Written by Conor O’Brien, Living Gallery
Images are taken from the “Rubberneck” exhibition at Lorimoto Gallery, featuring works by Caroline Larsen, David Livingston, and Kenjiro Kitade, on display until March 23rd. Larsen creates paintings of burning vehicles in a distinctive, pixelated style. Kitade makes ceramic sculptures of nightmarish, vaguely humanoid beings. Video documents Livingston’s performance series “Big Dick,” in which the artist wears cartoonishly engorged, fabric genitalia in various public settings.
How much our experience is clamped into some form; how much we are directed down certain streets, in certain directions, toward certain destinations; how much even where we look, where we turn our gaze, toward what we focus our attention has been predetermined. Can we even fathom the extent of it? Great pains have been taken to ensure wandering is limited. Wandering in every sense: physical wandering and mental wandering are intimately connected. True wandering cannot and does not exist. At all times a person must be made to feel they are going somewhere, even (especially) if they have nowhere to go. For this reason, the brush is cleared, the wilderness is mowed down, the stars are read and from them new borders are woven westward, streets are painted with lines and arrows, stop signs, traffic lights, one way, do not cross, a blinking geometric mechanism that spins you in circles and makes certain you and your thoughts never stray far from its gravitational hold.
A person must always be made to feel they are accomplishing something; in every task there must be the element of progress. From the moment we exit the dreamstate, all of our energy is expended in the expectation of some goal. To feel a release of energy, however slight, that is not leashed to purpose, which floats off directionless and dissolves into a void, is to feel lost. And feeling lost is forbidden, not just by some external force: it is forbidden to ourselves by ourselves. We cannot imagine a feeling more deeply horrible than that; it produces our most troubling nightmares. This feeling is poignant, of course, because we sense it at the core of every task we undertake: that everything we do is just a distraction, obscuring something horrifying yet purifying that we simultaneously avoid direct contact with and try to access by indirect means.
We can accept anything as long as it has some explanation, but we will not allow senselessness, pointlessness, or uselessness, at least not for too long. There is a grace period where the senseless thing captures our fascination (in this case, the usual response is laughter), but beyond that it is excruciating, and then there must be an attempt to return it to the horizon of our understanding, to obscure it with explanation. Everything that we can see, we are allowed to see. If there was anything we weren’t allowed to see or weren’t allowed to discover, then we wouldn’t see it and we wouldn’t discover it. Or there would at least be extensive damage control after it was discovered (though perhaps even this is merely theatrics). A new discovery is always brought back into an existing framework of thought; it is always explained in a way that reaffirms (again and again and again) an existing belief system. Again, this is not necessarily done by some oppressive outside being: once we internalize a belief, value, or moral system to the extent that it determines the purpose towards which we expend energy, we will be quick to explain to ourselves how everything exists within the context of these systems to never have the feeling of wasted energy/ being lost.
What does the scene of a car crash reveal to us? What is the meaning of the phenomenon of “rubbernecking,” so universal and seemingly necessary? When we approach the dissonance of a car wreck, we can not help ourselves: we have to look. As children we face the scene directly and with unashamed curiosity. As adults, it is usually indirect: in the peripheries of our vision where all manner of spectacle is secretly indulged. The car crash is an absolute absurdity to us: a violent waste of energy, an attack on the apparatus of sense to which we are harnessed. All the more so because it is “accidental,” because there is no ideology attached to the violence. Why are we permitted to see something so dangerously contradictory? In some countries, there are efforts to hide car accidents from onlookers, yet this cannot be done all the time and most likely wouldn’t be even if it were possible. It is necessary at times, for those who are concerned with such things, to let people witness the whole system in action. Immediately after the car crash, the system’s invisible dimensions announce themselves and descend upon the contradictory, senseless thing in order to contextualize it, in other words restore order to the situation. Such states of emergency or transgression are necessary in order for these invisible dimensions to make themselves known, to flex themselves, and we are allowed to view the initial scene of senseless violence because we are then able to witness the system at work, the restoration of peace and safety. The car accident, which in itself has no purpose or ideology, is then implicitly recontextualized as a warning, a warning to anyone who would transgress the system. It is made to serve as a reminder of how much we depend on this system for our safety and comfort; a reminder that what lies beyond the system is chaos and violence, and woe to those who wish to wander (physically or mentally) outside it.
The bottom falls out and we feel lucidly that we are falling, in the suffocating grip of vertigo. We feel, more acutely than ever, the contraction of the muscles, the harmony of the organs, the rush of blood to the heart and brain, the electrical flare of the neurons and nerve-endings that produce thought, that create the world, the full orgasmic release of energy: but to what end? where does it go? The whole exhausted edifice has shrivelled up, flaccid, detumescent. We have sunk below the surface. We have wandered too far. Even the solid reliability of our own bodies has suddenly dissolved somewhere. But where? We are for the moment conscious of the costumes, the sets, the whole noisy, colorful theater that obscures our blindness. The unacknowledged world we quarantined to our peripheral vision has descended upon us without warning. Our cataracts have disappeared and we are now facing the Peripheral World fully for the first time since our birth. Pause for a moment and glimpse the horrifying boundlessness of experience. For once let us look the situation square in the face, before the lucidity abates and we are deposited back into the solid world. Now we have a chance to build up from scratch new forms, new societies, new systems. Newer and better. Not that they are “better” in any objective sense, but they are better simply because they are new, because they are different, because they necessitated the destruction of the old forms, old societies, old systems, because this whole process keeps the world in a state of perpetual momentum and upheaval and revolt.
All photos on this post are © Conor O’Brien 2014
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