Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ordinary Gospels

So the golden boy shows up in this airport and it’s just a madhouse: people shouting, selling things, kids high on glue, people begging.

I happened upon an essay by Juan Suarez entitled “Myth, Matter and Queerness: The Cinema of Willard Maas, Marie Menken and the Gryphon Group, 1943-1969” in the Grey Room journal. Suarez links myth with metaphor since both serve to temporarily arrest the flow of time and meaning. He then juxtaposes these with matter and metonymy, the senselessness of surfaces jointed through flow in time and/or space. “…the rise of matter to the surface of film (is) a way to stage the vagaries of sexuality…’queer’ might be another name for the way in which sex uses everything and anything, indefinitely extending libidinal connections across the surface of the world…” The ability of desire to connect bodies in sex is part of a larger desire to connect things. These objects “both recall and replace the primal sources of sensation and affect.”


In Menken's film, the unification of the images occurs through the soundtrack. Used in this way--even the natural sound of birdcall-- is experienced as patently artificial. Likewise, our experience of the garden- which begins with certain inchoate sensations and evolves into the cataloging of material objects, is shown to be a highly restrictive and reductive process. Nevertheless, this process is also always incomplete. The sheer variety of objects overflows all attempts to contain. Thus, despite the soundtrack and crude slide show, the film manages to re-invoke a primal sense of wonder. It is just this tension, the back and forth between what Suarez refers to as the "centripetal" pull of myth and the "centrifugal" attraction of objects, that I am interested in exploring in the novel.

The flux between myth and matter is nowhere better demonstrated than on flickr.
Once we documented what we held dear, what we wanted to remember, what we did not want to lose in the flow of time. Now we photograph everything and upload it in an instant for all to see. Searching through the creative commons, I seek the banal, the incidental. The photographs I want are the ones that prompt the question: why did the photographer choose this subject and not some other? In these photos, the original meaning is lost. Only the power of materiality remains. By placing the object in an alien landscape, I hope to strip even the meaning that is acquired passively through its everyday use, and then reconstitute the divine aura of meaning through an overt act of fetishization. I am experimenting with makeshift shrines or frames. The frame itself will communicate through its material qualities: the color, texture, weight, opacity or reflectivity of the cloth. Ultimately, it is the text that will unite the images—in other words, the story itself will act as myth.

A show of Haley Tompkins work at Kreps Gallery allowed me to synthesize my recent obsession with objects. Any description of this show will fall flat which is part of its magic. It resists any attempt at abstraction. Tompkins takes objects and alters them. The intimacy of her gestures is what communicates. There is no great meaning, but these "objects" (that is what she calls her drawings and sculptures) become the meager but lovely substitutes for the artist herself. After viewing the show, I felt that I knew her in a way that was akin to sneaking into her room after she'd left for the day and lying in her bed and smelling her sheets and looking through her drawers. In other words, I had access to unquantifiable information. It was like touching a sleeping body.

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