John Corbin’s “Drift”: A Conversational Review by Louis Bury and Robert Machado

CUE Art Foundation/ Trestle Restaurant
January 18, 2011, 11:22 am

CUE 1: Conversation

Louis: I think maybe we should begin by saying that we’re here at the CUE Art Foundation in New York City, about to look at the John Corbin exhibit, titled “Drift.”

Robert: Curated by Lynn Crawford.

L: Right. And what we’re going to do is record ourselves having a conversation, both at the gallery itself and then afterwards, about the exhibit. Part of the idea is to use the conversational form as a kind of constraint for giving weight to our immediate and subjective experiences of the work.

R: Which I think is a politically compelling idea because to me it suggests a structure for a mode of reception, a loose game of sorts, whose rules might reduce some of the anxieties that can get in the way of having a relationship to art and its institutions.

L: Yeah, reviewing as a process generally is defined by expertise, but we agreed at the outset that one of the rules we were going to follow was that we weren’t going to read anything about Corbin or his work beforehand.

R: And we didn’t. And for me this isn’t an attempt generally to laud amateurism over expertise; expertise is of course valuable. But working this way lets us consider other productive ways to process and interact with art. The idea that one simply isn’t qualified to observe something and comment on it meaningfully, without having a field-specific background—this of course has complicated and broad implications, limiting both art and the people looking at it, or not looking at it.

L: Absolutely. For me it’s a question of what type of relationship I want to have to art and ideas. Which I think is as much an ethical concern as it is a methodological one.

CUE 2: Mapping

R: Which one do you want to talk about first? Which is a picture that might lead us to read all the others?

L: At first, I thought that maybe the big net [“Flâneur”], or the wall of maps opposite it, was the main part. But then I realized that there’s no one element of the room that’s a master key to the show because the work invites the viewer to think about the relationship between part and whole in any given art exhibition.

R: If anything, I think there’s actually a misleading invitation to read the “Gierlmandy” pieces as clues because there are several of them.

L: Right, and even in those, each one creates a totality through fragmentary pieces. From a distance, this one [“Gierlmandy Atlas Entry”] reads, visually, as seamless, but up close it contains lots of small, interconnected parts. Even the net, which is the piece that requires the most viewing distance, because of its large scale, when you get up close it’s this whole other thing: those little flecks of color turn out to be atlas pieces.

R: I initially was thinking that each of the hexagons that comprise the net consisted of at least one side that contains a map piece, because most do, but then when you try to follow that idea through, it turns out not to be the case. So to me there’s a recurring invitation in Corbin’s work to recognize pattern and decode, and then a moment when the object of the invitation is retracted. Which makes you think about mapping itself as a kind of reading strategy, as a schema for mastering, for digesting, for “making” and not just recording boundaries.

L: To the extent that it’s a successful map, it’s related to the ease with which you can decipher it and use it to orient yourself.

R: Even if a map doesn’t have a key, usually it’s systemically rendered. Whereas the atlas inclusions in this show, there’s no systematic framework to catch them and make them intelligible. Maybe if you look closely you can see city names, but even then, it’s not immediately obvious what those names are meant to represent.

L: I feel like when you get down to that level of granularity, it just becomes a hopeless quest to find meaning wherever you can. I sort of played that game with the maps on the opposite wall – “What cities are in each one?” – but you’re almost too close and things become unintelligible.

CUE 3: Shape

R: I like what you said earlier about Corbin’s interest in playing with variations that occur from different viewing distances because from this distance [about 12 ft. away], those different landmasses or bodies of water that are centered in the maps, their shapes are suggestive of letters, symbols, and figures.

L: Yeah, that one looks like a seahorse.

R: That’s what I wrote down: seahorse.

L:  This one looks like a question mark to me. And that one [“Samantha”] pretty clearly feels like a rooster.

R: I guess from a distance, landmasses take on a symbolic valence. The shapes themselves search out correspondences. It seems this show is so much about processing and trying to orient.

L: Yeah. Italy is a boot; Florida is phallic.

R: And this one is a ridiculous-looking landmass.

L: Why ridiculous?

R: I think a lot of these landmasses look ridiculous in terms of their geographic plausibility.

L: Oh, really? I never questioned it. Because, I don’t know, landmasses are strange, no?

R: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a landmass that does that.

L: That curves like that?

R: Right. And moreover, this background is suggestive of water, but it’s made of sections of land from an atlas. Which makes you wonder, “Is this painted section the water, actually?”

L: Ohhhh, yeah.

R: As soon as you try to pin it down – these painted dots look like pinheads to me – as soon as you try to pin things down, they escape from you.

CUE 4: Names

L: I’ve been calling the painted middle sections “gelatinous.”

R: They’re certainly wet looking. And concentrated in color.

L: Yeah. Which contributes to the idea that they could be water and not landmasses.

R: Right. Unless they’re attempting to articulate topography. Sometimes coloration on a map is used to indicate elevation.

L: Mmm. Which you actually get in this one we’re looking at. We should probably try to name them for the review.

R: Not all of them are even listed in the catalogue. And none is identified with a title card.

L: Yeah, that’s the thing. The one we’re looking at now is the red, green, and yellow one.

R: Is this the “Lisbon” one?
L: Um, what’s the “Lisbon” one?

R: That is how I identify this one. See the city “Lisbon” is readable on the map.

L: Oh, I see. You know, looking through the catalogue, all the paintings are named after women.

R: I noticed that too. So these could be types of portraits based on nationality. Or blobs of paint translating an image of a person. This one now really seems to resemble the back of a person…

L: Absolutely.

R: in profile: leg, arm, head, leaning over. And the fact that they’re titled with persons’ names suggests their connection to issues of identity; whether it’s by visual affinity or national or ethnic make up, we can’t be sure.

CUE 5: Great Men

R: Did you notice that the bookshelf walls underneath the coffee table are silhouettes of faces?

L: Oh, I didn’t see that.

R: To me, these silhouettes, which buttress what appears to be a representation of a continent, suggest that this landmass is founded on great men. I mean that literally, which is problematic.

L: Even before you noticed the silhouettes, I was thinking something along those lines because you have all those busts on the bookshelves.

R: Is that JFK?

L: It looks like him. The others are—that’s Beethoven, I think, there’s an Einstein one. This sculpture [“Gierlmandy: Bed”] and the book [The Sorrows of the Artist as a Young Man] are the only places in the show where there’s a focus on the individual.

R: Except all these maps have names, female names. Which perhaps sets up a gendered dialogue between pieces.

L: Right, yeah yeah yeah, you’re right. Except unlike the great men here, the female paintings don’t have last names, which, unless you’re a Brazilian soccer star or an ancient Greek philosopher, is kind of the way in which individuals become known, historically—through last names.

CUE 6: Color

L: Another thing I noticed in a lot of these pieces is that the seams are always showing. The act of splicing seems really important: putting things together and making connections.

R: Splicing without really naming or distinguishing the parts except through color and shape.

L: I almost wonder if color and shape are being suggested as in some way sufficient for making those kinds of distinctions and connections.

R: We can identify difference but we can’t identify the meaning construed through that difference. Which brings up one of the longstanding questions about color: What does a color “mean” and what do we mean when we ask that question?

L: Speaking of color, I was trying to describe in my notes all the different blues and greens in the coffee table and I didn’t have a vocabulary for describing them. And I realized that most of the colors Corbin uses are quite distinctive—are difficult to label and identify.

R: They aren’t easy primary colors, that’s for sure. Other viewers may have a more sophisticated color vocabulary, but, even still, none of these color masses is a solid, flat color. They have flecks in them, and textures.

L: Exactly. I don’t even know if it’s a matter of not having a refined enough vocabulary. I don’t know if such a nuanced vocabulary could even exist.

R: Well, a person familiar with, say, Pantone color charts, would be able to identify this blue better than we might according to family resemblances constructed by that system. But that naming still would be insufficient because these colors are mottled. All of them have different little bits within them, some of them even reflective. And the little pinpoint dots some of them contain recall the dots in the land map over there.

CUE 7: Parts

R: If these paintings have the names of females—I guess they don’t have to be names of human females. They could be the names of anything—the names of dogs.

L: Boats.

R: I guess it goes back to naming and ways to pin things down: the argument that those ways come up short and entail the discourse of mastery through mapping. Mapping always is functional, but then Corbin confronts us with afunctional maps. They really don’t enable you to distill a thing and come to terms with its parts. They keep leading me to a more aesthetic logic.

L: One thing in what you just said is that we often make sense of objects through their parts. I like the argument you just outlined, and I think there’s also an argument here about how perception happens in different ways, either through assessing things in their totality—like an inkblot or Rorschach test—or through assessing things through their particular, discrete parts.

CUE 8: Drift

R: We haven’t discussed the borders of these paintings, which to me bring up the question of synecdoche—we can’t get a sense of part to whole. Because the hexagonal edges of the water or land here are clipped, they seem to continue on into space off the map that we have in front of us. There’s no way for us to zoom back and recognize how these landmasses may go together, or if one is necessarily rendered completely.

L: I think they create or fit together in what you could call imaginary space. And I really like your reading of their edges: it’s suggestive to think of them not as a boundary or limitation but as implying extension or continuity. They look to me, particularly the blue border painted on the wall around the net, like the teeth of a gear, which suggests the capacity for movement when that gear interlocks with another one.

R: And the show is titled “Drift,” so in that sense, the paintings might be said to be drifting, they’re not tied down.

CUE 9: Netting

R: This net [“Flâneur”] to me is so interesting. It’s the only piece that folds over onto itself, which produces a shadow.

L: Mm-hmm.

R: It perhaps suggests a way to read color variations in the other pieces, ways to render three dimensionality, which goes back to the idea of color being used to articulate topographical differences.

L: You know, in the lone gummy map on the wall next to the net [“Gierlmandy”], the tiles of the interior painted form are very compressed.

R: Right, the center is suggestive of a fold. There’s all this condensation and tension in there, perhaps as way to render a fold in two dimensions.

L: Yes, exactly. And this is the only painting that has that specific kind of tension, where the tiles scrunch together in this way. But what I also wanted to say about the net was that—you sort of can’t not read it as a landmass or a map, given the context of the show—but you can also read it, simply, as a net.

R: A net floating on…

L: water.

R: And it’s called “Flâneur,” a person who drifts, a wanderer. Which for me of course evokes Baudelaire, and the pleasures involved in mixing with crowds, of anonymity despite proximity.

L: Exactly, but it’s strange to me, too, because this piece is so oceanic, it’s set against a blue background, a net can be used to fish, but a flâneur is an urban figure. In other words, there’s an interplay in the show between city and not city, land and not land.

R: I like thinking about the rest of the show through the lens of this “Flâneur,” this netting.

L: Of using it to trap things.

R: Yes. Nets can be used to catch and acquire things, but that also means that thing has been captured, perhaps in a negative sense. To me this plays with the idea of being trapped in a certain aggressive mode of trying to pin down or capture identity in certain terms. We might think of these maps as counter-maps in that sense.

L: Yeah, maps in the service of dismantling the map-function.

Trestle 1: Conversation

L: Ordinarily, when you leave an exhibit with someone you say, “Did you like it? What do you think?” But you often don’t end up actually saying much of what you think, even when you’d both like to. So I liked getting to work in the conversational way we were working in the gallery.

R: Me too. It’s a process of shared discovery and enthusiasm, which I think is a productive exchange. But a conversation doesn’t have to include two people, right—it could include going alone. So thinking about the license of conversation also can let us think about the structures involved in talking to oneself. And then there’s also interactions with strangers, which conversation as a democratizing constraint promotes.

L: The thing about interacting with strangers though is that you can’t assume a shared context. At least for me that’s the difficulty. If you’re in a gallery, do you immediately start riffing at the level of form and associations, like we did? Do you just leave it at the level of appreciation? “Oh, I like it. It’s nice.” Which I feel would be the safer option with a complete stranger. I don’t know, do you get approached by strangers at galleries much?

R: I have. If anyone starts a conversation at a gallery, I assume they’re interested in a more critical perspective. I might start with, “It’s nice,” but I’ll talk a little bit, because I assume the person doesn’t just want to hear, “Oh, this is nice.” I guess it’s not one of my hang-ups, so I’m not worried about the protocol, I’ll just give them my feedback. But other people that I’ve been with have said, “Do you know that person?” So to me it’s normal but I think I’m just a little weird.

L: Well, I like the idea that it could be normal. The idea that it could be an occasion for producing some sort of dialogue, at whatever level, between strangers.

R: Right, and perhaps conversation understood as a productive game could help to make it more normal. It’s like a bridge between people and also ideally to a third place where you’re coming to a certain comprehension or appreciation of a thing that can extend beyond the space of the gallery in some productive manner.

Trestle 2: Constraint

L: One thing I wanted to talk about was the exhibit’s curation.

R: One thing that interested me about it was that there was no wall text. I find it curious that an artist would name a piece if he or she weren’t intending to put that name on the wall. Unless the artist were interested in creating different viewing contexts, perhaps to undermine the idea that there’s an authoritative view of the pieces. Which seems to fit in Corbin’s case.

L: Yeah, it’s a gesture in keeping with the work itself. Description and context is sort of the museum function, which is like a map key or legend. It seems like there are some intentional processes of mystification going on here, not just in terms of names not being provided but also in terms of the constraints used to make the work.

R: Constraints may have been used, but they’re not described anywhere. We can’t know if those constraints were arbitrary or if they were thematically related to the exhibit’s content.

L: Yeah, no, we have no way of knowing, which places these as a type of constrained work where the artist is like a magician who doesn’t want to reveal his tricks.

R: Preconceived or conscious constraints are typically foregrounded in a work, or at least disclosed, no?

L: Well, at least in the literature of constraint, the two competing positions are: we should tell people what constraints were used, because it adds to the aesthetic experience; or, alternatively, we shouldn’t reveal the constraints, because it adds to the aesthetic experience. But you’re right that typically the constraints are foregrounded, you’re often let in on the secret.

R: I think that, again, the show suggests a resistance to the categorical, which extends to the show’s apparatus. It’s not as if all of the maps were equidistant from each other: the fact that they were arranged in groups of three and seven suggests curatorial intention. But when we approached them as groups, we were not able to justify those closures. Perhaps it’s saying: do the work yourself, we’re not going to foreground a way to package this show, and we aren’t going to let your readings rest easily on normalized institutional regularities either.

Trestle 3: Line

L: There are several pieces that have the word “Gierlmandy” in their title, which to me sounds like, “Girl. Mandy.” And you have all these paintings that are titled after women.

R: Well, supposedly the island of “Gierlmandy” that was referenced in Plato was matriarchal, so in that sense maybe these “girls” comprise a matriarchy?

L: I think that’s interesting because the busts and the things associated with national identity are saying, “This is the fatherland.” For Germany especially, it’s overdetermined, those nationalistic associations.

R: Feminizing Germany. Ger-man-dy? Maybe this explains all those candy colors, as well. An attempt to feminize the production of maps, or to draw attention to certain epistemological modes, such as mapping, as readable in gendered terms? The foregrounding of color in this show as a rival perhaps to the delineating lines of maps brings up that historic binary between line and color, often traced back to Plato, actually, that interests me so much. I’d say that maps primarily consist of lines and boundaries. But these maps are more like blotches of color that we can distinguish from one another based only on color differences and the boundaries that they assert.

L: And from a distance, the lines are not the point of the images. It’s only up close that you see they’re riddled with lines. From any other distance, you get a kind of seamless whole.

R: You said something good before: the lines don’t lead you anywhere in these maps. They all criss-cross, stop, run against each other. I think that we’re better able to recognize a type of coherence, if that’s our goal, when we foreground color in this show, or let it be foregrounded, rather than trying to recover the dominance of line that we associate with the mapping function. When we try to foreground lines in this show, they don’t tend to give clues that satisfy the sense of identity that we usually associate with maps: you know, a map defines through lines what a thing is. But these don’t seem to.

L: If maps are in some way masculine, that would seem to have to do with a mania for borders and demarcation and identity through those processes. So it seems important that the roads are criss-crossed and dead-ended.

R: This allows at least for critique. And the colors, to me, weren’t as necessarily dead-ended. Part of the critique might be that we’re used to making sense according, perhaps, to how lines make sense. Irrespective of its colors, so long as a map has outlines, it’s likely usable.  But then in this show, we’re set adrift because the ways to make meaning through color are more ambiguous, more open.

L: Yes, and possibly feminized.

R: At least if we’re talking about that binary historically, yes, at least in the West, color often was considered a supplementary discourse to line; it was the domain of the feminine, the queer, and often of other marginalized or romanticized subjectivities and discourses, especially when color seemed to challenge the authority of line or other geometric systems of representation.

L: And it’s considered suspect because it’s associated with aesthetic pleasure for its own sake, joy or exultation just in the richness of it. We talked about the colors’ gumminess and wetness—that these attributes are considered suspicious because…

R: sensual.

L: Yeah.

R: It takes us perhaps outside of logic’s ability to process them. So a sensual perception that you can’t really contain within a logic is itself a critique of that logic.

L: It’s a very Barthesian reading of the exhibit we’re arriving at: an affirmation of the sensuality of viewing.

R: I think this affirmation suggests a critique of a certain kind of mapping as a methodology for construing subjectivity. The art scrambles and aestheticizes locational data, which to me leaves us with a strong notion of identity as something not defined passively according to inherited context but according to a more active construction of selection and pastiche.

Trestle 4: Hexagons

L: Because they’re so prevalent in the show, I think it would be useful if we talked briefly about hexagons and how they’re functioning in Corbin’s work.

R: The irregularity of the hexagons is to me so important.

L: Irregularity in that they were stretched, differently shaped, not cookie cutter hexagons?

R: Right. I think that their irregularity has an important function in all the pieces. It creates a sense of movement, of dimensionality, a way to render depth. I also think that the hexagon as a shape better allows for the suggestion of skin, of scales. To me, triangles, for example, aren’t as scaly.

L: Absolutely.

R: And scales for me, as a type of hard skin that’s shed, suggest another way to think about the skin of identity. “Flâneur” actually looks like a reptile’s shed skin.

L: Yes. Identity as a shedding of skin.

R: And skins being insufficient summaries of what they contain or cover. Which perhaps leads us back to those busts as an insufficient way to process this fictional country. I think the hexagons are purposeful in these ways and probably many others.

L: It occurred to me through this show that hexagons are sort of an irregular regular shape. Among geometric shapes—I don’t mean “irregular” in the sense of off-center or not symmetrical, but that…

R: Once you get beyond a four-sided figure, maybe it starts to get a little strange?

L: Yeah, there are sort of queer geometrical shapes. They may have rules to them, but they look funny and are unfamiliar. Like a, is it a rhombus that consists of two sets of two parallel lines?

R: A parallelogram?

L: Oh, a parallelogram. [draws a trapezoid] Is this a rhombus?

R: I forget.

L: Like this one [points to trapezoid], you know, it’s regular in that there’s a prescribed form, but it looks funny.

R: I agree.

L: I feel like hexagons look funny. You know, octagons have more sides and have a roughly similar shape…

R: They’re closer to a circle, though, so perhaps that’s why they look a bit more regular.

L: They’re more digestible as a visual form. Maybe it’s because “Stop” signs are so common.

R: I think that as the number of sides increase the shape moves toward a circle. Also, maybe there are fewer cultural functions for a hexagon.

L: A hexagon looks like a lemon—which is a queer fruit.

R: I think the word ‘queer’ works well. It seems to be a rather queer geometric shape, despite its regularity. I’m sure it goes back to Corbin’s interest in constraints, because why a hexagon? It seems to create all these associations having to do with bodies.

Trestle 5: Coffee Table

L: Do you like the idea of calling the sculpture a coffee table? Does it seem like a coffee table to you? Its actual title is “Gierlmandy: Bed.”

R: I’m not saying it’s offensive. I actually like—you’re forcing me to say whether I liked it or not—I think I like the idea of talking about it as a coffee table because coffee tables themselves are so facile somehow as furniture.

L: I mean, to me, intuitively, it just looks like a coffee table.

R: It’s pretty big for a coffee table, though.

L: Well, that’s what I like about it—that it’s this massive floating island.

R: I’m saying, it would be hard to have coffee around it.

L: It’s kind of grotesque. Coffee tables are usually regular.

R: It’s unruly, really.

L: Yeah yeah, and unruly not just in terms of its size but also its shape and its color. The color palette is less bright than some of the maps, it’s more dark and manly, but as a color scheme for a coffee table, it’s totally dissonant. It’s hard to think of it as a purely functional piece of furniture, as something that could fit in your living room. In terms of the larger themes of the exhibit, it’s fitting that it would not fit in.

R: Absolutely, because it’s held up I think by men, and also, it suggests the pretense of functionality. And that’s the critique of these maps: that through mapping, you can get a sense of identity and place that’s a satisfying and sufficient summary of whatever it is you’re attempting to master. So here, you could imagine people having coffee around it, and the fact you can be around it means that you are capable of surrounding it, in a sense you have mastery over it, you’re doing something as common as having coffee on it, you own it.

L: Maybe the way to put it is that maps are representations of space and this table-map intrudes on space. There’s a representational level to the table, but its sheer size overrides that.

R: Moreover, you’re turning a place into a coffee table, a map into a bed. We could think about why.

L: What does calling it a bed do?

R: It wouldn’t be a comfortable bed, of course. I mean it could be a figurative bed, like a bed of flowers.

L: A resting place, where you call home.

R: But it doesn’t immediately suggest a place to rest.

L: No no no, nothing about it suggests repose.

R: Repose or sex or anything we might associate with a bed.

L: You know, busts are sexless. Busts are like pure intellection of a person, right? It’s all above the head, there’s no torso or body. I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly, as a generalization, like busts.

R: I never considered it.

L: I never did, either. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just getting carried away in the moment. But they’re actually kind of an affront in some way.

R: Because they bifurcate the body in this way? Head and the rest? And the rest doesn’t count?

L: There’s that separation. And there’s just… a bust can only ever be of an important person.

R: Or those who think they’re important, either seriously or under the aegis of camp. If you have enough money and you think you’re important, you can have a bust made of yourself.

L: That’s exactly why I feel like busts are an affront. Because they’re clearly a reproduction of one’s image that’s predicated on elitism, self-importance, even world-historical importance. I mean, geez, if you had a bust in your house today…

R: Of yourself?

L: Of anyone.

R: Yes, pretty antiquated.

L: It’s an affectation.

R: I don’t know if you could get away with at all unless you were very old or it was an heirloom of some kind or unless you were kidding, in quotes.

L: Sculpture’s fine, but a bust crosses some sort of line. And I think the thing to say in the context of the Corbin exhibit is that those are the only representations of the human figure in the exhibit.

R: That are easy to ascertain, anyway. One of the maps seemed to embody a figure of a person looking away, at least for me.

L: So there are paintings that suggest figuration, but the only clear figures are the busts and the bookcase silhouettes. Everything else is a form of abstraction.

R: Do you think the grouping of busts and books suggests anything? Are books types of busts?

L: There’s certainly a type of vanity associated with not just having authored something but with having the object to memorialize it. It wouldn’t be too much of a leap, I think, to say that the same vanity underlies both. And, you know, books are very…

R: head up.

L: Exactly, you know what I associate with busts the most? Have you ever read the Peanuts cartoons?

R: Yeah.

L: I think of Linus, the pianist.

R: Oh sure, right. Was that Mozart…

L: Either Mozart or Beethoven.

R: on top of his piano?

L: Yeah yeah, and he had the girl, Lucy, who was fixated on him, but he was devoted to his art. The bust was a sign of his seriousness.

Trestle 8: Authority

L: I really like what you said earlier about the limitations of maps as heuristics.

R: I think a resistance to being determined by maps is being registered. There’s a type of bravado in cutting up something that seems to be fixed—a boldness that seems anti-authoritarian.

L: But it’s interesting because, while I agree that it’s anti-authoritarian, in a sense the project can’t not replicate the authoritarianism of maps. A map, as we’ve teased out, can be an imposition of abstract forms upon an actual physical reality, a way of making sense of it and drawing up borders. So in cutting up maps and then putting them back together, Corbin’s still creating borders.

R: But they don’t conform to any politically existing entities, at least that we recognize. For us they’re useless in that way.

L: That’s what makes them anti-authoritarian. But to the extent that border-making—and this is very relevant to constraint, I think—to the extent that border-making and delimitation is an authoritarian act, you’re always going to be caught up in it, you’re necessarily implicated in that kind of imposition of form upon reality, even in an anti-authoritarian project.

R: I guess the only thing militating against that would be the lack of coherence in those apparent constraints, at least that we can immediately discern. There was always an absence of a final piece that would enable us to assemble a puzzle which could have suggested a grander sense of authority, a redefinition. There always seemed to be either a laxness or a purposeful omission of certain details that would have allowed us to see closure.

L: I love your description of them as puzzle pieces. The atlas pieces in the paintings are fit together, jigsaw-like. Maybe as a way of wrapping up, it might be interesting to consider what you so interestingly pointed out when we were in the gallery, that one of the paintings was hung upside down—it’s sort of like a puzzle piece that doesn’t fit.

R: Intentional or not, it works.

L: Yeah, and the fact that the upside down image doesn’t read as upside down… I don’t know about you, but to me, whether or not it’s right side up or upside down, whether or not there even is a proper direction to that map or the others—you can imagine the net being hung in any number of ways—it’s almost beside the point.

R: Well, because the attendant documentation corresponds to all the hung pieces except one, it’s authoritative in a sense: the book, the official record for history, argues for the way by which the art is supposed to be organized and viewed and remembered. So to have one of them hung upside down brings a question: Who’s the authority here? Is it the person who hung it? Is it the person who took the picture documented in the gallery book?

L: Is it an accident?

R: Again, I think it’s significant that it’s just one painting that destabilizes things. Woven throughout the whole exhibition there always seems to be one variable that doesn’t allow us to close off meaning.

L: Can I say, too—I mean, we talked earlier about how I’m interested in conversation as a mode of criticism—that’s one of the things that I like about how conversation works. The other person provides precisely that kind of variable. I have an intended line of response, but you’re going to redirect it. And then I’m going to redirect yours. It’s one of the joys of working in this way.

R: I agree. Conversation itself seems to fuel that anti-authoritarian interaction, is that what you’re saying?

L: Yeah, I think so.

R: All interactions I guess generate friction that suggests a dynamic which always leaves room for ideas to continue to generate and feed into different directions.

L: Individuals in the show are pretty clearly aligned with the pole of authoritarianism. One book that stood out to me on the coffee table’s shelves was Thus Spake Zarathustra. Individuals are always making decrees. Which is contrasted with the pole of the landmass, the society, the civilization, the group—as organized falsely or accurately in maps.

Trestle 9: Literature

L: We’ve said a fair bit by now, but one thing we didn’t talk too much about is the literature in the exhibit—and that’s fine, we can’t cover everything.

R: If we had more time we could have catalogued the book titles more thoroughly and we could have made some sense—or not.

L: I don’t think… Here’s what I wrote down: Beckett. Swift. Mary Murray Delaney (author of Of Irish Ways). Frank McCourt. William Butler Yeats. George Bernard Shaw.

R: Einstein was in there.

L: Einstein. Ireland Beautiful. Einmachen-Einfrieren, a German cookbook. Bust of Beethoven. Isle of Man. Books by Goethe. Irish Trivia. The Great Cities/Dublin. The Great Cities/Berlin. Discovering Britain and Ireland. Ghosts in Irish Houses. (That seemed to me a suggestive title.) Joyce’s Dubliners. Einstein: The Life and Times, by Clark. Einstein busts. Thus Spake Zarathustra. The New German Cookbook. The Cooking of Germany.

R: I’m sure we could make some coherent sense of that if we had the time and the interest. To at least group subject matter. But that could be another one of those futile enterprises.

L: I feel like it would be reading the atlas backgrounds of the maps for their roads. It’s not just that you could go on forever, ‘cause like we were saying, conversation can, and that’s productive. But there’s a sense in which there are certain interpretive abysses that go on for forever and there’s no yield: you go down the rabbit hole, you notice that here’s a misplaced Cologne, here’s Hamburg, here’s Berlin—what does it mean? It doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t lead anywhere. Whereas the particular rabbit hole we’ve chosen to go down in having a conversation and, you know, just talking about the issues the work raises for us, I think is more obviously productive.

R: It’s at least encouraged by the exhibition and the curatorial decisions. And yes, in a grander sense, it could be more productive as an alternative to an authoritarian way of reading.

L: Yeah yeah yeah. Except I guess the danger of an anti-authoritarian way of reading is the potential abyss you could fall into of trying to interpret the atlas backgrounds: hopelessly trying to connect how and what they might mean without any real prospects for closure or surety.

R: If you don’t have a center that holds, then you’re adrift? I don’t know if there’s an answer, if one or the other mode is better, except that the one we’re engaged in now seems more fun.

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