Let’s keep it real. Who doesn’t want to feel great?
Decadent words like bliss, ecstasy, rapture, euphoria, and nirvana whet everyone’s appetite. And we’ve all got this gut instinct it’s possible. You just have to figure out how to get it.
An exhilarating summer group show at Greenpoint’s Rawson Projects mightily tackles this euphoria-craving aspect of the human condition. With the name Self Help, the viewer is invited to ponder the various ways we can help ourselves unlock that rush of good feelings within our own minds.
Perfunctory disclosure: every art work explores this topic in a different way. But what’s refreshing is that it’s not about getting off in moments of over-romanticized self-destructive narcotic escapism (that’s been done). The works are more about your relationship with yourself, and how to push your own happy buttons.
So Lara Croft does her own laundry with attitude. Getting into the zone while doing these domestic tasks is the subject of two works of video art by Georgie Roxby Smith, “Lara Croft, Domestic Goddess I & II” (2013). Lara’s got to let off some steam after raiding all those tombs and help herself out.
In “Domestic Goddess 1” she screams like Sharapova in focused frustration over the sink and lets out myriad noises lifted from the game’s soundtrack. There’s a feel good release in making these guttural noises. “In Domestic Goddess 2,” Lara blasts music while ironing and holding on to her bow. Even when chilling out domestically, Lara’s still a badass that subverts the housewife construct.
And the subtexts abound. Smith actually hacked into the Tomb Raider code to lift Lara for this work. And to create the laundry room she bought various components like the clothes rack and washing machine from Second Life and then moved them into the video file. It’s a charming intellectual property disaster and I love it.
So there is this place — the dance floor — and its verve lives on in the paintings of Thomas Jeppe, like “Hand-Fist-Index (Mimetic Club #363)” (2013). We’re not talking the awkward desert of middle school proms, but the lush jungle of a rave, where silhouettes of colored light glimmer across the floor and the walls. The silhouette features prominently in Jeppe’s paintings, and this connection with the dance-floor is not made obvious by any symbol in the work — silhouettes are polyvalent. Nevertheless, a big part of this painter’s story is finding meaning and release while dancing and it infuses the work.
The challenge is that Jeppe’s message doesn’t come in a clear narrative format. But nor is exploring the dance floor’s meaning a linear feat. Is it too much to enjoy colored silhouettes, to feel the bass hitting your chest like a second heart beat, to sweat, to feel the rush of endorphins? There are lots of people who don’t need drugs to get something cathartic and euphoric from dancing. Are we missing out if we don’t get this lift?
Optical tricks and the play of form also give potency to the reflective sculpture, “Mirror, Chair” (2013) by Confettisystem (Nicholas Andernson and Julia Ho). Like the funhouse, it invites your to behold a mirror distorting and twisting your self-image. But unlike the fun house reflections, it’s a much more uneven and jagged surface, so you can control the extent to which you warp by pivoting around.
There is so much significance in stretching and distorting your own self-image. One element in craving rapturous experiences is the opportunity to no longer feel exactly like our banal everyday selves. We feel like distortions of ourselves and like it.
You’ve got to play with the piece a bit to find the right angle for your gnarly selfie. Playing until you hit the sweet spot that stirs your imagination is the joy of this work.
So far, the focus has been how you do you, but you also make profound choices when you engage with others. Pinar Yolacan’s “Like a Stone” (2011) is a fat clay-like woman figure that could either be a statue or a body with a thick clay-like tan. It’s ambiguous in the work. Spoiler alert: it’s a woman covered in clay and then photographed.
Look, there isn’t a delicate way to get this out. But you can’t live your life expecting every person to be eye candy. You get these chances to meet incredible people that look uncannily weird – like they are metaphorically covered in slimy clay. How do you interact?
Yolacan’s work stirs the body image conversation, which often centers on how beauty’s should be more inclusive. And while I agree, we also need to talk about the rewards underneath takeaways from appearance. You can gain from wickedly good conversations, from giving someone time to tell their best stories. It’s up to you to decide with whom you go in-depth. But do ripped bodies correlate with the ripped souls who will lead you to eureka moments? To sound unabashedly platonic, Yolacan throws the value of the surface and appearances into a well-deserved limbo.
It’s been hard not to not to slide into after-school special mode with a topic like self-help, honestly probing the meanings of these works. It’s your life and your choices. But you can help yourself experience nirvana while doing laundry, achieve bliss on the dance-floor, seek thrills by prodding your imagination before a twisted mirror, and find satisfaction in speaking to someone you might be tempted to pre-judge because of their appearance. It all comes down to your own attitude and a sense of possibility in how you play the next hour. It’s up to you to help yourself.
Self Help, curated by Jocelyn Miller, will be on view at Rawson Projects (223 Franklin Street, Greenpoint, Brooklyn) through July 21. There will be a closing event with a performance by Horoscope, drag performer Bichon, and a life coach on the evening of July 21st.