by Marie-Hélène Tessier
On a suburban highway, a teenager below the legal age of driving, having dropped a tab of acid, engages in a cloverleaf exit, experiencing the infinite overpass; forever curving; curving in smooth space, hours in a split second. Eco-systems. Worlds within worlds within borrowed sub-lunar pathways. A series of stage-sets for a series of scaleless illuminations. We never arrive anywhere; we are forever in flight. I am presently occupying the kaleidoscopic vestibule of infinite reflections, trying to capture the repetitive slow birth of the present, within the permitted limits of celestial contingencies, upon semi-solicited earthy initiations in transparency. I too, am half-sick of shadows. Exhausted. Writing is about retrieving the “deleted scenes”. Everyday, I am weaving in a deep forest clearing, sitting between a young lion with a wizard beard and an eagle with top hat holding a pipe. I am penniless but I feel blessed, as in privileged.
In a mid-century Russian film; a scientist is working with atomic reactors looking for a new way to create nuclear energy. Each experiment was putting his life at great risk towards the advancement of state science; each test he conducted depleted him greatly; it made him critically ill. After losing a great deal in his personal life, pursuing the ambitions of his research, while also trading some of his ethics for official recognition, he finds himself towards the end of his existence, with all of his efforts converging into giving his name to some prosaic rechargeable battery patent, which he is holding in his hands, with the gaze of someone who has understood something both futile and important. In silence.
In another art film, using documentary format as a device to frame human absurdity, a crypto-zoologist, persuaded to find the Mokele-Mbembe (the Congolese equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster), spent his life looking for it, while the children, who had intuitively internalized the metaphor of all monsters, are smiling with derision in front of serious-white-man-in-safari-clothes looking for giant lake snake, sitting in a paper boat with a private guide, the guardian of his consciousness. Servants often play that role of the threshold keeper. The Mokele-Mbembe means “The one who can stop the flow of the river”, and it is said to be an herbivore, the size of an elephant or a rhino, with a long neck, and a long tail; perhaps a dinosaur who would have survived extinction for sixty-five million years. For other experts, it is the sight of a group of male crocodiles following a female during the season of love; which is really not more reassuring at all. I just received an email from an artist who wants to interview my son about monsters. Inner monsters are by far the scariest. Anything that prevents you to go forward. It is what it is. Meaning is both there, and not there at all. Like destiny; at once connected to the stars and completely fabricated. We just have to get use to it. Making art is to learn to live in both worlds.
I just finished reading a thin pamphlet written by Henry Miller, Obscenity and the Law of Reflection. It is obscene to want to convert anyone to wearing inverted binoculars; there is no twelve step program to be able to see beyond one’s face in the mirror. In the terrain vague of the Wild West which is one of my homes, this renewable discovery propels me to exit platforms of different heights, at the end of a black and white cold war movie, where I crossed over into a land of both shadows and substance, of things and ideas. Over there, humour is of essence; it always wins. Except when confronted with true madness. Sadness, collaged to Mexican Cumbia, a requiem or an opera, becomes hilarious. But madness, twinned to any music, exacerbates, intensifies itself. Sadness is always relative and reversible while madness is absolute. Capsized. Modern furniture plays well with tribal everything and a sliver of plastic, to offset its perfect harmony. Perfect harmony is madness. It has something to do with the claustrophobia of uniformity, whether it is from materials inside a room or from a set of rigid values of the same hue. Nothing is inert. Even death has a life of its own.
At Gene, there was a man sitting at the counter; a young poet, addressing the young woman who was working on the other side, telling her that she seemed to be dressing more romantically, lately. She really looked like the woman behind Manet’s Bar at the Folies-Bergère. I took a look at her clothes, while trying to imagine her with a different fashion, something that would qualify as less romantic. He probably also referred to her hair; true blond, tied up in a Dutch knot. Dyed hair cannot be part of a romantic look. Dyed hair has something that drives you radically outside the romantic realm. The word Romantic stayed with me for days. It was not the first time, as my ears are stuffed with Fauré and Chopin on a regular basis in loops. Their music calms my multiple neuroses, stops the internal agitation, I cannot live without it, until I know the oeuvre by heart and can sing the entire collection to myself, in case of emergency. In visual arts, it is more interesting when romanticism cohabitates with absurdity. Walking ten meters in front of an icebreaker. Running against the rotational movement of the earth at the extreme North Pole. Crossing the Atlantic in a wooden punt. In fashion, romanticism is safe, always tender, and benefits in a risky way when combined with a hint of pop, or punk, for an added complexity. A Sherlock Holmes look gets complexified with a Tarzan Swatch. My understanding of Bin Ladin’s Arabian-Desert-Primitive-Rebel-Prince-of-Darkness fashion look, on his black horse, shifted, when I perceived his Rolex watch shining on his wrist. It added something ineffable, like a small cutout hole on the blinding white surface of reality. Contrary to common belief, truth is not white at all; it comes out of a series of hand perforated black holes in various sizes. Black holes to see. Black holes to speak. Holes.
The other night, small bats were coming out of my mouth and I was neither afraid nor disgusted. Miniature dragons, flying mice; the dual nature of the bat as the only winged mammal. Brilliant. It is the year of the water dragon, a powerful symbol of happiness capable of producing the potion of immortality. Anything powerful needs to be tamed. Swords are to be mastered and used wisely, otherwise they are worthless. Bat denotes the use of spiritual intuition in all aspects of life, therefore requiring full commitment. Western culture turned bats and dragons into fallen angels, evil creatures, because humans are still afraid of the night and tend to fill black holes with perversity. We still have a hard time embracing paradox, it is a threat. A few years ago, in Whistler, I acquired a coyote fur hat, from an expensive store – everything is expensive in Whistler –but you can still breathe the air for free – having to shamelessly borrow money to get it, it was my first totem and I am just starting to live it now; the low and the high together, at the same time, in every thought, every moment, every line and point. The coyote is another good example of how complexity is mistreated. As a trickster figure, it has a double and ever shifting nature; understanding that all things are sacred and that yet, nothing is sacred; simultaneously. A Harlequin of a sort. Western folklore is so busy separating night and day, light and dark, waking and dreaming that it turns ambiguity into dishonesty. When we loose a mask which became naturally useless, it is good to make sure to acquire a new one, like a medal. Illuminations. Shape-shifting. Balance between risk and safety. Devilment– cunning-wisdom-folly. Western religions confuse animals with lower instincts, something to overcome as opposed to embrace. If I had to choose one single book to hold on for the rest of my life: Ovid’s Metamorphosis. We do live amongst animals. Raccoons have a pied-à-terre in my roof and every time I have a low minded thought, I can hear dogs barking and when I feel free, I notice birds in flight.
Birds taking off in the establishing scene of the film The Swimmer; Burt Lancaster is jogging in a New England forest; the sound of a stream, a deer, a rabbit, an owl; each, seen still, for just a second and escaping in turn, and the protagonist emerges from the natural settings and enters a fantastic private swimming pool set on a cliff. He jumps in the first of a series of neighbourhood swimming pools, unveiling truths about himself, despite himself, through the meeting of the proprietors he knows, until he reaches home, on the last day of summer. If I were an artist from Vancouver’s photo conceptual tradition, I would do a remake of The Swimmer by walking along the seawall in Point Grey, swimming from one pool to the other, until I reached home. Shaughnessy might work even better. I would just need a map showing blue rectangles in a given district. In the original trailer of The Swimmer, the voice-over says: ‘’When you talk about The Swimmer will you talk about yourself?’’
I saw an exhibition the day after the opening. I was with a visiting friend who has the funny pairing of having a superior intelligence while absolutely despising contemporary art. For aristocracy, even for its progeny who seem to be rejecting its own heritage, art is perhaps threatening, as in ‘’revolutionary’’, therefore critical of a given status quo, artists as dreamers of a new order, free from social strata altogether, even when advocating for it. Artists as clinamen. We like to challenge each other about it all and argue with vehemence and reciprocal contempt, the marks of a lasting friendship. The art show was called “Feeling so much, yet doing so little”. I cannot ‘’relate’’ more to this infinitely evocative title; mirroring my own ever slow process in travelling towards lucidity. Lucidity means light. Irregular palpitations; temporary paralyzed, a buzzing of the internal ear; nervous schism; mouth half-open. When I breathe faster than the normal speed of my heartbeat, and slower than the normal speed of my heartbeat. And faster and slower. When my thoughts are firing with such velocity, that it is impossible for me to articulate a body movement, going from point A to point B, without losing a few pieces in the process. When I hear sounds, separately, isolated; each bird, each car in the traffic, each leaves, a subway, the flow of money. When I was told my father passed; an active numbness, travelling long distances on a stationary pillow. Hearing becomes a whole pavilion inside, as if synapses in my brain open up for split seconds to let in a leaky cosmos. While the body seems inexistent, the drug addict appears slow and unproductive, incapable of articulating banalities, but at the same time, beating speed records in thinking about the theory of complexity. I wish, I, was, there, the night of the opening, when the room was filled with art opening goers. Here, the DJ plates were inert, only the rumor of a fête. I enjoyed the refusal to give too much form to insights; at once lazy and freer. There seem to be a generation of artists here that ‘’relates’’ to the anti-individualistic production of artists of the seventies, who were operating from the Western Front, and generating, from the attic, a new post photo conceptualist progeny, that has jumped over the moon and the constellation of influential and mighty stars; as if they have digested both ends of the spectrum of this monstrous enterprise of making art from Vancouver. Monstrous as in enormous. They seem to be succeeding in the professionalization of deprofessionalization. Detached, independent from their own research; a healthy distance from the finality of not only art objects, but art making. In their case, it seems to work better when the room is filled with people, which probably makes the inherent rhetoric more alive, the opening being perhaps more powerful than the beautiful residues left behind. I cannot tell, because I, was not, there. Lately, I seem to specialize in missing great things. I see myself as a big missed opportunity onto which I am trying to capitalize, as in salvaging. The relational aesthetics that developed around that kind of art practice, has another resonance when the room is empty of humans to ‘’relate’’ to, within and therein, out and therefore. I am not sure if it works and the idea of ‘’working’’ would maybe be, beside the point. A collective of bees. My friend climbed the staircase which reminded me of something Roman, that is something about debate, or the absence of debate, in turn the beginning of a discourse. We spent some time trying to tidy the rec room underneath the staircase, but in vain; it was perfect the way it was. She was asking me what the show is all about. I did not know what to answer so I told her that art does not promise you anything. I enjoyed the nonchalance directed towards everything; intention, product and audience alike; a form of nihilism that pulls you in. An inverted black hole, a vanishing rainbow. As if we had traded existential cold poison of accurate nothingness, for a hand full of Allsorts Licorice in an ‘’excit’’ to Japanese Stomper Pump it UP arcade. Art serves to dig holes or fill existing ones. Sometimes, one does not have to read the entire book while a single sentence can give you oxygen for an entire season. My experience with art production from collectives is that it does not always come up as a singular memorable shock, but unfolds over time, in spaces reminiscent of what happened there, even when ‘’nothing happened’’ at all. It is more a question of life style, as in a state of mind, a mentality within which things are made, or halfway done.
Bats are nocturnal. Living in a cave, gregarious in nature, they sleep nervously, hanging upside down. Among the Mayans, the bat is revered as a tutelary god. In ancient China it is a sign of good fortune. For American Indians, the bat represents the ability to see through illusions and ambiguity. It is said that they will guide you through the whole journey every time you remember. Memory is also like a sponge, full of important and futile holes. The bat reminds me to not forget about the coyote, which helps me to remember the bats, which help me to understand the Wild West.