THE BURSTING SHELLS, the volleys, wire entanglements, projectors, motors, the chaos of battle DO NOT ALTER IN THE LEAST the outline of the hill we are besieging. A company of PARTRIDGES scuttle along before our very trench. (Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, from the Vortex Gaudier Brzeska, 1915)
The main motif in this exhibition is the explosion, bursting and immanent. The original source of the explosion in this work is the computer game; whether grenades or heart-shaped bonuses, things in computer games have a tendency to fragment into a thousand arcs of flying shrapnel. For the player, as he navigates a volatile landscape, they are the markers of an inevitable journey to a righteous victory.
The explosion embodies the irreconcilable, but often adjacent, principles of violence and virtue. They are outbursts of the spirit, which consumes with its fire the old, to forge the new. A man may be a criminal in order to fashion a new order; a man may bathe in the blood of the slain dragon, because the dragon was evil; and so heroes are born, and praised over homely hearths.
These thoroughly modern explosions are set in objects which do not deny their newness, and yet they invoke a time and a place in the European soul, before the Great War, when simplicity, emotion, nature, and art were the possibilities of genuine hope. It was the story of early modernism, of a frolicksome age when overly-civilised aesthetes shed starched collars to bathe in the waters on the outskirts of Dresden, or in Tahiti. For them, their explosions were metaphors; as Franz Marc, the gentle animal lover, wrote:
In this time of the great struggle for a new art we fight like disorganised savages against an old, established power. The battle seems to be unequal, but spiritual matters are never decided by numbers. The dreaded weapons of the savages are their new ideas. New ideas kill better than steel and destroy what was thought to be indestructible (The Blue Rider Almanach, 1912).
No such sentiment blending delicacy with destruction was possible after the horrors of actual war. Both Rilke and Gaudier-Brzeska, to name but two, welcomed the war as an agent of catharsis, in which humanity shall be cleansed and redeemed through suffering. Rilke soon realised his error; Gaudier-Brzeska was killed before he could do so.
But the metaphor of great, unstoppable force, cathartic in nature and transformative in its power, and self-justified by its virtuous ends, tenaciously persists in the realm of video games. The Starry Night of contemporary man is the twinkling of booming fireworks, seen from the office window.