Archive for April, 2011|Monthly archive page

Fast flowing

In Uncategorized on April 14, 2011 at 10:30 am

Roni Horn’s piece at Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art is one of those show stoppers; the sort of exhibit that you can’t get past. A series of facial images taken seconds apart titled ‘Identity is a River’ it simply shows that in the space of fractions ‘we’ are many people; that our identities are fluid and shifting like water. That’s an uncomfortable thought as it suggests instability of ‘self’. But the images caught by Roni confirms that to judge ‘us’ by our physical selves is fraught.

This is all counter to the efforts of psychological typologies. The desire to fix us into our genetic predispositions; that our essence comes before our existence; that we are bound by the gene-pool. Psychology has had its stab at the human being but in the face of artistic renditions of self falls foul of the test of plausibility; although it appeals strongly to the masses seeking certainty, a solid descriptor which makes ‘complete’ sense. How seductive to label ourselves neatly and categorically.

But if our identity flows like a river then ‘we’ are dynamic and changing; and are many things over time. In the experiment known as ‘modern existence’ such notions fall foul of the Law of Large Numbers. The Mass should know their place in their demographic prison, dutiful consumers, fixed in the social hierarchy, known by their job title and parentage, school, university and the other leaden dead weights of labeling that dog our freedoms to change in any direction. Isn’t it bizarre that we have a conscience now for labeling children with crude descriptors but carry on doing this to adults; and that as adults we like our labels.

I’ve just finished reading Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. Carol Ann Duffy’s introductory piece offers: “We carry poetry, even if we do not write it or read it… Her [Woolf’s] lyric intensity allows her, and us as her readers, to stand inside the lived moment – a woman buying flowers for a party; a couple on a park bench looking up at a skywriting plane; we can see the ‘smoke curtsying’ at a picnic…” Such evocations are far far from the Mass reductions of human existence to one of nine possible categories.

Woolf’s stream of lyrical writing expose that the crude structures of Hollywood aren’t able to reveal. That in fact we are lyrical in how we live and express; but when we enter organisations do we forego such creativity and adopt the social construction of automatons; reducing our language to the stilted spitting tin-tacks loved by our false realities. Hollywood of course can only brook a simple beginning, middle and end. The end has to be climatic, predictable and satisfying. There are no climatic endings in life; death even on the battlefield is frequently marked only by the horror of mundane futility.

Ordinariness is despised by Hollywood as it can’t see that the beauty of existence is in the ordinary moment but only in the plastic heroic moments of its falsehoods. Woolf and the William Faulkners see the whole breadth where the mass market cinematographer has no concept of self as the lyrical being. But ordinary fractional moments are the stuff of human existence. If we bend ourselves to ‘seeing’ and ‘hearing’ the intimate and meaningful ‘now’ we exist as us rather than as labelled constructions from the test tube.

I’d suggest a visit to Roni’s little show in the Royal Exchange Square disrupts these notions more powerfully than words. Plus the cafe below has chairs for dozing in and the library is as civilised as they get.

Also worth visiting is Jeremy Millar’s installation at Glasgow’s CCA in Sauchiehall Street. Cranberry scones feed the inner person too! Staff are interested and engaged.