Reflections on Dinner Without An Agenda with Pablo Helguera
“Futile but Possible” by Katya Grokhovsky
Dec 10 2015
“What are the responsibilities of artists today?” asked artist and educator Pablo Helguera, prior to our dinner, which took place at Casa Enrique on November 19th 2015 in Queens, New York. Although I answered the call at the time, the question comes back to me in waves, landing many more possible answers on to the surface of my present existence. I obsessively chew on it, blinded by the dazzling array of choices and ideas, floating, swirling and trembling in their persistence. As we sat at the table, consuming delicious appetizers and pondering the very important dilemma of the main course choice, we thoughtfully offered our answers. The consensus, it seemed, centered around authenticity, intentions, changing of the world, our inability to change the world, artist narcissism, futility, inspiration, perhaps even apathy. Or is it just me?
I am propelled to ask more questions as a response. Why do artists do what they do and what responsibilities these actions carry? Can the artist’s life itself present an alternative? Should my work offer answers? What kind of answers am I expected to deliver? Who, if anyone, is expecting anything of an artist? Should I offer beauty, uplift the spirit, excavate the darkest depths of the universe and the mind or be a good activist? What can art do? Is my work, ideas, of any use? Is there a use? Why make art if I can march the streets? Should I march the streets? I cycle into a dead end, as I turn the key in my studio door. I walk in and stand in front of my current works in process. In silence, consumed by sudden guilt, I am paralyzed. I sit at a table, in my coat. I pick up a random pencil and some paper, forcefully clearing a space among the material clutter. I start to draw something, lines steadily covering the white surface. The questions dissolve. I emerge hours later, emptied, elated, tired, frustrated, amused, gentler, softer. I look around me, the battlefield strewn with sheets of collaged and drawn-on paper, squeezed tubes of paint, stubs of pastel sticks, torn magazine pages and fragments of found object sculptures. The crumbling weight of the world poised and positioned. That is my answer.
The making of the art itself, like a serpent, fed by its own blood, relieves the burden, leaving its’ skin behind. I am responsible for this. Perhaps the pleasure I experience in making the work can translate to you. Perhaps, when I perform an action, I offer another way of thought, a new vision, or at the very least, another probability. Maybe I can bridge the gap, for those 3 second you might spend looking at the work, between reality and possibility. Does my own salvation through this activity change molecules? Perhaps it is not for anyone, but an audience of one. This is just a wet patch on the world’s surface, a tiny trail of breath on a frosty window.There are no algorithms, no legitimate solutions. As I go on, marking the mundane with art, I am struck by somewhat stifling realization that none of it matters. People suffer every day, every second of that day, all over the planet.
We struggle, we design, we live, we persevere, we begin and never finish, we live, and we simply die. What is my responsibility as a human? How authentic can I be and should I be? As Sisyphus, we roam the earth, searching in futile attempt for meaning, yet we are forever punished, rolling up our questions, up the hill, watching them roll back with ferocious speed, falling down, thumping heavily.We go on, when there is nowhere to go, attempting hope. I think art, in a peculiar, rhetorical way, acts as the ever-hopeful Sisyphus, saving us. Not from the guilt of our actions, but from taking it all too seriously on our journeys.
Image: Katya Grokhovsky, Futile but Possible, 2015