This weekend I attended a performance by a variety of different young artists, singers, poets, comedians and such, a fundraiser for a new film.  It was the last in a long series of such performances that I have attended over the last six months.  The artists were all in their twenties and early thirties.  I was struck by the experience of listening to these young artists, most of whom are at the budding stages of their careers, and how very different young artists are now from when I was in my twenties and thirties.  It is not only the choice of material that has changed, but their very essence, and most troublingly, the kind of experience that they offer through their work.  Naturally, since it is the “lens” through which I am looking just now, I could not help but think about how technology is contributing to the experience that I was having as I sat there watching this performance.
What I experienced is that these performers were not trying to say something with their words, to express something important with their art, but rather, desperately needing me to watch them, to notice that they were creating art, see their uniqueness, and in so doing, to make them and the whole thing we were doing at that night’s performance into something real.  As opposed to artists of an earlier day, who were seamlessly IN what they were doing, expressing it, and being it, like an image in sync with its frame, these young artists all shared a desperate element of self-consciousness, of being OUT of their experience while watching it and commenting on it.  But it was more than that…  these artists seemed to share a desperate need for us, the audience, not only to see them, but to join them in being outside of ourselves, watching ourselves, and simultaneously, watching the experience that we were creating together.   All of it felt like a bizarre and unreal narcissistic adventure: them watching us watching them, and everybody celebrating the creation of some kind of new unreal real.  I felt manipulated as they used me to make them feel like they existed, and worse, demanded that I join them in this hyper self conscious state, as if I needed that from them as well, needed their mirror of my mirror in order to feel real.  It all felt a bit gross, and I have been pondering ever since, as I am inclined to do, what exactly is going on in this young generation of artists and how technology plays a part in all of it (which I am sure it does).  What I knew at the time was that I did not want to be there.  I had been unwittingly lured into something unseemly, and frightening, as if we the audience was seduced into collusion with the performers,  I an accomplice in their phantom-hood, forced to participate in my own evaporation, recreating myself inside their life-by- proxy.  By our watching each other, we were somehow trying to create something real.  But the real real had slipped inside a matrix of the watching, the simulated real.  What was real now was the experience of trying to create something real.  I tried to reassure myself that it could all be explained by the fact that these were well-educated, sophisticated young people, (Columbia film school types), and so there was bound to be a certain self-conscious over-therapized nature to the whole thing, but something continued and still continues to haunt me about all of it.  It was not just the ever-familiar, privileged, navel-gazing quality of the event that was disturbing, there was and is something else, something far more insidious, scary, and dare I say prophetic.  More to come…

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