This weekend’s brief respite from the steadily quickening pace of helping to facilitate the department’s Arriving Faculty Workshop and preparing to administer the fall semester’s first-year composition course was a trip into the city to take in a gallery exhibition and a meal, and for L. to meet her friend.
The exhibition was Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe’s “Black Acid Co-op,” and it was remarkable. The NY Times slide show gives a taste, and the accompanying review’s characterizations of the installation as “an immense, labor-intensive, maniacally contrived walk-through environment” and a “warren of some dozen rooms, interiors, and passageways [that] includes a burned-out home amphetamine lab [and] a red-carpeted gallery of pseudo-artworks” are apt. The word I would have chosen, I told L., was “methodical”: there was a remarkable and consistent phenomenological attention to the most minute details of the experience of the space.
One walks into a dark wicker-lined room strewn with paper trash. A book of polaroids lies in a corner of the concrete floor. There are thermal-printer astrological charts with attached polaroids pinned to the walls. And there is an uneven hole in the wall, the first of many, leading to a brightly, badly fluorescent-lit space, exposed wires hanging from the light fixtures, a scabrous analogue of run-down strip-mall commercialism.
The wigs are clotted with paint and cement. The hole beckons.
There are multiple paths. Inward, toward the heart, they all lead through iterations of meth labs.
In deeper, one climbs into an open refrigerator and out the back.
Another hole leads to the exhibition’s split heart, the two spaces that seem to animate it, even as the multiple iterations of the meth lab constitute it. The first most conventionally fulfills our expectations of a gallery — the white walls, frames, red carpet — until one more closely examines the art hung there, which itself echoes and anticipates the installation’s other forms.
Spaces lead jaggedly to other spaces. The hole beckons.
I see my favorite device wherever I look: refocusing attention by calling attention to absence.
One takes different paths back through, loops around. There’s the musty trailer park smell, 25-watt lighting, the filthy toilet in the too-tiny bathroom. Melting, soot. Surfaces are stick, gritty. The floor feels spongy.
There is perhaps the clearest fetishization of the space’s central theme.
It’s immediately jammed up, called into question, reformed: one doesn’t pass through it without also passing through its burned-out, smoky, dimly lit twin.
Like I said: methodical. The space offers intentional aesthetic (anti-aesthetic?) echoes.
If you spend enough time, you find your way back to the absent heart, and recognize: this space, here, is constituted by what’s out there; all of it.
There are other spaces, as well: the downstairs room with herbal remedies and pornographic airbrushed t-shirts; the upstairs room with the world’s grittiness walled off in specimen jars as decorations or supplements to a more bohemian aesthetic; the surveillance room with notebooks and monitors: all these are of a piece.
The installation stood in welcome and pleasant contrast to the meal, which itself was enjoyable, but makes me say: yes, for all my Marxist predilections and critiques, I’m ultimately and thoroughly bourgeois.
The three of us had a fine (albeit excessively pricey: I won’t be dining out again for a good while) dinner at At Vermilion (yes, thus). Spanish-Indian fusion was nice, including the chili-glazed tamarind ribs, but what stood out were the remarkable cocktails: a cucumber-mint martini, a ginger-pomegranate martini, a lime pear and green chili something-or-other, and a cilantro-chili fizz. Turns out I like cold, spicy drinks a lot.
And now it’s back — back, I say! — to the house of pain: I’m beckoned by coordinating versions of the staff syllabus and staffing planned instructor absences. It’s an exciting job, and I mean that enthusiastically and unironically. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a heck of a lot of work.