But Is it Art? Chomskian Abstract


Artist Cornelia Parker wrote a letter to Noam Chomsky, intellectual and theorist, asking him to be the subject of a video conversation on his thoughts about "the unfolding environmental disaster now threatening our world." She interviewed him for the 41 minute piece, showing just his "talking" head. But she only included his responses, not the questions. So the video is still, with his head frozen, whilst the (silent) questions are being posed. In some cases it is easy to figure out the question, in others it is not.

Regardless, the answers are vintage Chomsky: half polemic and half fascinating. He says that consumption has become the goal of life and that this was manufactured, consciously, by government and corporations. If people are too interested and aware they might get involved politically which would be undesirable. He says that consumers are not given any information (in magazines, or on t.v.) purposely "to delude and oppress the public." He also railed against our culture of long work hours. He said that Americans' health is being affected: they have become shorter whilst the Germans and Dutch have become taller.


Chomsky said that there is a gap between public policy and public opinion. Opinion is excluded from policy choices. For example, most people are in favour of the Kyoto Agreement, but the CEO's are not, so it is not being signed. CEO's don't worry about what will happen 5 years from now, even though they may be very nice people on a personal level. It is the institutional role to maximise market share and profit.

But he is somewhat optimistic. He said that great changes took place in the '60's (hippies etc.) and as a result of that change in thinking, in the 70's and '80's there was a decline in red meat consumption, smoking and coffee drinking. He warned that technological solutions (presumably to global warming) have side effects which can be negative. There is no magic solution for environmental problems (as in thinking that nuclear power may be the answer).


Cornelia Parker has written about what the most important thing that she learned from Chomsky. It is: "that capitalism compels us to work ourselves to death in order to stuff our houses with things we don't need. Perhaps this is one thing art can do: create a new aesthetic, one of austerity."

She says that "Humanity may be on the brink of disaster, but this could be an exciting, creative period, with everyone - philosophers, artists, politicians, bus drivers - doing everything they can to avert it. My Chomsky piece is me putting my head above the parapet."

The show is presented in partnership with Friends of the Earth, who will be inviting viewers to pose their own questions about the state of the world, which will then become the basis of ‘Poison and Antidotes’, a day of discussion in March, involving artists, theorists and activists. :: Whitechapel Art Gallery

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