April 1 - April 30, 2005
About ten years ago I attended a lecture delivered by Simon Critchly at Goldsmiths College that rocked my world; it was an enlightening discussion that touched on language, the symbolic order, and the problematic nature of reaching a place of understanding between egos. On this occasion the professor offered an interesting definition of the neurotic, suggesting that a healthy reaction to circumstantial evidence may be that one suspects that their partner is having an affair, whereas the neurotic person, given the same information, knows that their partner is having an affair. We can extrapolate from this illustration the fundamental principle that knowledge is contingent-given the fallibility of our senses and the overarching failure of language in the absolute. In coming to this understanding it is important to recognize that meaning emanates from a negotiation that occurs in culture, one that is fraught with problems that derive from our all-too-human neurotic impulses. In most cases, especially in our colonial European history and traditions, the prime neurosis can be traced to what becomes subscribed to as an absolute truth. Put more simply, there are times when we forget to question authority.
Clint Wilson's enigmatic sculptural installations take as their point of departure outmoded or supplanted constructions of science and technology. For example, Generale Morpholology incorporated actual zoological specimens with motors and mechanical devices to lend the artist's representation of the biological "tree of life" a crude automation. As with the current installation Chromaplay, such examples of Wilson's production invoke a once popular, now lost quasi-scientific indulgence from 16th century Europe. Back in the day a French aristocrat may have contained in his parlor just such a provocative automaton, designed to do little more than titillate the viewer by keeping intact its special magical properties, a purposeful suspension of disbelief. As brilliantly manifest in the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles (by David Wilson- no relation), the motivation underlying Clint Wilson's "regressive" impulse has to do with what has fallen to the wayside in our determined western quest for absolute scientific truth. Herein the artist makes a case for wonder.
In a more general sense Wilson's strategy could be linked to a critique of contemporary museological practices that privileges a specialized knowledge that is nevertheless prone to authoritarian finality. Montreal-based artist Trevor Gould uproots the authority of such constructions by revealing the political collateral damage incurred by inscribing its dominant position. Wilson's work accepts this postcolonial critique of Western authorities as an underlying premise for reconstituting the debunked case in order to illuminate its more seductive properties. Enter Chromaplay: a floor-mounted installation comprised of a latticework of antennae with attached but suspended pieces of detritus and, fluttering amongst the trash, actual butterfly specimens. The work is visceral, its appeal is based on the magical reanimation of the butterfly specimen-itself a loaded image. Most of the reaction and commentary generated around Chromaplay to date reflect the visceral nature of the work; spectators, including children, have responded quite strongly to the sound and movement in the piece. However, sensing the critique embedded into Wilson's installation, one writer responded to its previous incarnation with the accusation that the conceptual bearing of the work is nihilistic in nature. This is an interesting charge that betrays a common assumption often held in defense of "God" (among other things): that if meaning is forever contingent then "truth," as some kind of absolute value, does not exist and life itself is meaningless. The neurotic character of this analysis fails to admit the dynamics that underpin Wilson's proposition-dissolving the absolute makes way for possibilities, difference, diversity and play. In this way our engagement with Chromaplay admits the imagination and therefore our active participation.
Text written by David LaRiviere