Artistic Experience as a Poetic Experience of Thinking – Romano Gasparotti

1. Art As A Globalisation Of Meetings

Shōzō Shimamoto’s first paintings, shown in 1946 at the Hole Showa 21, are called Hole, referring to an opening or breech. Insistence on “holes” precedes, accompanies and follows (at least up to the Papers of 1985) the act of foundation in Osaka in 1954 of the GUTAI group, whose name “concreteness” is said to have been suggested to Jiro Yoshihara by Shimamoto himself. The Gutai Manifesto of 1956, mimicking the style of similar manifestos of the Western historical avant- gardes of the early twentieth century announced among other things:

To today’s consciousness, the art of the past, which on the whole pres- ents an alluring appearance, seems fraudulent. Let’s bid farewell to the hoaxes piled up on the altars and in the palaces, the drawing rooms and the antique shops. They are monsters made of the matter called paint, of cloth, metals, earth, and marble, which through a meaningless act of sig- nification by humans, through the magic of material, were made to fraud- ulently assume appearances other than their own. These types of matter, all slaughtered under the pretence of production by the mind, can now say nothing. Lock up these corpses in the graveyard. Gutai Art does not alter matter. Gutai Art imparts life to matter. Gutai Art does not distort matter (…). Granted, our works have frequently been mistaken for Dadaist gestures. And we certainly acknowledge the achievements of Dada. But we think differently: unlike Dadaism, Gutai Art is the product that has arisen from the pursuit of possibilities. Gutai aspires to present exhibi- tions filled with vibrant spirit, exhibitions in which an intense cry accom- panies the discovery of the new life of matter.

In this and in other programme documents published in the Gutai magazine, the group feels the need to underline the important differences compared with pointillisme and fauvism first of all, but also in comparison with Western masters such as Da Vinci, Poussin, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Utrillo and Dalì, names listed according to a view of the past that certainly does not aim to be chronological, but appears topological (insofar as each name indicates the “place” of a particular killing of the life of the material through form, sign and colour).

Moreover, the Buddhist Sutta Nipāta Canon says, “Contemplate the world as emptiness (…), always in a state of remembrance – thus spoke the Blessed One.”

And the “remembrance” mentioned refers to a “co-arising” or “dependent origina- tion” of the “world as emptiness” itself, in which the events do not run along a chrono- logical line nor can they be grasped in advance by form, meaning identity/differ- ence because each potential figure, in its impermanent eternity, includes other pos- sible figures – but never definitively – as it is, in turn, includable in others:

It would take infinity to count / all the Buddha’s universes. / In each dust mote of these worlds / are countless worlds and Buddhas[1]

Thanks to the efforts of Michel Tapié – the great French critic known for his association with the Informal season, having visited Japan in 1957 – the work of the Gutai group began to come into contact with European and Western art cir- cuits. In this climate, between 1958 and 1968, Shimamoto started to grapple once again with “holes” in his Esquisse Hole Series cycle, where the action of the paint rubs against and consumes the layers of paper matter of the painting causing lac- eration or perforation. A year earlier, the artist carried out an experiment, which was defined as “concrete music” (later acquired by the Pompidou Centre Collec- tion in Paris), in the wake of what John Cage was doing, rolling dice or tossing coins, following the teachings of the I Ching or the Book of Changes, and in close contact with the artists of the artists’ Club on East Eighth Street, New York, includ- ing J. Pollock, F. Kline, M. Rothko and R. Rauschenberg.

This serves to emphasise how Shōzō Shimamoto, above all, was an artist and excellent witness in the ethopoietic essence of his ergon, on which hangs the pos- sibility of inhabiting a world shared by all in a different way. A form of fruitful globalisation of creativity, in total contrast with the economic, political and cul- tural scenarios of today’s globalisation. This began as an extension on a global scale of Western models by now reduced to one way of thinking, beyond the meta- narrative and myths with their accompanying propaganda; it is realised as a multiplication of divisions, oppositions, exclusions and “naturalisation” procedures to prevent any kind of otherness.[2] The globalisation sub specie artis of which Shi- mamoto has been for over sixty years an untiring activist in every corner of the globe, beyond any discourse of abstract syncretism or eclecticism, seeks to move towards authentic encounter. And any encounter, in the strongest sense, does not come about – despite the current scenarios of the global world – through preven- tive exclusion, nor assimilation, nor yet through “naturalisation” at any cost. But in reality it only happens in the erotic symballesthai of absolute singularities – in the suspension of the anticipatory and recursive form of differentiation – each of which can only dance around each other, as in the “dance around the One” of Plot- inus and Proclus, so that the harmony of the different rhythmoi is “invisible (aphanés)”, divinely “stronger” than any “visible harmony” (Heraclitus fr. 54).

This ethopoietic[3] habitus can only be accompanied by a radical change in the horizon and artistic potential of the event itself. If the poiesis of art is what vio- lently interrupts any kind of conversation, as P. Celan wrote, the “triple game”[4] of contemporary art as a fundamental part of the universe of globalised commu- nication tends to constantly and universally restore the machinery of conversa- tion, doing everything to “avoid communication breakdown, namely the advent of the incommunicable (…), the advent of absolute differences”.[5]

Well, from the start, the actions of the Gutai Group and Shimamoto forced viewers into an exercise in acrobatics comparable to a blind leap over the irregu- lar spaces between natural stepping stones in a stream, as happens, essentially, in the Chanoyu tradition, the ritual of the “tea ceremony” (which begins following an asymmetrical pathway of raised stones in the rōji, the garden in front of the tea hut). In this regard, in the 1956 second collective exhibition at the Ashiya city park, “Gutai open”, an experiment that would seem to anticipate both Western Land Art and the “constructed situation” of the situationist Internationals, but which was at the same time also something very different, referring directly to Karesansui (the art of arranging stones on a gravel base) – Shimamoto presented his Please, walk on it, which invited visitors to climb and walk precariously on a narrow and irregular pathway made up of precarious planks, each ready to fall in a different way as soon as a foot came to rest upon it….


The art of Shimamoto, “samurai acrobat of the gaze” (according to A. Boni- to Oliva’s[6] definition) was doubtless influenced by Zen philosophy, but, in the meantime, cannot be situated exclusively within the dimension of a mere mani- festation or actualisation of Zen art in modern terms. If there is an opening up to the spirit of Zen behind Shimamoto’s work, it has to be sought and conquered anew through a most radical distancing from the tradition even though it will be lost each time. What is more, as the book of Lin Chi says, “If a man seeks the Bud- dha, he will lose the Buddha, if he seeks the Way, he will lose the Way”….

The protracted exhibitions, actions and performances that Shimamoto set up in Naples in the spring and summer of 2006 at Palazzo dello Spagnuolo and the Academy of Fine Arts, promoted and organised by the Fondazione Morra, bore the title “Gutai is even Zen”. And the first Holes, coming straight after the war, like those of 1954 and the later ’58-’68 series, despite their apparent similarity to the holes and cuts presented by Fontana in roughly the same period, should be read pri- marily as artistic manifestations of the practice of “non-obstruction” in order to experiment with the possibility of abandoning oneself to that “world of emptiness” intimately characterised by closures (anattā) and impermanences (anicca). In addi- tion, before founding the Gutai group, Master Yoshihara had been involved in the Bokujin-kai movement, that aimed to revive the ancient art of calligraphy, and Shi- mamoto himself had been very much struck and influenced by this Japanese cal- ligrapher Nantenbo who had lived across the 19th and 20th centuries, and who not only used much larger characters than traditional calligraphers, but also deliber- ately allowed his characters to have ‘nijimi or smudges’, ‘kasure or fading’, ‘tobichiri: splashes, sprays’ and tare, ‘dripping’.[7] The art of calligraphy – that uses the sumie (literally ‘ink and water’) technique – has also maintained the indissoluble unity of writing and painting, unlike in the West, where the two practices, perhaps origi- nally one,[8] went on to became distinct, in order to cultivate the four virtues at the basis of traditional calligraphy: ‘precision’, ‘regularity’ ‘consistent roundedness’ and ‘energetic elasticity’, it is not enough to have a grounding in theoria, illumi- nating the corresponding téchne, or even diligent exercise, but what is required is an intense practice of meditation engaging the body and mind of the disciple as a whole in order to create the right emptiness (neither a lack, or an excess of empti- ness), namely to bring to the empty – that is never other compared with the full – into the heart of the full itself, into each stroke and between strokes, so that spiri- tual/vital breath may circulate freely. It is interesting to note that this seeking of the void – that is not at all the nihil absolutum of Western ontology[9] – can, according to Zen Buddhism, be realised through the art of calligraphy only through medita- tion as an action, namely – translated into Western terms – through a praxis rather than, and before, any poiesis.10 From this point of view, while the West has ended up assigning art to the realm of poiesis, in the East, painting is and remains first and foremost a praxis in the sense of a non-obstructing action.


As we have said above, as soon as Gutai art – born to “go beyond Mondri- an’s work, as Yoshihara proclaimed – comes into direct contact with contempo- rary Western forms of artistic expression, on the one hand, the interpretation of a critic like Michel Tapié tends to trace it back to informal matterism, while on the other, both Yoshihara and Shimamoto are particularly struck by the encounter with Jackson Pollock’s action painting. These are aspects worthy of reflection.

First of all, it is clear that the will to put the lessons of Mondrian behind them does not mean denying in any way the aspiration characteristic of the ascetic research of the Dutch artist, to express One-Twoness as calm-in-movement[11] – because, in fact, this was precisely the aspect that had initially drawn Yoshihara and the other members of Gutai so strongly to Mondrian’s work– rather it con- cerns the reduction of art to pure contemplation of the Idea by neoplasticists under- stood as a “school”[12] engaged in the Neoplatonising myth of “Raffaello without Hands”. In this regard, Shimamoto’s ‘Neapolitan’ works, staged in 2008, may be considered emblematic: the Nike of Samothrace, the Venus de Milo, the Psyche of Capua, but also the semi-framed Buddha, placed on a chair above a pile of plas- tic cups and smeared with smudged, sprayed, poured and dripped paint.

As for his relationship with the material Informal – constructed by Tapié, but apparently validated by works such as the 1960 Untitled series (plaster and mixed media on canvas) – it should first be noted that while Shimamoto paid particular attention to children’s artistic expression, in France, the “materiologist”[13] J. Dubuf- fet had been interested since 1922 in the forms of expression of the so-called “insane”, the mentally ill, and he had been particularly struck by a book published in 1922 by a psychiatrist in Germany, Dr Hans Prinzhorn, entitled Bildnerei der Geisteskranken.[14] What Dubuffet and Shimamoto both sought in the art of the mad and infants was: a) a form of expression not yet conditioned by cultural pat- terns and pre-established forms, b) holistic attention to the world understood as an undivided whole and which was therefore in contrast with the hyper-analytical attitude typical of the technical-scientific mentality capable only of separating, dividing, and dissecting. In this regard, at the Anticultural Positions conference held in Chicago in December 1951, Dubuffet, argued:

When I wish to observe something closely, my temperament leads me to look at it together with its context, as a whole. (…) If there is a tree in the country, I don’t bring it into my laboratory to look at it under my microscope. I think the wind which flows through its leaves is necessary for the knowledge of the tree and cannot be separated from it.[15]

Michel Tapié (former neo-Dadaist painter and sculptor) began his career as an art critic when working on the catalogue of Dubuffet’s second exhibition, held at the Drouin Gallery in Paris in 1946, where the fledgling critic wrote that Dubuf- fet had embarked on research “where matter has gained the upper hand over paint, […] paint that only exists insofar as the matter requires it […]; in other words, the problem of colour has been replaced by the problem of matter”.[16]

If we open the Gutai Review issue of 1st April 1957, we read an illuminat- ing text signed by Shimamoto entitled For the Banishment of the Paintbrush, where among other things he says:

[…] as a line without thickness does not exist, a colour without its matter does not become concrete […]. Even if an artist does his best to lavish his spiritual genius through the paintbrush, trying to refuse any colour materiality, in every canvas the dyeing substance giving colour to the picture will be easily recognized […] I just said it: a colour with- out matter does not exist. […]

For his part, in his Prospectus aux amateurs de tout genre, Dubuffet wrote: There are no colours, but only coloured materials (…). A black satin, black cloth, a black ink stain on a card, black paint on some shoes, the black soot from a chimney, tar […]. Black is but an abstraction; black does not exist; there are black materials […].[17]

For the French artist, painting can exercise its perennial and inexhaustible research on “living matter” by testing every material (going beyond any presumed hierarchy, including ‘pictorial’ and ‘non pictorial’ materials), in the sense of an endless adventure – “to begin a painting: an adventure that will take you where? No-one knows …”[18] – which never achieves a result, but which, as in a dance, bounces back at the very moment of leaping forward, always in flight, indulging in the flow of its rhythms:

The starting point is the surface to be animated – either a canvas or a sheet of paper – and the first spot of colour or ink that flows: the effect that is produced, the adventure that comes from it. It is this mark, as it is enriched and oriented, that should guide the work.[19]

For Dubuffet – a Western artist who challenged the single mind-set of the “asphyxiating culture”[20] of the West – painting is the beginning of an adventure without end that, in having to do with the mystery of material, manifests a real poet- ic experience of art in its ergon, coinciding with an original poetic experience of thought tout court. For the Western tradition, poiesis is “any cause (aìtia) that leads from the non-existent to the existent”, according to the famous definition in Plato’s Symposium (205 b, 8-9). And in the Sophist, Plato himself writes: “when someone leads to existence (eis oysían) what was not, let’s say you produce (poiein) insofar as it draws out and which is produced (poieisthai) to the extent that it is stretched out” (Sophist, 205b, 4-6). Poiesis indicates, therefore, the event that is the well- spring of appearance of what, by some “cause”, is brought to existence from its original hiding. Western philosophy of art and the modern aestheticism of artistic work, which is still dominant in the so-called Global world, have theoretically con- centrated on the hypostatisation of the result of producing, we could say on its excre- mentum (in the literal sense of the term) and what has often happened in spite of art itself, and the thought-driven actions of artists. Dubuffet and artists “of matter” – not at all limited to bearing witness to a mere “willingness to regression”, as sus- tained by the more myopic critics – mean to fully experience the backlash of a way we could call palintropos (to use once more an expression of Heraclitus), i.e. such that in moving forward in the direction of form – and as poiesis it can only pro- ceed, taking form, from the hidden to the no-longer hidden – at the same time, in one, it flows back, irresistibly attracted by the invisible to an endless background made up of what comes before the start of each form, to which Plato had already given the ‘mongrel’ name chora. The determinately formed thing, which becomes visible in it – the work – thus becomes a figure of the revelation of the pure possi- bility of the emptiness of matter itself, “the emptiness of emptiness”, as one might say in the Taoist and Buddhist terms of the east. So if it is true that, for the West- ern tradition, poiesis can only take place as a giving shape and can only come to an “end”, thus, in the unfolding of an entity which is formed matter, the intent of the material artist is to try to find the form of pure matter – before it becomes enveloped in the forming form (eidos kai morphe) – knowing that, however, no work could achieve this as a result. We recall that Plato’s chora “should not be called earth or air or fire or water” (Plato, Timæus, 51a): it is indeterminate (aoris- tos), invisible (anoraton) and amorphous (amorphon) and yet it is also “the same as a form” (eidos ti) (Ibidem), which, however, is “outside (ektòs) of any form” (Ibid) and has nothing to do with the ideas with respect to which, however, it is coeternal. Therefore, the plunge into the ineffable permanent impermanence of mat- ter – chora, a background distinguished by an infinite autometamorphosis – to which the informal-material adventure aspires, cannot, in the end, but give promi- nence to the research assigned and incorporated into the artistic act. Not, howev- er, to the point of hypostatising it and debasing or denying what, however, is to be produced as a created work. The latter, in fact, even in its intrinsic perfectio, never realises, as entelecheia, the result of the research, its truth, but carries within itself the indelible aura of negativity, which, far from indicating a lack or privation, sig- nals and announces the fact that the adventure of the search continues to other impermanent perfectible perfections[21]. In any case a backlash, again a palintropos movement, prevents the poiesis from opening out and becoming independent of praxis, to which it was originally, and remains, intimately joined.

As M. Tapié brilliantly intuited, despite springing from entirely different theo- retical matrices, Gutai moves towards a similar experience. What does it mean, in the first Gutai manifesto – that objects like “painting, pieces of cloth, metal, stone and marble are filled with false meanings by human hands, and instead of presenting themselves through their material, take on the appearance of something else”? And in what sense, because of some “intellectual purpose, have materials been completely killed so they can no longer communicate anything to us”? Western culture, some- times with the complicity of art, considers materials only in terms of their usability, predetermined by their form. On the one hand, they are fixed in their particular rigid and crystallized form that the logic of téchne has given them, and on the other, as bodies thus formed, they present themselves in their full and complete willingness to be manipulated for the satisfaction of human needs. And what, in this way, exists only to be produced, manipulated, consumed and destroyed is, as Aristotle teaches, “formed matter”, as such installed in its given identity, so as to repel and exclude from itself any other thing determined differently (on the basis of its form). Thus, the “intellectual” concept of Technique results in the suffocating and death of materials! And this, then, is why the not revolutionary, but simply “concrete”, Gutai art does not aim to “change materials”, but to “bring them back to life” starting from a prac- tice wherein form (rūpa), (roughly equivalent to the Greek morphé) is emptiness:

“[…] form is emptiness and emptiness itself is form”, as we read in the Heart Sutra. Since form, far from acting like the Aristotelian princi- ple of determination which means that all matter assumes and main- tains its own identity to the degree to which it excludes and refutes any other “formed matter” – is, on the other hand, what manifests its being itself identically in all matter in its particular configuration, only insofar as it is immersed in “porous”[22] reciprocity with all others. This can reawaken the experience of the mystery of that “world of emptiness”, in which every reality is an event and where the art-producing energy does not in fact lead to the production of works as autonomous and independent forms and in their specific self-consistency. And the paintbrush is the main instrument of this enslavement of the “life” of materials to the rigid, independent and closed identity conferred upon them by form and there- fore the sole end purpose of simulacra thus obtained, which is usability and the supremacy of the human wish for power.

The keen interest in action painting by the Gutai group – fed by the redis- covery of the sketches, splashes and drips of Nantenbo’s calligraphy – can be explained in the light of this perspective. Pollock was the first contemporary West- ern artist to bend technical poiesis in the direction of action and gesture, trying to “liberate colour from the brush”, as Shimamoto put it, as the “active brush” ends up “exploiting material colour to the full, subjecting it to the narrative intent”. Shi- mamoto also recalls that the Gutai artists used everything to the same purpose: “watering cans, umbrellas, vibrators, abacuses, shoes, toys. And even the feet, or firearms, and yet more. And amid all these even the paintbrush might reappear (…) no longer (…) to humiliate and kill the qualities of colouring materials, but to make them even more alive”.


The Bottle crashes, with which Shimamoto had been battling since the early 50’s and whose intensity made them increasingly theatrical[23] – one thinks especially of those of Venice performed at the Cloister of San Nicolò in 2007 and the performance at Punta Campanella in Naples the following year – express a strong sense of violence, even when it becomes A weapon for peace as in the 2006 work in Piazza Dante in Naples.

Western art is steeped in violence to the extent that it seems, in some cases, to be inseparable from violence24. Just to give some random examples, Caravaggio, in his Judith Slaying Holofernes, makes us witness “live”, so to speak, the act of a bloody decapitation and, in painting the Medusa on the circular shield donat- ed by Cardinal del Monte to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, he restores the Gorgon to being a head, not a face, a head that has just been severed from the body, reac- tualising before our very eyes the original act of violence, which, according to the myth, led to this. Obvious traces of this violence remain in the spilled blood drip- ping, immediately below the face, whose mouth is wide open in a scream, which – instead of reproducing the wide and hideous gash of the mythological Medusa – almost seems to anticipate certain works of Francis Bacon, who, speaking of the oil painting Head VI (1949), said, “I wanted to paint the scream rather than the horror”. In general, as already mentioned, the poet Paul Celan, in der Meridian25 (from a speech of 1960) states that to make poetry it is necessary to break – vio- lently – the continuum of discourse and violence – the speech continuum, bring- ing into play something that imposes itself “brutally”, breaking in and lacerating. And speaking of the contemporary, it was in 1960 that the first bloody actions of the Orgien Mysterien Theater of Hermann Nitsch and the other protagonists of “Wiener Aktionismus” were performed, followed by performances in the early 70s by Chris Burden, Claudio Cintoli, (who in “Haqeldama, the field of blood” depicts the eternal cycle of birth and death through action based on the exposition and flowing of menstrual blood), by Marina Abramovich (Art must be beautiful/Artist must be beautiful and the disturbing Lips of Thomas), up to the experiments of Gina Pane in the ‘80s and the works of the painter-photographer Andres Serrano and Orlan’s repeated teratomorphic “surgical operations”. As for the world of music, radical innovator John Cage said, “I’m going toward more violence rather than tenderness, towards hell rather than heaven, the ugly rather than beautiful, impure rather than pure – because by doing these things they become transformed and we are transformed”.26 In such a way, the artist, as a thinking being, appears to turn himself into a medium of that violence that Nietzsche describes in Human, All Too Human, when referring to philosophers as men who are “not wise” and imprudent, but who are, however, “educators” in the strongest sense, insofar as they violently hurt individuals and communities, so that “wounded here and hav- ing became weak, it is, as it were, inoculated with something new […]; its strength must, however, be great enough to accommodate in the blood and assimilate this new thing”.27 Kandinsky himself, in 1912, emphasised the inseparability of art from violence, all the while distinguishing between the violence committed oppor- tunistically by the self-proclaimed artist as a means directed exclusively towards “material ends”,28 from superhuman violence, which is “a revelation of the divine force of Truth”.29 In this, Kandinsky’s text seems to anticipate the words of Ben- jamin in 1921, in his essay A critique of violence,30 where he distinguishes between divine pure violence and impure mythical violence.[31]

What does the artist do then? Violence artistically presented on stage in a drama does not destructively or sadistically turn against the life of the living. Precisely because it is a mimesis by a hypokrités, who is both mime, priest and interpreter[32]. The man of Technique – one who thinks and calculates strictly on the basis of means-end rationality – is convinced that he can appropriate violence to himself, to use it in order to achieve his human, all too human, ends. Whereas the artist is the mortal in search of truth, which, knowing that he absolutely cannot make use of violence that, in its divine origin (as Benjamin underlines), cannot be appropriated, does not belong to any man, nor is it exploitable – and puts on stage, sub specie artis, the drama of a crude and lit- erally hypocritical mimesis of violence, as if seeking to purge for cathartic and apotropa- ic purposes, all the impure violence that has bloodied the world so as not to obstruct the empty spaces for the possible eruption of divine violence capable of recreating time and again the meaning of the world – dissolving all fixation and stagnation.
Thus, Shimamoto’s bottle crash actions, becoming in time more theatrically pictorial[33], encounter in their staging violent Western artistic and performative practices, bringing with them the charge of the superhuman cry capable of pro- ducing a “beautiful flower”[34] and in which breaks forth the force that turns pre- assigned meanings upside down in order to allow possible new ones.


Q. – Your artistic activity seems characterized by two very strong ele- ments, present ever since the 1950s: the production of “works” and the cre- ation of events. What relation is there between your work and your events?

A. – I used to produce works that were the expression of a violent throw of bottles. Both television and newspapers came to see me often, but not to publish the finalized work, rather to describe the scenario of their creation. Initially I was angry when I realised that the final work was almost never shown, but then I started to think differently (…). So I can say that the relationship between my work and my events has been taught me by journalists.

The question asked and the words of the reply, uttered by the artist in 2008, touch the heart of the question of the poetic experience of art as a poetic experi- ence of thought, of which Shimamoto acts as a medium, as a man “seeking the truth” (as he himself says in the same interview).
Shimamoto comes from a tradition, which not only, as we have said, recog- nises no divergence at the root of all forms of making, between praxis and poiesis – so that the efficacy of the technical product is one with the inherent goodness of the action – but in which even the difference between “thing” and event does not exist. Beyond, then, the irony of the final part of the reply, it was precisely the encounter with Western art that induced Shimamoto to reflect on the relationship between work and event, where, however, to speak of a “relationship”, to the West- ern mind, implies assuming an original and irreducible difference between the two terms. It should be noted that in the European tradition culminating in the mod- ern aesthetisation of art, the abstract reduction and identification of the ergon – that, in Greek, is a vox media that meant “work”, as much in the sense of an activ- ity taking place, as in that of the product of this activity – it goes hand in hand with the tendency to consider the work of art as what is only the occasion and the object of thinking, that is, and is practiced elsewhere, outside art and, primarily in the philosophy of art (in the genitive only objective), with the result that art is not allowed to be an independent and direct manifestation of thought in action (Thinking Art in this sense).

Many of the artistic currents of the twentieth century (particularly in the sec- ond half of the “age of extremes”) tried to escape this “philosophical destitution of art” (to use an expression of A. Danto[35]), trying to bring it back to its nature as performative action. For some of these artists, what remains of a performative event, preserved and exhibited in galleries and museums, is only the document, track, or literally the “monument” (from mneme, recollection) of the work, but is not the work itself. And, in these terms, the apparently most radical position from the theoretical point of view was that of the International Situationists, whose doc- uments, together with the writings of G. Debord, announce the wish to kill off the work of art as a reified alienation of free creative subjectivity, in the objectivity of a given product, which, in a capitalist society, is reduced to a pure commodity. Hence the necessity to replace art, as a producer of commoditised reifications, with “constructed situations”, i.e., with the design and the realisation of concrete, non-permanent possibilities of collective experience, in which the free flow of vital and creative energies is never again separated in the givenness of a product. The inherent limitation of these artistic responses to the philosophical ousting of art, however, resides – as emerges in the most explicit way precisely in the appar- ent radicalism of the Situationists – in the claim to emancipate themselves from the objectification, reification and commodification of art, applying and being bound to the deep logos, which is at the root of this “alienation” and which is an essential element in the original structure of the Western cultural tradition: oppo- sitional, excluding, and abstract diairetic logic founded on the either … or dichoto- my. The question, then, is not resolved at all in the alternative between either (aut) art as pure action, or (aut) as object, nor in the replacement of (aut) the reification of the work carried out by (aut) the reappropriation of non-reified and non-reify- ing production. Because the problem is not that of determining whether art is here or there: or in the event or the thing. If art should not be reduced entirely and exclu- sively to the givenness accomplished by a created work, this in no way implies, on the other hand, a necessary relapse into a sort of mysticism of action. Contin- uing to think and act on the basis of this oppositional logic of abstract negation (aut … aut) – which is the same logic that led to the Western gap between praxis and poiesis and the exclusive reduction of ergon to the product/result of téchne – entails continuing to consider art, in one way or another, as the mere object of a logical-defining thinking extrinsic to it, refusing a priori to follow to its conclu- sion the path of seeking to know the implications of the fact that the ergon is, as such, a living act of thought as understood in Thinking art, or an art that is no longer a mere thinkable/thought object in an act of thinking performed elsewhere. Since it is here that the true and profound alienation of Western art lies.

Shimamoto’s way of working – in the meeting of East and West, where his search for “truth in painting” unfolds – makes us reflect on this and nudges us in another direction. It really was the Western journalists who taught the Japanese artist “the relationship between the event and the work”!

In any artistic pursuit of truth – as the art of Shimamoto shows – it is neither a question of deciding between the event and the work, nor of abstractly abso- lutising a fully created work, nor yet of privileging the event, considering the thing/work as a simple trace, document, or testimony, since, on the one hand, the created work has the same opening (anattā) and impermanence (anicca) as the event and, on the other, the performative action takes place as a kind of cosmic writing/painting, whose background is the universe itself as a “world of empti- ness”. In Shimamoto’s ergon, it is not the difference, but the gap between the musi- cal compositions and the increasingly spectacular outdoor performances and paint- ings, sculptures, and postcards of the 70s/80s, that equates to the unfolding that takes place in the unrolling and rolling up of traditional Chinese and Japanese paintings, in which the “double birth” from the void and at the same time the “dou- ble death” in the void takes place. So that the aletheyein, or the artistic truth mak- ing of what the west calls poiesis – as a mimesis of emerging from obscurity to the coming into being of physis itself – is an emerging from the vacuum return- ing into the vacuum itself, beyond any opposition and any relationship. So, in the end, acrobatically dancing this poetic experience of thinking draws our attention to Panic writing, that both the poetry of art – with its violent breech of the conti- nuity of every conversation and communication – and the poetry of philosophy as the art of the Muses[36] bring about, and to the rhythmos of its breath, which vio- lently breaks and disrupts the predictable and orderly pulse and structuring of every possible kosmos made up of episodes of the “full”. So this poetic experience of thinking is musical without compare!

In this regard, Shimamoto’s musical experiments too seem to mature through the encounter (in the strong sense mentioned at the start) first with John Cage’s multimedia happenings. Cage had been interested in Zen Buddhism in the late ‘40s and 50s – and then the search for Fluxus and lastly the trance music of the “shaman” Charlemagne Palestine, whose Strumming for piano Shimamoto used in his per- formance “A weapon for peace” in Naples in 2006. On the basic level of inter- pretation, musical expression acts in Shimamoto’s theatrical and pictorial actions as an “absolute difference” alongside other absolute differences, as was also the case with the happenings that began in the mid-40s with the music of John Cage, Merce Cunningham’s dance and the action painting of the New York artists of that time. But, at another, deeper level, we could say that music – understood as empty and concrete music – expresses the quintessence of Shimamoto’s artistic acrobat- ic dance. What kind of music? Music as an autoschediastic event. The adjective aytoschediastikés (αὐτοσχεδιαστικῆϛ) is used by Aristotle in the Poetics (1449a, 10), where the philosopher notes that tragic theatrical action, but also comedy, dithyra- mbic poetry and ithyphallic ceremonies, may have originally been of this kind. The word is translated as “improvisation”, even though its root is that of a verb, which literally means “I produce something of my own without pre-arrangement”. So we can define as autoschediastic the poiein which is realised performatively in an action or a performance that is not merely the manifestation of something that has already been fully foreshadowed in another place and at another time, in an ideal-project-based prefiguration and which, therefore, does not happen as the more or less faithful re-presentation of a separate and anticipating form. This of course does not mean that this becoming visible does not have a form and rejects any compositional figure – such a thing would be impossible – but it implies that the latter are not definitively conceived before, and independently of, the perfor- mative action itself. Autoschediastically, the ergon, therefore, is nothing but the event that you make happen, which, however, while thus remaining a unicum, may very well be otherwise called into play and replicated any number of times on dif- ferent occasions, in different places and at different times, so that it will be this unique and always different possibility that will produce the permanent imper- manence of the work itself. In autoschediastic action, the event of its work, the event of its realisation in the real time of its occurence, is different each time in itself, by itself, and the duration of the work over time is inseparable from the irre- peatability of the pure event that is brought into play, only once, each time. In these autoschediastic events, in some way, shapes and figures are reborn each time and die in the particular work being carried out, within the concrete implementation of which they influence, in real time, the unpredictable developments of the per- formance. So, in its radical fullness, what we might call the party of art is cele- brated, or the fact that any given realisation, even in its finished perfection, on the one hand is not the mere re-praesentatio of shapes designed and composed before and elsewhere compared with the here and now of their presentation, and on the other, it simultaneously manifests that intrinsic self-negativity of the work which acts both in the unfolding of the specific implementation, as in its constitutive opening up to more futures, in the continuous reiteration of the adventure of the search. Pride of place among these autoschediastic events goes to that pulchritu- do vaga which Kant, in his Critique of Judgement, attributed to music, especial- ly when it is “music without text (Musik ohne Text)”[37] and is expressed by “fan- tasies without theme” (Phantasieen ohne Thema)[38] (where the ohne, the “with- out”, is not to be understood as mere deprivation-steresis, but anyway describes a work its perfectio).

In this, the artistic ergon as a musical monstration (in the deepest sense of the term), can express to the highest degree that “finality without purpose”, which for the Kantian West characterises free and useless art and for the Buddhist East has the power to shock, to awaken and astonish us inhabitants of time, exposing us, with no more barriers, to the impermanent permanence of the “world of emptiness”.

Romano Gasparotti

[1] Buddhist text cited by G. Pasqualotto, Estetica del vuoto. Arte e meditazione nelle culture d’Oriente, Marsilio, Venice 1992, p. 52. Pasqualotto writes: “The Buddhist theory of imper- manence does not simply mean that ‘everything passes’: once impermanence is understood in the light of the idea of emptiness, it is possible to grasp in depth the interconnection of tem- poral partitions, as well as the events that they distinguish and classify. Thus, no time partition remains separated from the others, and the various events do not remain prisoners of their assigned time partition: it could thus be said that, for Buddhism, every event is eternal, not because it lasts forever, but because it is made up of the wires of an infinite network of caus- es and effects that link them to past and future events” (p. 57).

[2] We examined this critically in R. Gasparotti, I miti della globalizzazione. “Guerra preventiva” e logica delle immunità, Dedalo, Bari 2003.

[3] The term is taken from Michel Foucault, cf. Dits et Écrits 1954-1998, Paris, Gallimard 1994

[4] Cf. N. Heinich, Le Triple Jeu de l’art contemporain. Sociologie des arts plastiques, Paris, Édi- tions de Minuit,1998

[5] M. Zanardi, “Arte al presente”, in Kainos, 10, 2010. Thus, for Zanardi, communications and politics machinery – according to his perceptive essay – do everything possible “‘to not repress’ the event, but to anticipate it, to promote it, control it or neutralise it through its planned pro- duction or placement in contexts that tame its appearance”. These relentless machines “fear the thought that is at work in art” and thus focus on the promotion of the name, which “works as a fetish that distracts from the encounter with the ‘thing’ of art.” (Ibid)

[6] A. Bonito Oliva, Shōzō Shimamoto. Samurai, acrobata dello sguardo 1950-2008, Skira, Milan 2008. Catalogue of the exhibition dedicated to the Japanese artist held in Genoa at the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea di Villa Croce from 13th November 2008 to 8th March 2009.

[7] L. Mango – A. Mardegan, “Intervista a Shōzō Shimamoto”, in Shōzō Shimamoto. Samurai, acrobata dello sguardo 1950-2008, A. Bonito Oliva (ed), Op. cit., p. 137

[8] There is an ancient fragment of the aforementioned Heraclitus – 59DK – that an authoritative English-speaking interpreter, G. S. Kirk, translates as: “The track of writing is straight and crooked”, while Giorgio Colli, in the third volume of La sapienza greca, translates it as: “La via dei pittori è dritta e sinuosa” (“The way of painters is straight and winding”, tr.) The Greek word for “painters” according to one version or “writers” according to the other, is graphéon, which refers to the Greek verb grapho, whose etymological Indo-Germanic root can be traced back to *gherph, a root with echoes of meanings connected to hacking, pressing down, scratch- ing, all of which originally had to do as much with decorative painting as writing.

[9] The void, for both Taoism and Zen Buddhism, is, in fact, form (rūpa) “Here, o Sariputra, form is emptiness and the very emptiness is form” reads the Heart Sutra. If we really wanted to find a distant Western equivalent to such a notion of “form”, we should not associate it with Eidos, but with morphé, that in Greek philosophy indicates form not as a logical principle of the lasting identity of a specific thing, but as what constitutes its sensible appearance.

[10] It is worth recalling that, for the theoretical lexis of the West, as is clear from Aristotle’s ethi- cal writing, forms of doing are primarily attributable to archmodels of praxis and poiesis, which differ in their purpose and aim. While poiesis has as its object the production of a thing, dif- ferent and external in relation to the technical acts whereby it is realised, in praxis, however, there is no external purpose nor an “other” object, considering that “the end is the very goodness of the action” (Nicomachean Ethics, VI, 6, 1140b, 6). And Aristotle cites as examples of “practical” men Pericles, whose political acts were always underpinned by the good of the polis of Athens, men and himself, and the sailor, whose “work” is to worry and strive to conduct the ship entrusted to him safely over the seas.

[11] See on this M. Cacciari, Icone della legge, Adelphi, Milan 1985. Cacciari writes: “The ars combinatoria of Mondrian could not find more telling expression: calm-in-motion, one-twoness. The Immutable, echoing through all Mondrian’s texts (literary and pictorial) is not fixed, there- fore, in one or another of the dimensions that make up the equilibrium of calm-in-motion. The Immutable is not a fixed pivot, an unalterable axis that ends up making those dimensions stat- ically symmetrical to each other, but the relationship, the rhythmic logos that can connect them through multiple orders, conserving them, together, in their difference. If everything that exists of itself, being a closed immediate existence, should be abolished, the rhythm that the multi- plicity creates must exist” (ibid, p. 246)

[12] W. De Kooning, at the conference “What abstract art means to me” (given in 1951 during a convention at the Museum of Modern Art in New York), said that, after the “turning point” at the hands of the historical avant-gardes, some, swept along by the emphasis on ‘pure form’ behaved in such a way that “that part of ‘nothing’ in a picture, that part that was not painted, but that existed precisely because of the painted parts (…) was generalised, in the accountant like mentality of these new theoreticians, in the form of circles and squares”. This was because these prophets of deliberate abstraction “believed, in all innocence, that that ineffable ‘some- thing’, the only really important part of the picture existed ‘despite’ and not ‘because’ of the painted objects. They had finally taken possession of it, once and for all, in their opinion. In an attempt to render measurable that ‘something’, which by its nature was not, they lost it: and so all that old terminology, which they wanted to get rid of, reappeared in art: ‘pure’, ‘supreme’, ‘balance’, ‘sensitivity’ and so on” (W. De Kooning, Appunti sull’arte, in Italian translation, Abscondita, Milan 2003, pp. 26-27). Furthermore, in the very same years that he was ‘dis- covering’ the Gutai group, Michel Tapié, wrote of neoplasticism that it was “A movement already miscarried in 1910 and buried around 1930, in the space of two seasons (Abstraction- Création) and resurrected by means of a third party straight after the war […] the Adventure is fortunately elsewhere […]” (M. Tapié, Mirobolus, Macadam et Hautes Pâtes de Jean Dubuffet, Drouin, Paris 1946, Italian translation in E. Crispolti, L’Informale. Storia e poetica in Europa 1940-1951, vol. IV, Carucci, Assisi-Rome 1971).

[13] This term comes from R. Barilli, Dubuffet materiologo, Alfa, Bologna 1962

[14] Cf. H. Prinzhorn, L’arte dei folli. L’attività plastica dei malati mentali, in Italian translation. Mimesis, Milan 2004

[15] The French version of the text was added in J. Dubuffet, Prospectus et tous écrits suivants, par Damisch, Gallimard, Paris 1967, vol. I, pp. 94-100.

[16] M. Tapié, Op. cit.

[17] J. Dubuffet, Prospectus aux amateurs de tout genre, Paris 1946, now in J. Dubuffet, Prospec- tus et tous écrits suivants, Op. cit.

[18] Ibidem

[19] Ibidem

[20] Cf. J. Dubuffet, Asfissiante cultura, in Italian translation, Abscondita, Milan 2006

[21] This is not only true of poietés, but also for the user, if it is true that, as Derrida wondered, “When we admire works of art, do we not continuously pass beyond in the direction of an art at work, an art at work that transcends the work?” (J. Derrida, “Il giusto senso dell’anacronia”, in J. Der- rida – C. Sini, Pensare l’arte. Verità, figura, visione, Studio Azzurro (eds), Federico Motta, Milan 1998, p. 19). On this, M. Donà – keeping the act of production and that of enjoyment together – writes: “Every true artist is fully aware that perfection, albeit manifest from time to time will never be able to delude us into believing we have solved something: so it will only manage to make itself fully trustworthy, not so much in exhibiting some final fulfilment, but rather (and only in this!) in relying on the unfolding of a never exhaustible creative and infinitely self-regenerat- ing power (…). Thus, as we stand before it, we feel called every time to […] proceed in the unfold- ing of its nevertheless evident perfectio. Saying yet more (…)” (M. Donà, “Nel ‘tempo’ di Dio”, in M. Donà – S. Levi Della Torre, Santificare la festa, il Mulino, Bologna 2010, pp. 129-130).

[22] The reference to “porous”, in Western thought, takes us to Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, where, speaking of the “physical life on earth”, Hegel states that in the “elementary processes” of nature, “every physical existence is reduced to the [… ] chaos of materials, entering and leav- ing the imaginary pores of every other” ( G. W. F. Hegel, Enciclopedia delle scienze filoso- fiche in compendio, volume I, Italian edition, B. Croce (ed.), Laterza, Rome-Bari 1975, p. 219). The great German philosopher refers again to the “porous” at the end of the Encyclopedia, when he speaks of fulfilment as a return to the beginning of the absolute Spirit in Philosophy.

[23] L. Mango, “Tra opera ed evento”, in Shōzō Shimamoto. Samurai, acrobata dello sguardo 1950-2008, A. Bonito Oliva, Skira, Milan 2008, pp.31-51

[24] Cf. R. Gasparotti, Arte e violenza nel contemporaneo. Forza, sangue versato, “doppi mostru- osi”, in AA.VV. Sulla violenza, Cronopio, Naples 2009, pp. 155-180.

[25] P. Celan, La verità della poesia. “Il meridian” e altre prose, Italian translation. Einaudi, Turin 1993

[26] C. Tomkins, The Bride and the Bachelors: Five Masters of the Avant-Garde, Penguin, New York 1976, p. 144

[27] F. Nietzsche, Umano, troppo umano, I, in “Opere di Friedrich Nietzsche, vol. IV, G. Colli and Montinari (eds), Adelphi, Milan 1971, p. 161

[28] W. Kandinskij, Lo spirituale nell’arte, in Italian translation, De Donato, Bari 1968, cit. p. 48

[29] Ibidem

[30] Cf. W. Benjamin, Per la critica della violenza (1921), in “Angelus Novus. Saggi e frammen- ti”, in Italian translation, R. Solmi (ed), Einaudi, Turin 1962, pp. 5- 28.

[31] While the first, divinely, in its always unpredictable irruption, destroys and subverts all order – in this sense for ever destroyer and refounder – but always for the sake of the perpetuation of life and therefore the salvation of the living, on the other hand mythical, impure and solely human violence is that bloody violence that is waged against das blosse Leben, against pure life, because from this perspective, life is only a means to achieve certain purposes and can thus be, without limit, violated, destroyed, suppressed.
For Benjamin, it is not a question of opposing two different forms of violence. Violence is always one. Except that, by impure violence, Benjamin means man’s appropriation of instrumental and utilitarian violence to exercise it cruelly against life in order to reach goals and objectives that are human, all too human. While divine violence is pure violence, which is never in the hands nor the power of man – indeed it is absolutely unpredictable, nor can it be conceptualised and recognisable by men except in retrospect through its effects, which are in every case singular and entirely incomparable with one another. This is the violence that breaks every rule, every estab- lished order and that dissolves every sense of stagnation, so new meanings are given in the per- petuation of life. The question is extensively discussed in R. Gasparotti, Figurazioni del possi- bile. Sul contemporaneo tra arte e filosofia, Cronopio, Naples 2007, especially pp.143-172.

[32] In his Poetics, Aristotle associates artistic mimesis with the activity of hypokrinesthai of the priest of the oracle and interpreter of dreams, as well as the tragic actor, which makes it impos- sible to conceive of mimesis as copying or reproducing a certain model or original given. The response of the oracle is in no way the reproduction of the epiphany of the God – who remains absolutely other and does not speak the language of men. In the same way that the interpretation of a dream is not the duplication or reproduction of a dream’s content, which upon awak- ening is inevitably lost. Rather, the masking of the hypokrités is what brings to the here and now the irreducible absence and the tremendous distance of what the mask alludes to. Thus, in ancient times, the mask had to do with the divine and the sacred, in its prerogative to evoke here and now the absence of that totally Other which belongs and continues to belong to a totally alien world, without being able to grasp it, without representing it, without reproducing it, but pre- serving, however, the unbridgeable distance created by its tremendous and irreducible absence.

[33] Lorenzo Mango writes in his seminal essay on Shimamoto, “If we have been told that, in Shi- mamoto’s recent works painting comes into play as part of a more overarching theatre, we can now also say the opposite: that this theatre exists and has reason to exist only as a function of the pictorial result (…) the big performance events can be read, in their own way, as writings, with the world serving as a blank page (…). The immediate, concentrated and dry act of the calligrapher becomes in Shimamoto an act of the body. Performed through painting, to regen- erate through colour the things with which it comes into contact.” (Op. cit. pp.49)

[34] See Zeami Motokiyo, Il segreto del teatro nō, R. Sieffert (ed), Italian translation Adelphi, Milan 1966. The “beautiful flower” – the climax of the art of the actor – lies, for Motokiyo, in the “unusu-

[35] Cf. A. C. Danto, La destituzione filosofica dell’arte (1986), in Italian translation, Aesthetica, Palermo 2008

[36] Cf. R. Gasparotti, L’inganno di Proteo. La filosofia come arte delle Muse, Moretti & Vitali, Bergamo 2010.

[37] I. Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft (1790), Italian edition, Critica del giudizio, translation by A. Gargiulo (rev. by V. Verra), Laterza, Rome-Bari 1997, p.127

[38] Ivi