Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Report from the Phantom Zone

Some palindromes:

Live Evil
Ah, Satan sees Natasha
Drat Saddam, a mad dastard!
Cain: a maniac.
No devil lived on.
Not so, Boston.
Did Joe kill like O.J. did?
Evil did I dwell; lewd I did live.
Repel evil as a live leper.
Eve damned Eden, mad Eve.
Meet animals; laminate 'em.
Dammit, I'm mad!
Evil olive.
Stack cats.
Ten animals I slam in a net.
Dr. Awkward.
Trash Tim Smith's art.
Satire: Veritas.

There’s something about palindromes that is unnerving and deceptively complex. The author for all palindromes like “Dogma: I am God” is language itself; a person just happens to have discovered the phenomenon. Subsequently, palindromes feel like language is making its own meaning that has nothing to do with us even though we the primary users of language. Somehow, randomly arranged letters can end up saying something profound. However, unlike completely random letters, palindromes are the same forward or backward, so it’s like the letters are looking at their own mirror image. Palindromes become like an oracle. Our minds tell us “There is no way these words could have any meaning because no one is saying them.”
But then there it is.
The words : “Devil never even lived”

All we can do is to try and process what we have perceived. How is it possible that of all of the letter combinations in the universe, these stand out and speak both to themselves and to us?

Some people will say the words are meaningless while others will say they are oddly profound. The words become a test of faith and reason in a world that holds few oracles.

In the ancient world, people used to seek out tests of faith and works of art frequently served that exact purpose. The Met had an exhibit in 2000 called “Art and Oracle” that examined how people around the world for centuries have used art as part of a quest to transform and transcend the human experience. We now live in a world where more people have access to more art then ever before; especially through mediums of advertising and television. However, the art that is now bombarding people is designed to inform, but not to transform.

I know a lot of people who are waiting for the opening of James Turrell’s Roden Crater that is scheduled to open in 2011, just to have an experience where the viewer’s perceptions in the space are designed to be transformative in the same way ancient earthworks were designed. I have to admit, I am looking forward to it too because I don’t see a lot of other artists trying to create work that challenges me to acknowledge that maybe there is more to the universe than just my perceptions of it. In fact, most of what I see is the exact opposite.

For example, on view at the MFA Boston right now is an installation by Jim Lambie where he has transformed ordinary objects to create a space like listening to music. The space is designed so the viewer can enter “compelling environments where the edges disappear and the space he makes is for you.” This sounds to me like a Burger King commercial where I can “have it my way”. Lambie’s art is designed to re-enforce that my personal psychological space is all-important. Why go to the museum if when I get there I just go back inside my own head? Jim Lambie’s work serves the current model of commodified artwork where art is supposed serves the viewer’s immediate desires rather than transform the viewer in any profound way.

The Lambie installation is only up until May 25, so I recommend you go see it soon. You can go for free on Wednesdays from 4-9:45 PM if you do not want to pay for art that is supposed to put you in a mental space that is like listening to music at home and is actually made from chairs like the ones you probably have at home. Then maybe in 2011, we can meet up at the Roden Crater and I can read you some more palindromes.

Oracle Figure (Kafigeledjo)
Senufo, Côte d'Ivoire
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
from "Art and Oracle" exhibition

Jim Lambie's installation at the MFA Boston

James Turell's Roden Crater
Photography by Florian Holzherr


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