There is an interesting – and as some would have it, a salubrious – development within the contemporary artistic community! Despite the radical rupture that the early 20th century avant-garde forced upon convention and creative practice, there has been, for the past thirty years a slow, gradual return to the customary norms of the academy. The cafés and brothels of Montparnasse have been replaced by sleek, black conference tables, sensible legal pads, reliable ballpoint pens and foamy, decaffeinated almond milk lattes. The intoxicated melées of the Cedar Bar have been exchanged for the contentious faculty meeting . Caberet Voltaire and CBGB are no longer needed because we can now stage our transgressions on Instagram.
And as we, as artists, become mainstreamed the public at large is developing an odd appetite for the secrets of creativity. TED Talks swell with beaming positive thinkers offering pleasant, inoffensive bromides with clever anecdotes as they flip through slides illustrating how – yes – you too can become … disruptive!
Innovation and change is all the rage and while the public intellectual is a relic of the past the new ‘monarchs of the mind’ are now called ‘thought leaders.’
They tell us to avoid negativity! To let go of the past! To empower ourselves with daily affirmations and to enroll in their next webinar that is guaranteed to prod us to think ‘outside the box!’
I never really understood what box they were talking about but if the idea is to help people think unconventionally then the intended results seem dubious, at best, when the promise is packaged with a cliché.
Like lanes merging onto a superhighway, the domestication of artists and the general public’s fixation on creativity has chiseled a new, novel niche for ironic performative provocation.
Dada lives on in the category defying career of Prem Morran.
Born in Liepzig in Communist East Germany, Achim Mohr first changed his name to Rainer Moll then to Richard Männer, later to Ewald Erhard and finally settled on Prem Morran after seeing a smuggled BETA video of Arnold Fanck’s 1929 silent masterpiece Die weisse Hölle vom Piz Palü.
After a short stint as a police officer where Moran had regular access to secret transcripts of the private conversations of ordinary people he experienced a sudden realization that life was, in his now famous words, “a series of unavailing efforts.” The shock of this revelation led him to a prolonged period of self imposed seclusion and intensive research and study.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall, Moran was free to publish his first book, Sei Glücklich du Narr, (the UK version is called “Be Happy You Fool” while in the US it’s simply called called “Lighten’ Up”) and like the famous talking dog, those in the West were less interested in what Morran had to say but were amazed that under the dark pall of totalitarianism, he managed to say anything at all!
When he appeared as a guest on Ofra Freidman’s popular daytime TV program Damen, Das ist für Dich, his book was catapulted onto the European bestseller list where it remained for an unprecedented 377 weeks. There was a time when you couldn’t be at a European airport without seeing Moran’s slim manifesto prominently displayed on every newsstand and refreshment bar.
With his newfound independence, Morran converted to Judaism and moved to Tel Aviv, a place where a German expatriate can count on experiencing the disorderly thrill of being simultaneously hated and forgiven. It was a place where he could test his theories on positive thinking and personal growth while being submerged in a culture that practically invented mean, anxious and skeptical, critical thinking.
He realized that if he could gain acceptance among the Israelis then he could probably win anybody over, no matter how cockamayme his ideas turned out to be.
Now, twenty some-odd years later and Moran now calls himself a lapsed, agnostic Zen Buddhist. With a keen ear for the prevailing cultural trends he has created a lecture series slash performance piece that combines the best in self-fulfillment pop psychology, pseudo-academic allegorical impulse practice, brain-dumping hi-tech jargon all with an upbeat Bollywood soundtrack and calls it Portals of Annihilation X: Innovation as the Agent of the Silent Revolution.
He’s truly genius.
He takes this shtick to corporate retreats and seminars, to art galleries and museums, to cable television and YouTube and to any international conference where the word ‘Global’ is used. He’s a futuristic Zelig, a kind of calculated Chauncey Gardiner, a cunning vehicle for the projection of whatever idea seems most urgent at the time.
Prem Moran plays with our head. He tells us what we want and expect to hear but somehow makes us feel as if we are all on the vanguard of something new, something urgent and above all, something important.