On October 12, the Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley and the Curatorial Practice at the California College of the Arts are partnering to host a live-streaming of the Creative Time Summit, an annual conference in New York that brings together cultural producers–including artists, critics, writers, and curators–to discuss how their work engages pressing issues affecting our world. To jump-start the conversation in advance of the event, attendees have been asked to submit a paragraph on a keyword associated with one of the summit themes: Inequities, Occupations, Making, or Tactics. This posting is by Jennifer Huang, student in American Cybercultures at UC Berkeley.
To make something is to extend oneself. The making of things contradicts man’s ever-present fascination with death and transience. The Flemish Renaissance theme of vanitas warns that our life is transient, but the paintings, with their brilliant bouquets and subtle symbols of death and decay, outlive its warning. The decadent seventeenth-century paintings are still here today and preserved in our museums. They remind us of the fleeting nature of our lives, yet they also indirectly offer an escape from transience, and that is through art. This reminder of our futility is reiterated in Eastern art and philosophy as well. In eighteenth-century Japan, ukiyo-e, or wood block prints depicting urban pleasures were as prominent as the vanitas paintings in Flanders. Perhaps this is because ukiyo was an allusion to its homophone, “Sorrowful World,” a Buddhist term describing the transient nature of life. This fascination with death and transience is universal, but despite being bound to the ticking clock, the human race is still advancing, creating, and inventing. Even in the face of death, soldiers can become poets, creating art that outlives themselves. In this way, they become eternal, overcoming man’s obsession with vanitas or ukiyo. I’m fascinated by how man, though weak and fragile, has the amazing power to simply make something, and in that act of making, he is able to escape death.