There was a time when I would pontificate on the theories of Jacques Lacan with as much confidence as I muster these days for my views on the Middle East. But truth be told, I remain at a loss to understand either in any but the most superficial way. I know the key terms (mirror stage, blockade) and people I respect (Slavoj Zizek, Naomi Klein) say things I think I agree with, but the unresolved complexity of each leaves me hesitant to define one or the other, to make a judgment or put a name to what either of them really mean.
Mike Hoolboom, Lacan Palestine
While I've given up on Lacan for the time being, I spend a lot of time trying to get to the bottom of things in the Middle East, following the conflicts, reading up on both sides of the issue, and, in general, criticizing Israel for its continuing mistreatment of the Palestinians. But all the standard sources for evidence lead endlessly through interpretations of historical precedent that expand concentrically from Jerusalem to engulf the globe. And I remain uncertain in what I know.
It was with this twin doubt that I attended Pleasure Dome's screening of Mike Hoolboom's new film Lacan Palestine at Beit Zatoun House in Toronto last Saturday. The gathered audience could best be described by a Venn diagram of artists and activists. I stood at the back of the packed room and shifted from foot to foot as Hoolboom's torrent of images – some documentary, some found footage, some abstract – churned beneath an equally indirect narrative of fragmented voices hinting at the meaning of the material but never landing a definite statement. But that was the point. Rather than resolve things, he condensed years of news and accumulated media in a seventy minute frame. He told the audience off the top not to bother parsing every single image in relation to every other, but to surrender to the flow and allow their eyes to decide what to focus on (a thread of the film, referencing Barthes' punctum, deals with this manner of looking). The result, rather than saying, "this is that", dredges up the unconscious of Said's Orient and, like all powerful political art, encourages us to ask the same old questions, so familiar that we barely register how rote our responses have become, once again. Some of these questions seem simple – like, "How do neighbours get along?" – other seems complex – like, "How did this happen?" But Hoolboom, who, like myself, has never been to the Middle East, makes his contribution to the discussion by assembling an experience that demands a response - at the least, to make sense of what was seen, but ideally to elicit different ways to consider the situation. However, a single screening is not enough. This film, as dense with images and ideas as it is, requires multiple viewings to see the many echoes and repetitions that pull together its cyclical structure. I'm not so naïve as to think I'll find my answers there, but at least I have a site to exorcise my confusion.
Matt Crookshank, The Bold and the Beautiful #2
Given the troubling times we face, I'm increasingly drawn to unresolved confusion as a form of celebratory therapy slash exorcism of frustration. I listen to more speed metal in my middle age than I did in my youth and I bask in the generously expressed fury of the id that I see as the root of painter Matt Crookshank's creations. His exhibition at General Hardware is one toxic rainbow-hued fuck you after another and I find inspiration in each one. They succeed as abstractions because they break free of the gravity of interpretation and simply exist as visual stimulation. Not so much "eye candy" as "eye drugs", they are psychedelic without the trappings of peace and love, false dicta that get in the way of pure expression. To quote Lester Bangs, "let it blurt" (and I mean that, as he did, in the best possible way).
General Hardware: http://generalhardware.ca/
Matt Crookshank: The Unlikely Event continues until December 8.
Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.
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