I have gone down this street a thousand times, but I’ve never seen it from the back of an ambulance.
I can see people singing in their cars. Eventually I’m hauled into a waiting room. And so I wait. A woman speaks frenzied Portuguese and the doctors huddle like penguins around her. Impatience makes a few of them waddle my way. Finally, my wish: an audience. Only one witness is needed. And only one doctor is given the onus of verifying my despair. Here I am, 19, speaking sweetly, but also terrified. Please open the door, doctor. Let me in to a place the map pretends to forget. Deprive me of the usual freedoms. Let me in, and inaugurate this dark chapter.
I will try to tell you what is on the other side of the gate, at the other end of the dark wood that resists our interpretation. Darkness humors no interpretation. Or maybe it entertains every suggestion. We can only assume each and every guess is wrong.
The past few weeks, almost every single day leading up to this show, something bad or stressful or undesirable has happened to me. As I write this, there are still some days to opening night. What fresh hell(s) await me still?
Last night, after one more catastrophe, I slipped on some mud. My jeans smeared with dirt and grass. When I got inside, I realized blood on my bag. There’s a splinter in my hand. Yet another silly wound. I’m exhausted so I’ll take it out tomorrow. The real problem is epistemology. Each day widens a laceration, a cut-open terror that reveals the shape of my ignorance. The more we realize, the less we know.
“The world itself has no destiny, for it is forsaken by transcendent ends…The world is the very place where worlds come and go.” (Divya Dwivedi, “Modals of Lost Responsibilities”)
Barbara Owen dropped off her work and brought in one more surprise: a plaster square, rounded at the edges, the color of graphite. A tablet screen, Owen offered up as comparison. The more I pondered, the more I realized the piece’s appropriateness to this show. My phone has become my main source of dread. An omnipresent, omniscient thing that has the capacity to realign or ruin my day with a single sound. But this square? Opaque. Just a bit of shimmer. Nonreflective, that is, offering no rest for Narcissus. A void, and therefore, a site of resistance…maybe. Next to this proxy: a painting by William Kennedy of a boy sitting on a tire, thinking. As boys do. As men often wish to do, as freely as they once did.
“To give up being the center of the world in imagination, to discern that all points in the world are equally centers and that the true center is outside the world, this is to consent to the rule of mechanical necessity in matter and of free choice at the center of each soul. Such consent is love.” (Simone Weil, “Forms of the Implicit Love of God”)
[Re: My curatorial intent] I thought I had happened upon some real poetic shit. But then I lost the thread. Generally, I think it’s about attention. Proceeding from the love attention implies, a love of many things unbound by taste or class or hierarchy. I’m a picky eater, so it makes sense my palate in art compensates with near-comical width and depth. There’s something liberating in this project. An agency beyond brute individualism. It’s not about willpower. It’s about the freedom of matter. Objects have sovereignty over themselves, something we as people are often denied. When artworks gather, we glimpse something of the unreal. Juxtaposition means abolishing pointless or harmful boundaries. Re-inscribe the line. Draw the circle again. Cast out all tyrants and their lingering influence.
As Ja Morant puts it: “You have to work behind closed doors. It’s really what nobody sees.” The dark is where we can act without surveillance, and shape the world. The totalitarians believe they govern the day. But what if the night can operate in both domains? Tell me: do you really know what’s out there? If all the streetlights went out, could you find your way home?
“All things that can be named can be prevailed over…Battle then is simply the making use of one form to prevail over another.” (Sun Bin, The Art of Warfare, translated by Lau + Ames)
In a classic episode from The Simpsons’ golden age, Marge buys a pink Chanel suit on clearance. She modifies it twice in an attempt to impress a country club. The climax of the episode comes when Marge blows the family savings on more Chanel, this time a brand new gown. The Simpsons arrive at the big country club party, but Marge forces her family to walk across a massive green because she doesn’t want anyone to see their shitty car. Says Homer: “You kids should thank your mother. Now that she’s a better person, we can see how awful we really are.” Our desires, by nature inherited, are also reflective. There is much to intuit from surfaces. You can spend a lifetime perfecting this skill. You can cut up the same suit many times.
The door is opened. My younger self walks through, confident only in his capacity to be wounded and then cared for. Listen kid: you really are too squishy, clueless even. I suppose future me could be yelling the exact same thing right now. There are many good reasons to be afraid. At the same time, to be in the world and of it, as forces beyond our individual control terraform it again and again, to know all this and still participate, to resist the ennui with our honest attention: This is to know love—I think. Maybe. It’s to know something. Happiness? Perhaps at 19 I was not so clueless after all, as I could discern a crucial outline. I’m still learning the contents.
So, what are you afraid of? Take my bandaged hand and we’ll walk through it together. A splinter burns, binding me to earth. A reminder to act in this world and of it. Tonight, I renounce my terror. Or rather I reshape it, in hopes it will help you do the same.
Written for and distributed at FEAR TO TREAD, the inaugural exhibit at ROGER THAT gallery by Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island