Tod Emel’s curatorial essay for psycheDADA
Here we go. We are, after all, here to go. Let’s set out from the beginning with an implicit admission of ignorance, or uncertainty, at the very least. For if we set out expecting to have our prejudices and conceits confirmed, confirmed they will be. Saying “I don’t know” will stimulate a cascade of action potential across our prefrontal cortices and what happens next is anyone’s guess. This assemblage of ideas is presented as an initiation into an experiential methodology, tinged here and there with healthy doses of revealing madness; a metaheuristic tool for thinking about thinking. Perhaps you will find this tool useful beyond the scope of the time you spend taking in the work included in the exhibition: Here’s to whatever shimmering insights we experience in future flashbacks. In arranging the setting of PsycheDADA, the artists involved present us with a hyper-stimulating sensorial environment – what follows is formulated as a tweak to our set, a means to tune us in to polyrythmic inter-dimensional freakuencies for an optimal peak experience.
This project emerged out of ongoing discussions between David LaRiviere and myself over the course of the past three years. As these discussions often developed around our individual research into, and readings of, specific (art) historical, psycho-pharmacological and philosophical moments, we identified a particular character, or perhaps flavour, of our engagement coalescing around a mutually sympathetic critical sensibility. For as much as the title takes into its orbit the Psychedelic and Dada, the enterprise at hand is not about a nostalgic replication of the surface effects of either. Rather, PsycheDADA encompasses a dizzying array of divergent perspectives swarming about an amorphous point of recognition. What we articulate here is the relativity of perspective continually cutting across the field of experience. Much as a prism fractures a beam of white light into a spectrum, (note the Latin etymology pertaining to both “spectre” and “apparition”) PsycheDADA extracts, expands, and fractalizes the narrow lens of perception.
Coincidence, chance, paradox, deja vu; reducible neither to the reductive logic of apophenia, nor to the easy revelation narrative of some vague, mystic gnosis: these are all observable, repeatable phenomena inherent to the operations of mind within a chaotic system. All of our perceptions are a gamble, useful but essentially incomplete guesses. The problem arises when we forget this and regress to a lazy, infantile Naive Realism, believing the world operates as an extension of, and in accord with our beliefs; that it ought to conform to the whims of our bio-circuitry. At every scale, interminable interacting processes permeate certainty with all of the flowering vagaries of becoming. Like the works we engage with here, like a looking glass thrown against a brick wall, this language shatters, scatters and complexifies. The world is far stranger than we could imagine and there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our favoured philosophy.
Strange indeed is our glimpse into the world presented by the collaborative art duo of Allison Moore and Etienne Rochon (aka Arthur Desmarteaux) operating under the nom de guerre “Ego Trip Productions.” Tellingly, the phrase “ego trip” was coined in the context of the early years of ostensibly clinical, yet practically very open and liberal experimentation with psychedelics by Western academics. The psychological dangers of a trip going bad for test subjects too attached to their self-image is equally the stuff of anecdotal in-jokes and moralizing ‘drug’ scare films. Moore and Desmarteaux similarly invoke a realm where to take ourselves too seriously would be to miss the point entirely. Through prints, puppet shows and collages, the pair engage the aesthetics of early underground comics with an accent on absurdity. As a jumping off point from the strata of the known, absurdity can be a potent catalyst for change. It is within this arena of play and experimentation where new possibilities erupt. This is not absurdity for its own sake, as much of the relevance of these works lurks in telling details referring to the ostensibly “real.” In forefronting all manner of oddities, grotesqueries and distortions inherent to the mundane, we inevitably recognize the all too familiar, the all too human, grinning back at us, even if at first glance that grin graces the face of a Cheshire Cat in the Hat. Art imitating life, stranger than fiction, precisely the reflection of our own eccentricities, warts and all. Herein lies the slippage of meaning towards the incommensurate, or at least that which cannot be overcome without a change in our comprehension. Letting go of our assumptions and socialized composure, our being erupts in the fracturing excess of reflexive, un-self-conscious laughter.
Within the collision, the collusion, of dancing shadows that is the play of light and darkness of the Ego Trip puppet shows, we encounter the fantastical potential of theatre. Moore and Desmarteaux play, play on, with and in our heads, acting out, projecting, illuminating, merging and warping levels of light, layers of reality. Considering Plato’s Allegory of the Cave in the context of these performances reveals where the idealism of our old Athenian friend falls short; for at which layer of artificiality do we point and say, “Aha! There’s the real.” For as much as we can sort out and be aware of the various tricks of perception going on with the interleaving of image and media in these performances, our experience of the work as a totality is greater than the sum of its parts. The sensible world too is always interjected and interrupted with stimuli to which we ascribe variable degrees of believability and authenticity. These moments we parcel out as more or less ‘real’ are all part of the same continuum of experience, the stuff of being unfolding through time. What could be more real than this?
In conceptualizing the billboard project as an exquisite corpse of monumental proportions, David and I sought to expand upon the Surrealist parlour game, bringing in additional operations of chance along the lines of Duchamp’s Standard Stoppages and Gysin and Burrough’s cut-ups. Scattering the pieces of the billboard to the wind, so to speak, the artists were each given several pieces to be completed independent of and blind to the others, sending them back to be reassembled as a single piece. The resulting pastiche of horror vacui excess invites exploration into the profusion of interrelated image and text coexisting along multiple lines in limitless directions. As we wander through the billboard, our instinct is to look for connections, to make sense of the noise, precisely in he same way our minds continually work to extract a message from our environment. Combining a vertiginous simultaneity of multiple perspectives whose demarcation occurs along randomized schisms, the billboard reads as a psychomimetic, giving us a sense of what it may be like to navigate the world with a diminished ability to comprehend existence in a cohesive and meaningful way. The billboard also highlights the nature of collaborative practices which challenge us to become aware of our own internalized mechanisms of control. Entering into the fray with other minds confounds our ability to anticipate the outcome; for with all of the exponential multiplication of possibilities arising from the subtleties of our interactions, there can be no predictive algorithm for ascertaining the final result. Again, we come up against the ineffable joy of the unknown and unknowable.
Larry Carlson creates potent multi-media psychotropics, eye-bending, perception-jamming head fixes for the 21st century psychonaut. Carlson’s work communicates something of the intensity of sensory effects in the throws of a full-on triptamine alkaloid experience. First encountering his work at www.larrycarlson.com I found myself wondering how the site hadn’t made its way into Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act. His imagery is culled from both the voluminous archive of pop cultural reference material and his own photography and transformed with a variety of digital tools While his collages and digital chimeras provide multiple shocks and shudders of surprise, within the video works, Carlson outdoes our response time; as we’re drawn into a looping scene of quiet reflection only to be thrown moments later into the gaping maw of a morphing stroboscopic neon monstrosity engulfing the screen. There is this character to his films which speak to our experience of the immediacy and interconnectedness forming the fabric of online reality, where every bit of information is a few clicks away from every other bit and an Internet connection is the gateway to hyperstimulating information overload. Considering the literal meaning of psychedelic – mind manifesting – the Internet makes manifest the content of millions of minds, laying bare an emergent fractal epistemology, which seems fitting in light of the well documented historical influence of psychedelia on Silicon Valley’s most radical and forward-thinking technological innovators. What is now proved was once only imagined as our contemporary online lives were seen long ago in the closed-eye visions of the Web’s architects. Carlson has taken up the task of expanding consciousness through his long-standing and innovative web-based multi-media practice, coaxing us out of the comfort of stasis with heaping handsful of ultra-chromatic eye candy.
For PsycheDADA, an extended mix of Carlson’s video works play on a loop within the small light-controlled room specially constructed in the gallery. A soft easy chair sits low to the ground at an optimal viewing distance from the wall onto which the video is projected as the soundtrack plays through speakers arranged to accent the phasing effects of stereo separation. Stepping over the threshold into this space, our senses are subject to the barage of Carlson’s videos, in an environment that harkens as much to the Ludovico Technique of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange as it does to John C. Lilly’s explorations of the inner landscape through the extended use of issolation tanks. Upon completing the installation, I plan to volunteer as the first test subject. I’ll try to remember to hold on tight until it’s time to let go, because I am after all, here to go.
Tod Emel often thinks and occasionally writes about the interstices of post-personal consciousness, hyperception and the ontological implications of information theory, with a keen interest in the ineluctable strangeness of language and its mechanisms of control. Living in Toronto, ON in 2006, he formed the experimental drawing collective Stonelab with his co-conspirators Mischa Pillon and Chris “Satchmo” Satchell. Since early 2010, he has contributed samples, sound bites and peculiar ideas to Psychic Driving Range, the MK-Ultra-inspired audio/visual collaboration developed along with David LaRiviere and Ian Campbell. PsycheDADA marks his curatorial swansong at AKA where he has served as Director for the past three years. As he’s said repeatedly in recent months, he is leaving the art world to play backgammon… possibly.