Lucy Lippard

“Turning around is sometimes just that: the simple (and not so simple) reversal of an accepted image. Something or somebody is stood on its head. Sacred cows are milked. Magic phrases are written backwards and dances are reversed in the tradition of the Sioux heyoka (shamans) or the Cheyenne Contraries — warriors who rode backwards, said “hello” for “goodbye,” washed in mud. These traditions can be seen in part as social valves, a temporary lifting of repression to avoid revolution, to maintain the prevailing social norms. They can also be seen as the seeds of social change, a ‘gap between ordered worlds’ in which ‘almost anything can happen.’ Since their roots lie in the tribal or pagan past, such temporary inversions are not taken seriously today. But they have found a haven in art, where the extent of their devious powers is not always recognized. ‘Turnarounds’ can be powerful forms of social criticism and psychic change, especially when they are not institutionalized. (‘Turnaround’ is a literal synonym for ‘revolution.’) … In modern societies it is most often artists who play the role of the fool, who are expected to do the unexpected. Sometimes they do succeed in using surprise and equilibrium to provoke the same sort of unwelcome insights and social comment that were once the domain of sacred clowns. By reversing stereotypes of submission, the artists discussed in this chapter are invalidating the external naming processes that make them outsiders and rediscovering the wicked power of humor as an equalizer. Their task is not just demystification, but reclamation. In the religious context, backwards means extraordinary, blasphemous, or sacred — even, sometimes, when it is the conventionally sacred itself that is turned around. Native festivals and dances have historically been attacked in the process of cultural genocide, until they have finally been reduced to harmless entertainment in the eyes of the dominant culture.”1

“While irony, with its tinge of bitterness as well as humor, is the prevalent instrument, another is healing, in which the artist, as neo-shaman, heals her or himself, as a microcosm of the society.”2

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