We break things in order to assert ourselves, to mark what we refuse – and therefore, perhaps, what we want.
Iconoclasm was, in the Byzantine Empire, the name of two major quarrels, which took place in the 8th and 9th century A. D. It opposed the iconoclasts, literally the “image-breakers”, who refused to adore the icons of the saints and of the Virgin Mary, and the “image-slaves”, who adored the intermediaries through their representations.
Times have changed since and, with significant exceptions, Western and global culture has lived in a consistently expanding universe of “image-slavery”, and “image-breaking” has become more necessary than ever.
And yet, at the same time, “iconoclasm”, and its derived words, “iconoclast” and “iconoclastic”, have turned into catch-phrases, used in every medium, from art to experimental performance.
Before recent transformations in common language – the art stem at the end of a long, dense genealogy of evolving mentalities – it served as a motto for poets, thinkers, artists and performers, throughout Western modernity; they were to break the mould, in order to open a new space for new times to come. This fostered a lineage of artists who positioned themselves outside of the mainstream, and were progressively adopted into the canon.
But as this iconoclasm has turned into a commonplace of its own, a new iconoclasm is to be found, more than anywhere else, in the visual field – in art, the space of representations, from which it originates. Art itself has become mainstream, and so has the very notion of iconoclasm; one can aptly wonder:
how can one be an iconoclast after three centuries of images broken, one after the other, after the other?
Modernity has made the process of iconoclasm into a common practice – perhaps a rule, even. These dynamics of iconoclasm have now considerably lost momentum – the great Western narrative of modernity has lost a large part of its relevance, in a world that is more pluralistic than ever. Iconoclasm implied that there was one image, or one set of images, to break. It then needs to be defined after the breaking of images itself has broken. As Joe Dassin said: “And we will still love each other/When love is dead.”
I like that art is not perfect – that I can become a geek of imperfection as a way of seeing life.”
Illustrations made by Yustina Yakymyak