On nonsense in art
What is nonsense? Nonsense as art is not humour or charm, but the obvious construction: the failure of a narrative or fiction that is to be taken seriously, which initially seems to be the goal of an artistic work. The nonsensical is marked by the absence of meaningfulness. If nonsense is defined by the absence of meaning, what then takes the place of this empty space?
The nonsense has no sense, no place, no meaning. Meaningfulness also means relevance, it means being taken seriously and perhaps even being noticed.
First of all, nonsense means not being serious. Not being serious also means not being taken seriously. Being taken seriously often a prerequisite for participating in social discourse. Not being taken seriously can also mean not having your voice heard . At the same time, criteria that determine what is to be taken seriously and what is not, especially in the context of art production, are certainly problematic.
If you are taken seriously as an (professional) artist, you have a better chance of becoming part of the capitalist marketing chain that allows for the successful distribution of artistic works. To engage in nonsense as a strategy in the visual and performing arts means to be vulnerable. It means being vulnerable and potentially not being taken seriously. It means that artistic works are called 'nice', 'charming' or maybe even 'pretty', but neither received nor exhibited as art to be taken seriously.
The production of narration, knowledge and thought always takes place in a cultural context. To be heard, to be taken seriously, cultural rules must be followed. Humour is part of cultural communication and yet it moves on a border between what is perceived as relevant and what is simply too silly to be heard.
The targeted negation of meaningfulness holds great potential: irritation creates unrest, creates confusion and thus also the possibility of rearrangement/disorder. Nonsense is able to undermine common narratives. Strategies such as irony or satire are used as a possibility to tell stories differently, to exaggerate and thus to question. In doing so, the producers of nonsense expose themselves to the risk of not being taken seriously themselves. Nevertheless, whether they are heard also depends on the humorous quality and narrative potential of the visualisations and narratives they propose. But even without being taken seriously, humour and nonsense are essential factors in creating creative space.
Why I make nonsense
As a young woman in a capitalist-patriarchal society, I am well aware of the fear of not being taken seriously. Nonsense allows me to explore an artistic self of mine that does not want and need to be taken seriously. This is in a certain way liberated from the danger of not being taken seriously, but wants to achieve exactly that. I can fail with relish and turn an anxiety into a quality. The classical distinction between high-brow and low-brow culture points to an essential question of Western art reception: is it serious art or is it meant to entertain?
Obviously, art cannot be both serious and entertaining at the same time. While entertainment culture is the more powerful in financial terms, it also always has the stigma of profanity attached to it compared to serious high brow culture.
Historically, social classes correlate with the kind of art they receive, and although this has largely dissolved, distinctions and stigmatisations remain.
After all, who would equate attending a classical concert with spending an evening together watching the Germany's Next Topmodel final? Classism is present after all, and the narrative of an equal society is at best a bedtime story.
Nonsense opens up a space in between for me. Nonsense is funny, funny is entertainment. Nonsense creates irritation and this helps me to distance myself from my own mystification of art/artists. Always wanting to develop art in categories of commercial viability or quality also takes away freedoms. Making nonsense as art can give it back to me.
A short manifesto of nonsense
Nonsense defies the logic of sense and utility
Nonsense is non-sense. Sense is nonsense anyway.
Nonsense is self-sufficient, is not humour to show, is self-sufficient in the process.
Nonsense invites you to join in, because it is not difficult.
Nonsense needs safe-spaces
Nonsense makes you vulnerable
Nonsense is the deliberate failure to maintain a narrative that can be taken seriously
Nonsense is devoid of quality.
There is no good nonsense as there may be good humour
Nonsense is freed from the desire to be more than it is
Nonsense is not satire
Nonsense is fun that is not exploitable.
Therefore: Make more nonsense.
Text and manifesto by Emilia Schlosser
Warm thanks to Kate Ireland for support in the translation.