The World is Not Bilbao: The Cynicism of Mattin’s Social Dissonance

Tonight in Athens, between 7-8pm in the Odeon (Athens Conservatoire) you can experience the 51st rendition of Bilbaino artist Mattin’s ‘durational concert’ Social Dissonance, created with Dafni Krazoudi, Danai Liodaki, Ioannis Sarris, and Eleni Zervou. Here is the score for each nightly performance (excluding Mondays):

Social Dissonance Score:

Listen carefully.

The audience is your instrument, play it in order to practically understand how we are generally instrumentalized.

Prepare the audience with concepts, questions, and movements as a way to explore the dissonance that exist between the individual narcissism that capitalism promotes and our social capacity, between how we conceive ourselves as free individuals with agency and the way that we are socially determined by capitalist relations, technology, and ideology.

Reflect on the I/We relation while defining social dissonance.

Help the collective subject to emerge

Wanting to learn more about Social Dissonance I read an interview with Mattin from a Swedish website and with the help of GoogleTranslate, this is what he says about the work:

It’s a score inspired by John Cages 4’33, but that’s not just about sound but also about social relationships – while it’s a concert. Social Dissonance is based on both Cage’s works and the concept of “cognitive dissonance”, which refers to the gap between a person’s perception of reality and how reality actually looks. We believe we are free to act, but in reality our existence is conditioned by capitalist relationships, technology and ideology. We can not change so much, although the idea of ​​democracy is based on the belief that a change is possible. I think we are at an historical point where this gap between our beliefs and the actual conditions is acute. And that’s the dissonance I want to stage.

I had recently been reading a book on the 1980 album Colossal Youth by the Welsh band Young Marble Giants and in the chapter called “The World is Not You” the authors Michael Blair and Joe Bucciero compare the sound of the album to Cage’s famous ‘silent’ piece:

Nor did they ever write anything as quiet as 4’33”. But the band did offer their audiences music that left room to listen—songs that don’t say too much, but can nevertheless provoke a big reaction. Their quiet and minimal music leaves space open to experience noises, attitudes, feelings, and sensations previously excluded or ignored by traditional punk and post-punk.

[It is a long story, but reading about Young Marble Giants now reminds me of an exhibition I proposed for a gallery open-call in Madrid during my sabbatical in 2015. During conversations with the curator and writer Bob Nickas about a contemporary art exhibition curated by a Classicist, he suggested the title Young Marble Giants and I started inviting artists to explore the idea of reference – not only to antiquity but in general.

The exhibition never happened, but I still have plans to use this title in the future.]

Back to Athens and Mattin, the phrase ‘The World is Not You” comes from the title song of Colossal Youth and its lyrics chime well with the critique of ‘individual narcissism’ mentioned in the score. Here are the lyrics in full, illustrated with the YouTube videos of all the performances of Social Dissonance so far (from first to most recent):

If you think the world is
A machine with one cog
And that cog is you
Or the things that you do
Then you are not in this world
The world is not you

If you think the world
Is a balloon in your head
When it goes bang only
You will be dead
‘Cos you are not in this world
The world is not you

If you think the world lies
At the top of your legs
And you only live when you are in bed

Then you are not in this world
The world is your head

If you think the world is
A clutter of existence
Falling through the air
With minimal resistance

You could be right, how would I know?
Colossal youth is showing the way to go

In addition, as I am writing from Mattin’s home-town, I wanted to connect these ideas back to an earlier piece of writing he did about the changes he experienced in Bilbao. Mattin ends his essay about contemporary art in Bilbao and the Basque country in general (‘Becoming Bilbao’) with the following reflection on how the artist must escape his or her ‘Basqueness’:

What I am arguing here is that the ‘Basqueness’ is inscribed without the possibility to escape totally from it – partly because its Basqueness is profitable, and partly because it is impossible to become completely detached from the Basque identity.

So, how can this detachment can be judged from a political perceptive? One of the most important things in becoming minor is to be always political. In the Basque Country there is a strong movement of resistance in politics, actions, demos, talks…… They are taking place all the time, usually just on the left.

This is something that you can easily get saturated in. This might well be the reason why Basque artists don’t throw themselves completely into “becoming political”, they are afraid of being read as part of that side that is always present in the Basque everyday life, of becoming vulgar.

We get caught between a rock and a hard place, which is not necessarily a difficult situation; but it is important to escape from the institutional landscape, otherwise you are being absorbed into the Basque government’s exportation of contemporary Basque Culture.

Both this escape from the Basque culture of Bilbao and the project of Social Dissonance in Athens reminded me of the famous statement of the Cynic philosopher, Diogenes of Sinope who when asked where he came from, announced:

I am a citizen of the world (kosmopolites)

Tomorrow will the be the last day when Social Dissonance takes place in Athens alone. From Thursday – June 8th – when the Kassel leg of documenta 14 opens – Social Dissonance will be held in both cities. As this happens and I visit Athens amid this expansion, one question I have is whether the Kassel extension of the exhibition has any impact on the Athens side? If all attention moves to Germany, what happens to the aim to ‘learn from Athens’? More specifically, how does this expansion resonate with Mattin’s escape from Bilbao as well as Diogenes’ claim to be a citizen of the world amid?

You can watch the stream of tonight’s performance and rest of the series here.

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