passionate bedfellows. Before Manet’s Olympia depicted a prostitute reclining in her boudoir or Duchamp’s urinal (Fountain) upset the art world with its audacity in proclaiming found objects as art, long before Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ or David Czerny’s Entropa, the wide and whirling sphere of artists courting controversy – throughout and since – have been twisting and knotting the bed sheets with the steamy ardor of provocation. Indeed, it is fun to surmise that since women and men first scratched their feelings across the surface of rough cave walls by the light of a torch, there stood others with nostrils flaring and arms crossed, stamping their muddy feet in anger and protest.
It’s a love affair, true, with Arta and Contro, a bond of soul mates spurning approval. They laugh and play, they stick their tongues out at the world, giggling like adolescents, flagrantly erasing, with the flick of a foot in the sand, those tidy circles of conformity, acceptance, authority and safety. In doing so, they disturb, they challenge, they break barriers and, if lucky, they prompt debate.
Unless challenged, this little blue planet swirls seamlessly through time, oblivious to all that occurs on its surface. The world is essentially blind. It has air and water, land and life, but it has no eyes. It has no ears. Nor can it speak – it has no voice of its own. As its people, we can use it, abuse it, kick it in the butt out of its orbit if we wish and it won’t whisper the slightest complaint. Yet, it craves to be heard. Voices rise on its behalf and Arta and Contro are part of that voice. We may not want to acknowledge their childish antics for their love for each other infects us with itches and so we scratch. For some parts of the world we scratch until we bleed, wishing for someone to hear, as heads fall like stones to the sand, silently. … But it’s not as simple as having ears or eyes, or even voice.
The recent Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris have provoked discussion on some level but not much in the way of fruitful exchange. Certainly, we’ve been inspired to hold hands in a deeply fervid stance of solidarity in the name of freedom of expression but, as would be expected of any highly emotional reaction to a horrid event, divisiveness reigns at this moment. Moderate Muslims -those who would not wield a sword nor aim a gun – have felt suddenly pushed and shoved outside the circle of acceptance, even in western countries within which they live as citizens, where they raise their children, where they pay their taxes, where they value life and peace as anyone would, with no more inclination to strap a bomb to their body than you or I.
It is human nature to assign blame, for, surely, someone must be at fault. So we point here and there, blindly seeking culprits, as happens when threats fall too close to home. Some point their fingers at Charlie Hebdo, at their victims, lying there in pools of blood. And even for those of us who held hands in support of the dead, few of us want to stand too close to those pools, lest we find ourselves lying there too. Others cast their eyes at their own, be they moderate Muslims, politicians, governments or laws … because, surely, laws can solve everything … can’t they?
The thing is, with emotions charged in times like these, despite the millions of je suis Charlies,… rational and thinking minds are but fleeting comets at this moment, there and gone, not to be seen again within our lifetime. It would be nice to capture some of those comets, raise a big, blue,voluminous bowl to the skies, then whisk them around like eggs and pour them into a pan where they might unify and fluff up into something palatable and pure, full with complexity but free of the sour tastes of vengeance and strife. If we’re to give the world time… time to think … then, perhaps, beyond our ears, eyes, and voice, we must give it not only our hearts but our minds … rational minds that are melded with our hearts rather than hearts that fly, helter-skelter, like injured bats, erratic, fearful and worst of all, hostile. — If we must point our fingers anywhere, let’s point at those who pointed guns for they are a major symptom of sickness, of psychopathy, of the irrational and are the textbook example of emotions run amok.
Arta and Contro? … Well, they are just doing their job as they’ve always done, shaking things up, as they should. And I hope they shall continue twisting their sheets for eternity, because a world without them is a world without itches, and a world without itches is a world that is blind.
My only hope is that those who speak on behalf of this little blue planet can take a moment of silence, of introspection – a moment divorced of primordial anger, a moment in which we cast egos aside, a moment of relief from self and economical interests – a moment to think, not about blind retaliation but to really think about what we’re dealing with here, about what is important and how to give voice to this place we call home.