Suddenly the entire world was talking about Graham Vunderink Gallery. My associate fellow foolabouts, had told me about a DJ whose eccentric enthusiasms bubbled up popped and painted the white walls of Berlin public privies. I now understand the true meaning of The Fountain! Ho ho, how I cry out now in amusement at the merry thought, like a sharp gale that returns each day to bless me, its Breather, with a rising attitude. Is this the Lord’s laughter, tickling the leaves in trees ‘til they blush and leap, pleased by such dedicatory events of Art that visits me each day? In either case, Graham Vunderink Gallery was on my map, though my map was dirty and uncoordinated. But it wasn’t until Ben Schumacher’s Beyond Furniture: Art and the Rise of Hesitation, that I had decided to marry the trip to my calendar.
The road to Pittsfield is less than fit for my rickety caravan. Herein lies the real problem with maps. They may organize one’s transportation from place to place, but they in no way prepare one emotionally for the turmoil that registers on ill-maintained and disorganized roads. Potholes, sinkholes, hags, trolls, thieves, boulders, duststorms, snowstorms, dead and rotting beasts, crushed by unencumbered rides, steam sick stenches at the seam between cleared path and grasses, such that every furlong I am in expectance to, off the side of my hobbling wagon, expel a frothy load. It comes as no surprise that I have little lunches to lose but halfway through the journey! I could complain more… yes yes. But on each complaint, the Lord lodges guilt like cholesterol in my heart. A guilt that radiates so passionately through my connectives that all over again I am taken over by a great and awful queasiness.
Ho, ho but it is by these very queasinesses that my life is organized, for there is little like the hurried transportation of it, the sudden opening unto an entirely different present wakefulness in relating to the world. Open so much as to almost be turned completely inside out—porridge, ale, scrap loaves, my insides begging me--a physical welling up that overcomes the whole of my experience. Were I a more dutiful student of the scripture, I might have a word that name this experience more directly.
Since noticing this great and recurring queasiness I’ve begun to timestamp my life by coordinating it with regard to the open awareness that occurs after expulsion. As if any events outside of those sparse moments are of negligible significance. There are the forgettable moments of my life where I am physically sound, unawares of my body, and there are the great crescendos of queasiness that bring the great break wherein I am not only aware of every ticking vein rushing jolly blood through the whole system, but also that I do forget, ho ho, how I lapse out.
It is this basic punctural control that I aspire to in my jongling, since laughter too resides in the belly, and it is that very location that my jongles aim to tickle. I think about laughter all the time, though this is not the final aim of jongling. I could not say what my final aim is. I would like to say a proximity to God. Oh, my lack. My great lack!
I know my hesitation here to the final aim may indeed point to the insufficiency of my jongling mode--this prayer is shameful. Where others attend to God’s will through deliberate and solemn interpretation of scripture, I have chosen what must be a rather foolish form through juggling, dancing, laughing, and so on. Why, the ecstatic passion of celebratory effusion is undeniable, and I have never felt much unity with an higher order through sitting silently about and restraining myself.
The problem is that one’s own will may not be enough in the service of God after all. Where solemn monks are so assured of their rightful duty through constraint, of their allegiance to the Holy Lord in the Highest, my days of devotion are stained by doubt. Even worse, I wonder if my acts of elation are in fact performing a mockery of the divine and if as an effect, I risk God’s eternal smiting of me for my juggling and jumping in His direction. How the trouble destroys me, pre-determines that any self-reflection I might have is always already undercut by despair, painful embarrassment and regret towards my inane jongling.
But on the point of laughter, I must acknowledge how it is that when I laugh, I no longer know if it is me who is laughing, nor do I know if I laugh for myself or for others, whether that separation even obtains, moreover forgetting who I am altogether. Laughter is a refrain to the multitude, the crowd, the many. A channeling of the premodern where such distracting distinctions between public and individual were meaningless. And oh! The conundrum that emerges comes as no surprise, as it perpetuates laughter in loops, cycling unto itself and accumulating momentum until I laugh so hard, I choke and turn silent like a grieving maiden.
Allow me to linger if you will on this point about the multitude as it marks a point of interest in the project of Spiky DJ, wherein Schumacher might be the original artist, the first to pen the figure into visual existence, but thereon the DJ was transformed by a collaboration between a host of friends. Spiky DJ, like the laughter of the fool, spreads and disperses its authorship from the point of its inception out beyond the coterie of attendance who write from its social media account, ushering in what one might call a posting voice. Who is writing when the voice of the account is cloned and reproduced throughout a host of accounts?
Ho ho! This question may have been appropriate several summers ago, but today, in Pittsfield, which is not the internet, it feels so silly! The city itself, with its soggy clothes piles riddling about the sidewalk intercut with littered needles, is laughing with me.
On my entrance to the gallery, my laughter stops. I meet him. Them. Excuse me. Spiky DJs all over! Tumbling and bobbling about the canvas like an Adderall-addled walrus in heat, slipping down an icy slope. But immediately this elation passes. I can no longer look directly at the Spiky DJs. The floor of Graham Vunderink Gallery is a stained blue carpet. It is easier to look at the carpet than the works of painting and print on canvas in the first room of the gallery, so it’s what I do.
I’m too nervous! Fearful even of the experience of coming face to face with the real Spiky. Though is it the real Spiky? Who is figured before me in this room? It feels like running into a celebrity, where their unreality is the object of excitement, in seeing how different they can be from themselves. Spiky DJ on the screen is and is not Spiky DJ on the canvas. The DJ is present in its looping remixed gesture, though not in the way a body is present in a portrait. My familiarization with Spiky’s visage from the virtual space of the internet interrupts my ability to interact with the paintings. My eyes are trained to view the visage within the internet, so they predetermine the canvas as a digital space, from which the visages reappear as if posts stripped of their content and framing, leaving the pfp bare and scattered without organization. The persona of Spiky DJ, its fictional realm, intervenes on the supposedly uncompromised context of the gallery.
Art requires fiction . So too does the experience of art. When I stand in a gallery, I have a fiction about the purity of the white walls that allows me to come in contact with the fiction of the art that populates the gallery without distraction of context. If the art is good at producing fictions, the experience of encountering it will linger, develop an afterlife which is typically more intense than the encounter itself. It’s position within the artificially contextless place will reverse and universalize across a multitude of contexts outside the gallery walls. My life will be scripted by it, so much so at times it will subsume my life in ways I may not have direct awareness of, populating my world with its characters and shades of its perspective. The most striking images of one’s life often appear as a glimpse that are only narratively known, their power understood posthumously. The internet might phrase this as “can’t unsee,” where the single event of witnessing a work of art transforms or reconstitutes one’s reality such that fragments of the artwork jitter into awareness in a variety of trigger events that follow, chaining themselves all the way to one’s endgame credits.
I can’t unsee art from everything. In many ways too, I can’t unsee the internet. My life feels wholly consumed by the virtualized fictions of the screen space, such that days feel irrelevant to the waves and developments of the metas that play out over several platforms. Not in calendar time but something else. I don’t yet have the words for understanding what this kind of time is, but in Pittsfield I can begin to arrive at a perspective which at least is capable of noticing the difference.
Pittsfield is not on the internet; it bears no trace of the internet culture that has distorted and fixed my life over the past several years. People walk down their driveway to check their mail. They make multiple trips to the Cumberland Farms gas station which sits next to Graham Vunderink Gallery, where Ben Schumacher’s Beyond Furniture: Art and the Rise of Hesitation is set up in two rooms.
Outside the gallery, dejected by my own hesitation on venturing further, I make up my mind to visit the Cumberland Farms by allowing myself to participate in a vision of desire: Purchase a barbecue kettle chips and an Essentia.
Though the path to the station is short and simple, a man whose lack of penny is more than made up for with his brutishness blocks the sidewalk to my destination. He is flea-bitten, a crackhead no doubt, and before my observations have time to produce more description, the man roars that I’m a stupid ass bitchass, he’s the mother friggin CHIEF of the alley I am walking down. That I walked down the wrong alley and am a dumb bitchass slug. That he is killing my slug ass. And he is The Chief. And I’m a slug bitch. And that it’s him The Chief killing me now.
Some other kind of queasiness overcomes me. It’s turning dark outside, so the fluorescents flickering from the petrol station silhouette his crack-chiseled bare torso and tattooed neck from behind, not unlike watching another participant viewing Anthony McCall’s “Line Describing A Cone,” a favorite of mine, step in the way of the light path.
“I’M THE CHIEF KILLING YOU.”
Ho ho ho. What an interruption! Shaking begins in my hands and moves to my heart, spreads to my chest. The chief is growling at me, closing in, but I cannot flee. My chest feels like it’s heaving to the crunchy subs of a club venue Skrillex show. We are shaking in unison. My limbs are unable to perform the necessary actions required to sprint. Instead, I lean forward as if a felling tree, but my arms spread to catch myself before my center of gravity drifts too far to become irreversible. I reach into my pockets to hold my felted juggling balls for security. The chief is a mad bull. He is fuming, kicking up dust, ready to charge. I begin to juggle, pasting a cheery demeanor over my fearful face, as the balls arc and spin overtop my head like halos.
The Chief’s flared nostrils loosen, his jaw slackens and eyes droop at their corners, making way for lacrimation. Tears shuffle down his unoiled skin before dissipating into its cracks. Have I changed the Chief? By what miracle? My threat level updates: minimum. Never have I seen the face of a brute change so suddenly from hellish bull to somber doe.
He untangles headphones from his rotten pocket and gestures to plug one end into my ear. I oblige him and we listen to Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites by Skrillex on the curb of Cumberland Farms as cars fill up their tanks with prehistoric oils and the sun dips below the Berkshire firs.
From Anatomy of a fachfest
I am renewed by my connection with The Chief. Terror and excitement often co-arise as rejuvenation and even rebirth follow nearby. My jongling, though it may not be honorable, has the capacity to transform even the most fuming of feral men.
To pray is to follow the well-trodden path to holiness. To jongle is to flip the world upside down, as a painter might approach a landscape through a lens which flips its direction, to amplify the accuracy of direct sight over trained sight. Do I call myself refined? Ho ho! How the self inflates in moments of ecstasy and epiphany, as if there never were a problem at all. How foolish and transient we are, moved immediately from our course into a new frame of mind, forged by a forgetfulness that casts us proleptically onward.
With this renewal, I make up my mind to return to the Graham Vunderink Gallery.
The gallery feels more like Pittsfield than the internet. But it also feels more like the internet than a white cube gallery. But the internet too feels more like a medieval village than a mass media. I look back to Ben Schumacher’s work in shows like Almenrausch, with its cardboard-reproduced facade based on the streets Kitchener-Waterloo, Canada, which themselves were based on traditional German Fachwerk, where he is directly pushing against the conventions, the pure and open status of white walls. Taken genealogically, the foil sculptures held in paste, steel sheet pedestals, dripping vitrines, and shipping tape bound cardboard walls upon which drawings on cardboard bar coasters are mounted, backload the fiction of the white cube into a medieval scene, as if it was hand built by serfs. A fan fiction about the hand of the artist. The clean faces and sharp lines of modern materials are dappled with marks of malnourished but devoted hands.
Left from Almenrausch. Right is De Chirico’s Return to the Castle
Spiky DJ operates within similar loops between Romance and Contemporary Art. Based on De Chirico’s “Return to the Castle,” Spiky DJ reformulates the embodiment of a multiplicity of punctures so totalizing they become a rip in the allegorical canvas, which was supposed to have stood in for art on the whole, voided of subject and hobbling to an outmoded destination in the aftermath of technology cascades. I remember what Cocteau writes, “Picasso, hommepeinture. Chirico, homme ecriture.” I am trying to look through that rip, through the knight, the spikes, the DJ, to see whatever is on the other side. Is there anything behind the perforations of the fool which seem so anachronistic to the contemporary stronghold of idealized and sanctimonious devotion? This question which has burdened me begins to settle itself out after my interaction with the Chief. Where other forms of devotion, plain-faced prayer, lashings, building oneself inside the walls of the church, and so on, have clear directions to a space outside of the Earthly present, my jongling loops back onto itself, it has no clear intention towards any beyond.
Similarly, what in part has kept me returning to the gallery, loping about the DJ, is the work’s looping effect I outlined earlier. Wherein the brushstrokes of the painting is the visage of Spiky, so I cannot tell whether the virtual or the physical takes precedence. What is the material basis. Which space coordinates my life, I know longer no. My thought circulates between the two, unsettled, roving about the seam, until my body begins to wobble, ho ho, like a drunkard!
Painting happens where a swamp-green or refined sugar Spiky DJ appears as the brush stroke, the material of painting, flinging around the canvas in gestural choreographies, which begin to look again like a timelapse of the mouse-path of an elite CS-GO player. When I look close at the painting, I realize there are at least two methods of adhering pigment to canvas. Live paint is applied and moved around, left to dry, before printing Spiky-brushstrokes over the top of the messy underpainting. Up close, the print appears like a flat sticker floating on a choppy swamp or a spilled latte, and I imagine Schumacher flinging his mouse around to create lines of Spikys, before blowing them up canvas size.
Spiky Dj is a DJ that is the material of a brush used to make paintings about Painting. In the second painting above, Schumacher paints over the printed DJs, incorporating them into the layers, blurring the differentiation of the first. Is painting about Spiky DJ or is Spiky DJ about painting? Pittsfield still is not the internet, and yet when the faces of Spiky DJ scattered about canvas catch me, I no longer know where I am, nor where I belong.
I juggle again, the trajectories of my sacks modify my previous interpretation of gestural mouse strokes, instead the Spiky DJs appear to arc as well, as if to make a joke of surface formalism: how can you hang a painting without gravity? In the Berlin bathroom, the joke arrives with a splash. But Spiky DJ is not mere recapitulation of Modernist institutional critique. Nor does my response to it, my writing down of my experience of the work have its final cause as some kind of criticism. What Spiky helps me understand is that the Enlightenment is a myth which has lost its power to analyze contemporary experience, if the DJ itself, the preeminent progenitor of pastiche, is a figure who defaults to Romance.
Oftentimes, this is the moment my juggling fails in front of the frame. My sacks spill to the floor. I pick them up. Regard the paintings. Is Spiky DJ a painting of DJ about a character, or a character of a DJ about painting? My mind spins back and forth, like a scratched record, humming out the disruption of an artificial time instantiated by a PVC disc, as layers of paint begin to stretch and extend out of the plane of the picture. Fingers first, then the whole hand and arm too. I kneel. The hand of Spiky DJ hovers above my head. I feel its energy reverberate through my skull like a bass-boosted 808. Then, it gently pushes forward and backward on my clean-shaven scalp. Forward and backward again, erreh erreh.