Cabaret was a social satire, one that intensified in the Weimar cabaret of Berlin in the late 1920s until its demise in the early 1930s. Under constant Third Reich scrutiny, the shows of the day often consisted of cross-dressing and Jewish demonization exercised in an exaggerated manner, all in the satirisation of Reich doctrine regarding Judaism and homosexuality. It was a political artform, one that questioned the authoritarian social structure of the day. Hans Arp performed social satires at the Cabaret Voltaire and many of these protest performances went on to spawn the visual art movement DADA. What I thought was very interesting about Cabaret the musical, which I saw a few years back in New York, was that many of the songs were based upon songs of the Weimar cabaret, themselves an ironic derivation of Yiddish and Hebrew folk songs. Performance, satire and social upheaval do tend to converge.
One wonders what the recession has in store for the art industry? – we seem to be currently distinctly lacking in vituperative acts. The best example of modern cabaret I can think of is the recent thoroughly enjoyable Hip-Nós performance at Axis Ballymun. ‘Hip Nós’ is a blending of Sean Nós and Hip Hop, with bits of poetry thrown in. Both forms of music stem from a traditional community narrative song and both require audience participation – usually baiting.
The much anticipated Philippe Parreno exhibition at IMMA opened Tuesday night and there was certainly not much baiting; perhaps reverence, but definitely no baiting. The iconic works were there, No ghost just a shell, The Boy from Mars, Zidane, a 21st century portrait (made in collaboration Douglas Gordon). Most of the works have been seen before (though I am not sure if it was supposed to be a retrospective), and what became obvious was that to look at these pieces in respect of today forces them into a situation where a connection to the viewer is lacking.
Everything was set at a remove. The pieces chosen each embodied a suspended emotion, a place of calming spectacle. The purposeful emptiness of each work provided a template for the viewer to situate themselves within the frame – just as Parreno’s computer-game child Annlee proposes, “I belong to whom is ever able to fill me with any kind of imaginary material." Yet, to be honest, I am tired of this insistence on the active nature of viewing. If I place myself within the work, what I see is always the same thing – a reflection of me, and that is pissed-off. Can’t I see something else now? I want to throw a banana peel at something, and I don’t think that would be something you could do to Parreno. Besides that the opening was great fun with tons of wine, and throwing food would have most probably gotten me ejected into the freezing night. Yet I still maintain that what we need in art now is that cabaret kick up the ass. Something entertaining, something provocative, something repulsive and terribly obnoxious! Life is a cabaret, old chum…