An Existential Mirror

April 4, 2011 | Published Articles, Writing

I have been thinking about the apartment gallery as a form, at least in the form I participate/create in. I’ve been thinking it’s meaningless, kind of. I’m very excited to think of it as such. I think it’s an insightful meaninglessness that reflects, perhaps, on a larger meaninglessness, out of which meaning is born.

I have been thinking about how people organize themselves. I have been thinking about non-physical architectures that channel the effort and purpose of individuals. Those architectures, I think, function as psychic maps, almost—social topographies that locate, identify and thus orient the self in his or her surroundings. They resolve an existential crisis, I think. By providing a structure of intent, there are ensuing challenges specific to that structure which give the individual incentives and focus. Within that structure there is also the possibility of failure, which embues the whole endeavor with risk and, thus, value.

What is interesting to me about the “apartment gallery” is it simultaneously succeeds and fails. It fails because the effort within an apartment gallery comes to nothing, in so far as those who participate within that structure anticipate some larger recognition or success, a success which they would then use to legitimize and measure their peculiar practice as an artist and, perhaps, garner an ensuing sense of self-worth. Such recognition is highly unlikely, and if it comes it is rarely contingent on the apartment gallery site. This failure is interesting to me, because it can function as a more general metaphor for those architectural sites. Religion, I think, is an interesting corrolary. I’ve always thought about the act of going to a gallery opening to parallel the act of going to a church. (The parallel is admittedly agnostic). The audience at a gallery assumes that the work on the wall affords some larger meaning, a meaning that is not contained within one single work, but rather is a part of and upholds a larger abstract “belief” in Art. While Art is secular, while it is deeply related to the economic market, I think its inherent importance is just as impossible to establish as it is impossible to establish the existence of a God. As there are rituals in church, (or for less predominant cultural precedents, say the shamanic practices in Mexico or South America) so there are also rituals in the art sense. I don’t mean to suggest that those artistic rituals boast the same aura of import. Instead I think because the ritualized practice of art is like a weak relative of the religious spirit, it (the artistic spirit) can be taken apart and compared in order to shed light on its relative behemoth. I think you could also compare the feebler sibling to capitalism—yet another structure that supplies a relatively compelling set of objectives and demands.  Demands which then, depending on the individual’s abilities/interest/concentration on fulfilling them, reflect/measure that same individual’s contingent worth. We need a way to measure ourselves–inhabiting structures in congress with others provides a context within which meaning (and a sense of worth) are derived.

The issue, I think, is that when one is so insulated within one or another  of these structures, it is impossible to recognize that worth as being “contingent.” In many cases, maybe even most, I think it’s easier, somehow, to assume it isn’t contingent, because in recognizing that contingency we must also admit the relativity of our merits.  Or another way to think of it, we must acknowledge that there is a space beyond those psychic architectures  in which we cannot measure, or know, ourselves.

I think it’s interesting to look at how the apartment gallery succeeds because  despite its larger inconsequence, it nevertheless serves an immediate function, that is supplying a space for a public of peculiar common interest to congregate and celebrate that interest. And thus, despite the ephemerality of the occasion to meet, the meeting/opening nevertheless provides some interior/communal nourishment. One that, maybe, bolsters the individual, (whether through pleasure, frustration, drama etc) to forget him or herself and occupy a shared present moment; one in which Art is the pretense—the projected  and somewhat incomprehensible ideal.

As an aside, I will always, also, appreciate the artistic community, in so far as it also celebrates communication and self-expression and reflection. While its fruits do not always succeed, the effort is of great significance, as a sign/hope/expression that one might be capable of communicating well. As such, it is, for the most part, an empowering project. Here again, I think we can compare the success of the apartment gallery to the success of other psychic structures which possesses exponentially greater consequences.

Which leads me to suppose that perhaps the most important thing is that these structures exist, that they encourage the self to go beyond the self and in doing so, develop awareness of the self within a context of others.