The Greatest Show on Earth
“The history of our times calls to mind those Walt Disney characters who rush madly over the edge of a cliff without seeing it, so that the power of their imagination keeps them suspended in mid-air; but as soon as they look down and see where they are, they fall.
Contemporary thought, like Bosustov’s heroes, can no longer rest on its own delusions. What used to hold it up, today brings it down. It rushes full tilt in front of the reality that will crush it: the reality that is lived every day.”
The Revolution of Everyday Life: The Perspective of Power (1967)
When Raoul Vaneigem wrote Traité de savoir-vivre à l’usage des jeunes générations in the mid-sixties the western world hovered above the void. The potential for genuine change seemed within the grasp of new young radicals eager to prise off the final, thin veneer of civilisation that had maintained since the dropping of Little Boy over Hiroshima. War raged on in Vietnam as Vaneigem wrote his guidebook for the coming insurrection and change seemed necessary, desirous and dangerously imminent. The original title translates from the French as Treatise on Living for the Younger Generations and as we struggle to leave the twentieth century and shake the dead hand of Corporatism from a world we merely ‘survive in’ are we not once again in need of a text that signposts our way as brilliantly, incandescently as Vaneigem’s did for the heady days of ‘68?
We are in dark days indeed; the narrow path the Situatonist’s and others highlighted has now been almost eroded and the drop beyond sheer terror. We need torches to light our way and beacons that will draw us on. Kieran Leonard’s The Greatest Show on Earth screenshots this moment in time ‘when the sirens are calling, and the curtain is falling down’ and our modern era resembles Rome at its Fall. Leonard’s song offers an autopsy of this world, exposing it as a threadbare Spectacle of Panem et Circenses; one where the circus tent is rotting, the bread running out and the crowd continues to cheer for more. And we are in this show too – intruding into the shot via a selfie-stick, our toothsome smiles increasingly a rictus grin on the body politic.
We have everything and nothing (when all we need is love).
Our critical discernment has been slowly eroding away from the lassitude brought on in this uncanny valley. Swirling like the wheel of death, the story rolls around repetitively, a constant shit-merry-go-round of lives ‘linked-in’ on endless digital platforms: a dot-Matrix of no consequence and cloudy integrity. We are clicking away our days, measuring them out through ‘likes’ not loves, all asinine collaborators in our own ‘opt-in’ demise. How have we become so networked with everyone, yet cut off from everything (even when we are there)? Each link helps cast the chains we rattle in, shackled as Jacob Marley to this ‘shared’, purgatorial hell.
We’ve become blind to all that which is beautiful in the world – unless viewed through our dumb phone.
So ‘Roll up, Roll up’ to The Greatest show on Earth; you live it, share it, embrace it, peddle it, crash it and are complicit in it. You are in it, you are it…yet your choices – although greater than ever on this super-flat surface – have diminished to a zero-point. You are alone in Lovecraft’s ever shifting, non-euclidean geometry, isolated as the pixels in our own walled-garden, the void reflecting infinitely and mercilessly in your eyes. It’s all as empty as your credit card account or the vanity of celebrities and we know but we don’t know what to do about it. Eve’s apple bestowed knowledge but obviously not wisdom.
‘Scroll up, Scroll up’: The Greatest Show On Earth is…you.
Yet there is one last act to witness before the curtain’s final fall, for Leonard’s view of The Greatest Show On Earth is also encouraging, enlightening, presenting a last chance saloon alternative. Through his death defying vision and by seeing ourselves as we truly are (have become), the artist suggests that the black mirror we hold to our narcissistic faces each day can be smashed. We can escape from this silicon happy valley into a brighter day, a more valued world if only we’re willing to look each other in the eyes.
Joseph Beuys – perhaps the great German artist of the latter half of the twentieth century – suggested as much with his idea of ‘social sculpture’. Talking on the subject ‘what is art?’ in 1979 Beuys said ‘today the energies of freedom are emerging in us, and that this is exactly the point where one can speak of art – that this is, so to speak, a kind of science of freedom’. We must recognize that we are – as Beuys also said – all artists now. It is within ourselves and together that we must strike a new balance of optimism, re-unite science and art into a new aesthetic for living: The Greatest Show on Earth asks you to take purchase of love and all that has meaningfulness and substance in life: those things unbreakable as a paradox, which hit you hard as a brick – BOOM – and can shake you from the stupor of our times, of your self. It’s time to become the tamers – not the tamed. Kieran Leonard asks us to open our eyes and bear witness. Drum roll please…
3 x day event – 14-15-16 October 2015
at Newspeak House, 135 Bethnal Green Road, London E2 7DG
Gallery installation open 12 noon – 9pm daily.
Performances of ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ by Kieran Leonard plus guest speakers will take place at 7pm daily.
Exhibition in word/conversation/film/guest speakers/Q&A/interactive installation
Newspeak House, 135 Bethnal Green Road, London E27DG
3 x day multi discipline event: 14-15-16 OCTOBER 2015