Barbarianism: a catharsis to the new?
by Remco de Vries
‹Barbarians are those people who question the world as it is by giving it a spin.›
By thinking about the word ‹barbarian› besides the archaic Greek person which it points to I will define it as an ‹indefinite beginning of something new›: a society which has a hunger for a new and unbounded world with all of freedom. Assuming that barbarians where searching for this new world, breaking in civil societies and their lack of guidance it looks like an outcome or an utter lack of rules within a society. You could call this barbarianism1. I choose the artist Geo Wyeth (New York, 1982) to discuss why his work is related to barbarianism. The reason why I took Wyeth as an example for the barbarian theme is that he addresses subjects that discuss the relevancy of the new and unbounded and -bordered world that surrounds us. To probe the discussion I will shortly describe the performance If you wanna make the world a better place (2015) which Wyeth opens by running around. Guided by grimly music in the background there is an audience who is seated around an empty middle spot and it is laughing because the performance creates a situation where you do not know what happens next. Wyeth stops at a certain moment near the middle spot and fetches a rope. He connects an object to the rope which looks round and he is going to swing the rope until it almost hits the audience. Wyeth continues to ‹lasso› the rope till the object lets loose. In the end the chance and faith of getting hit by the object and the fact that the audience is not making effort to move is an interesting result. By seeing Wyeth’s performance If you wanna make the world a better place in a broader context you could say that he pleads for a discussion with his audience and acts towards ‹physical limitations› by letting the audience, at least some participants in the front row, dodge an object. Besides the physical part Wyeth also calls up a mental state wherein he dares the participants in the audience to search: the freedom of how far a person can go in his/her behaviour by following a group. The discrepancy between stay and move is exactly what evokes barbarianism because Wyeth tries to let the audience search for its boundaries to something new, like a barbarian tries instinctively to seek and learn new things without asking for permission. Wyeth triggers the audience by making a choice: the dualistic view between the comfortable ‹now› and the daring ‹new›, between moving or staying at the same place is posed and questioned by Wyeth. Let the audience be or not be the catharsis to a new and better world.
Remco de Vries (born 1981) is a Dutch Art Historian who is specialized in contemporary art and currently lives and works in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.