Thanks to over a century of tireless efforts by heroic avant-garde artists and their supporters, no meaningful distinction exists today between contemporary artworks and the ordinary objects that surround them. Paintings cannot be distinguished from illustrations, sculptures from decor. Art galleries fill with redundant advocacy for already popular social and environmental causes, and the average installation feels as memorable and durable as an ad campaign.
Yet many, especially in Utah, refuse to completely abandon traditional art. They retain a taste for aesthetics: the integration of form and content in an individual object, so that what it conveys to the viewer, and how it communicates, are inseparable characteristics. Instead of the mainstream gallery, in which viewers encounter multimedia spectacles and displays of wit, wherein an artist spatters his or her ego as widely as possible, they seek intimate, personal connections with unique works, each bearing the marks of its own passage into the world.
One place where I’ve found such art recently, ironically enough given the historical context, is in the Dada Centennial celebration at UVU. Presided over by the multidimensional poet Alex Caldiero, this academic rekindling of the Dada spirit, including a film festival presenting rarely- seen, yet essential gems, seeks to prove that Dada isn’t just the one indispensable modern art movement, but remains a vital creative impulse that continues to inspire authentic works of art. As proof, Professor Caldiero recently offered Salt Lake artist Natasha Danae’s “For the Love of Tigers,” of which he said that once he’d seen it, he couldn’t get its images out of his mind. I found I couldn’t either.
In contrast to imposing her ideas on the physical world, Natasha Danae digs deeply into her subjects to find out what they already contain. Yet, while “For the Love of Tigers” is not a work of fiction, neither is it a reporting of facts. It’s not an entertainment, neither is it a document. Like any real work of art, it speaks to its audience in a complex fashion. Still, a vital part of what makes it work as art is Danae’s choice to present her collaborator, artist Ed Johnson, through the medium of the moving picture. Because his own movement is severely limited, watching Mr. Johnson creates an almost unbearable tension, through which the viewer doesn’t just see, but feels the harrowing, potentially explosive way his life and his vitality are imprisoned in his physical body. That cellular comprehension turns out not only to be about him alone, but kindles the shared, and ultimately tragic understanding that we are all Mr. Johnson.
Geoff Wichert has degrees in critical writing and creative nonfiction. He writes about art to settle the arguments going on in his head.