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The Gesamtkunstwerk as a Synergy of the Arts

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Edited By Massimo Fusillo and Marina Grishakova

Conceived by Wagner as a way to recover the synthesis of arts at the core of Greek tragedy, the Gesamtkunstwerk played a significant role in post-Romantic and avant-garde aesthetics. It was designed to regenerate and defend the public function of art against mass culture and technology, yet at the same time depended on them in an ambivalent relationship manifested by its various realizations. The book reconceives the "total work of art" as a variation of intermediality, a practice that subverts any essentialist vision of artistic languages through complex interplay and blending of perceptions, amplified by new media and the syncretic nature of the cyberspace. The Gesamtkunstwerk can no longer be considered a Hegelian synthesis of arts or a Romantic and Wagnerian fusion of languages: it involves a synergy of different arts and media and captures the digital age’s principle of open textuality without any hierarchy and any organicist connotations. This book reveals the vitality of modern and contemporary Gesamtkunstwerk by mapping its presence in various arts and media.

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Chapter 9 Video Art Facing Wagner: (Massimo Fusillo)

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Video Art Facing Wagner

Massimo Fusillo

From the intermedial point of view, video art is certainly a very stimulating field. It develops in a period of extreme experimentation, continuously challenging the limits of visuality and representation, in a complex and ambivalent relationship with other arts, which it quotes and deforms in diverse ways, especially cinema. The norm of narrative dominance – typical of classical cinema – is questioned and subverted, recovering the abstract solutions of historical avant-gardes, exalting imperfections and impurities of the image, decomposing the unity of image in multiple windows, or on multiple screens. The latter solution is typical of installations, the increasingly successful genre of international contemporary art, extremely close to the essence of the Gesamtkunstwerk, because they create an articulated environment of various languages and media, immersing the public in a multisensorial experience.

The effect of totality involves not only the multiplication of space, but also the quite delicate category of time. Quite delicate, because video art is frequently shown in the context of big collective exhibitions, such as Documenta in Kassel or the Venice Biennale, which inhibit classical linear reception from beginning to the end, favoring, on the contrary, a fragmentary and casual kind of viewing. Generally speaking, video artists exploit the dilatory character of giant exhibitions in two opposite ways: (1) by pandering to this hectic pattern of reception with the deliberate choice of short videos, without a fixed beginning or end; or, on the contrary, (2) proposing an extremely...

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