Honore Daumier, Sce`ne de familie, from the series "Croquis d`E`te`", n.37, 19.7.1958, lithograph, 25.3 x 36.1 cm
Collection of the Haifa Museum of Art
Is the World a Grotesque Art Show?
July 18, 2009 - January 9, 2010
Stars the size of a marble swell up in size, bursting loudly and shedding light years around them, crumble to the size of an asshole, and implode. Big and luminous as they may be - they have now gone from anus to minus. Ridiculous black holes, destined to re-swallow those offensive periods: roaring star, twinkling star, falling star.
There can be no doubt that the Good Lord loves the grotesque. He blows the moon up into a shining piece of cheese and munches on it nightly, until leaving behind a last skinny droll bite. Nothing is more grotesque than the moon: its life and death, its disappearance each time the sun comes near, and its audacious monthly return. What a nudnik.
Was the creation of man grotesque?
Yes, undoubtedly yes, the creation of man is the acme of the grotesque. We are the Marx Brothers of the grotesque. Man is a creature that spends its days comically trying to defy gravity. It stands on two legs, fills its chest up like a rubber ducky, fuelling itself with water just so it can let off steam for a few minutes or piss off a high promontory. But just as he strikes a proud, upright pose, man's body betrays him: here a belly bloats, there a chin drops, over yonder a wart grows and a nipple crashes. Skin tires, back bends, everything arranging itself toward the traditional dive to the grave. The world raises us from ashes just to degrade us to the ground.
And this is the cosmic order: we rise only in order to bow, fight only in order to surrender; we are on a celestial quest destined to end in the belly of the earth - slapstick comedians in a show that always ends with the same punch line. And you don't need to walk into a cave to discover the shriveled-up dance that awaits us. It's enough to look in the mirror, or walk down the street, to understand that this creature putting up a fight for a few dozen years, passing bills for ease, bills for sofas, bills for death - this creature is just so goddamn funny. We are all standuppers (as in homo erectus), all twitching the made-up dance of our lives - statesmen, artists, moralists, beautiful people, big people - all will bow eventually, all arrive at the final bow, to be clapped by only the poplar trees.
And those trying to fight it are the funniest: practitioners, lifters, deceivers, those who've had work done, all to carry the torch and stand another two or three minutes on their two legs - and then to rest in bed in front of the screen for hours. That is the real grotesque. Mounds of bones clinging to flesh, bobbing toward the grotto, the burial cave, to be gathered to their people. When the Bible mentions that someone was "gathered to his people," it doesn't mean that on some spiritual level - it means his bones were literally picked from his own sarcophagus in the lobby of the burial cave and thrown into the pile in the inner chamber. His bones were literally combined with his people's bones. A very humbling experience - not exactly something that would have gotten great ratings today, when each of us is busy building a temple to his own persona and sweeping away the remains of previous temples.
So you know what, we must be some huge grotesque joke, no choice but to play out the role we were given - maybe offer a variation on a step here, steal a meter for the getaway. But the role is maktub (written) - you might put in a nuance here and there, but there's already a script by a genius playwright, amazing lighting - even the sets are just to die for. Don't argue with the celebrated director or you might find yourself on some divine Reality TV show.
The play is entitled A Class in Pride - A Class in Humility.
Any measure holds within it its opposite measure.
There is great pride in being humble and great humility in being proud.
A proud man shows the world his childish, undeveloped side. You undoubtedly have to be a very humble man to allow yourself to expose this shamefully stuck-up part of yourself, your unchecked pride. Adversely, when you are humble you have supposedly overcome pride, so deep down inside you're actually proud of your self-control, the fact that you've overcome pride itself; and then wham - you're filled with pride again - a kind of secret pride hidden inside humility like Greek soldiers in the belly of the Trojan Horse.
So when is it good?
It's good when you stand tall and know you are going to lay low, still staking your claim with pride. Then you lay low completely, knowing your place in the grand game. There you are, an anthropomorphized water bag plus some air bubbles, making some noise and walking the face of the planet, sometimes even recruiting new, soft players to the game. A kind of infinite thing.
Yes, we are grotesque. And yes, a real grotesque gaze at things is an alternately horrific and funny experience. But in my eyes it is much better than the endless parade of Greek gods the media is constantly throwing in our direction: an endless parade of perfects, cosmetics, of firm bananas and sweet figs. We make ourselves devour the great lie, neither digesting nor swallowing the disease of immortal youth.
And I say: let asses and bellies express themselves! Let that turkey waddle wag free! Hey, let those ears spread out like sails! And that nose swell up like a buttered croissant! Let those breasts reach those knees! Let the body betray and the feet falter, as long as the heart is still laughing and we always learn and teach.
I'm glad to present you with some pieces from the museum's collection - pieces that put a smile (or at least a similar smirk) on my face. The assortment I have chosen contains chubs, spindlies, wrestlers, corpses, cheaters, emotionals, possessives, ridiculous, repetitive, uniques, desperates and humans.
Musician, lyricist and novelist Kobi Oz was born in Sderot (1969). He played in Israeli Gnawa band Sfatayim and co-founded Tea Packs, which produced ten albums - most of whom reached either platinum or gold. He collaborated with musician Sarit Hadad, composed music for plays at the Cameri and Habima theaters. He manages the Levantini record label and was a radio presenter on both IDF Radio and Radio Tel Aviv. He has written a weekly column for Ma'ariv and two best-sellers: Moshe Hawatto and the Crow and Petty Hoodlum. He lit a torch at Israel's 61st Independence Day ceremony in honor of the city in which he lives, Tel Aviv. His new project, "Songs for the Perplexed," features songs with a pronounced Jewish bent.