14 October – 8 November 2020

Drew Connor Holland

Nadir (even if i break in two)

thinking from the bottom (or “my name isn’t alice”) 

Around the time of the 2016 election, when major candidates were facing the possibility of competing with figures who could be aptly described as “insurgents”, the word populism was bandied about with increasing frequency. The shock of the new was matched with a new grade of voyeurism, the licking of blades as the world started to change, though perhaps it was more like a long overdue reveal. I’ve always been weirdly calm in the advent of disaster, maybe knowing that it is a kind of confirmation – that I was right to doubt the public face of any kind of nationalism or trust it to set the terms, that my alternative reality actually held weight. In any case: it was the first I’d been made to think of populism in a political context, so much had I become used to seeing it in its usual top down process. I dreamed, embarrassingly, of a world in which we would all be made to contribute. 

The phrase was treated with an ambivalence, at best, if not outright horror. That any kind of political leader could effectively channel the will of the people, to speak to their better interests and reflect their true desires instead of dictating from above – terrifying!! Plenty of journalists, the kind who hedged their jobs on the continuance of a political system that they might oversee and commentate on, showed their ass in their hurriedness to denounce a political shift. That our media class reacted to it with such swift vitriol does make sense, and maybe we can see that with more clarity now, could even be somewhat justified, but I couldn’t help but be fixated on the substance of the term, and the accompanying images. 

Watching a bogus documentary courtesy of Netflix, “the social dilemma” – though admittedly being interesting, was outweighed with questionable performances inside of a fictional subplot – I noted how Silicon Valley execs, and former execs and coders and now influencers, lovingly outlined the ways in which they’d created our charming online hellscape, the one we all know and loathe (assuredly for a very handsome price) only to then, later in the documentary, describe with horror the ways in which different algorithms had stoked populist sentiment. It was hard to feel sympathetic, amid the close-ups of perfectly pressed striped shirts and mommy blogger designer kitchens. 

It speaks to our disenfranchisement on such a level that the voice of “ordinary” people could only be seen as a threat to democracy, as if the prevailing traditions of the last 50 years haven’t involved a strict disregard for any sort of equitable democratic process. In an ideal world, I imagine the role of politics being a daily one, if not weekly or monthly – not just passive, but sincerely proactive – something that requires our say outside of the drudgery of ballot boxes, or even casual lobbying. I say this not to offer the consumer activism of the aughties as a replacement, but to consider what it may take to reacquaint ourselves with our imagination. To reignite the muscle memory of mass participation – what the romance of true democracy might feel like. 

To be populist – to reject the allure or pomp of institutions – how often we may consider ourselves in this light, only to be betrayed, or to become the one who betrays. How often it leads us down a winding path to a narrow sculpture, strips the fun out of everything natural, and, most criminally, rejecting spontaneity, the one thing I can recognise as crucial to a sustained sense of “happiness.” 

My febrile, adolescent brain understands populism in art, in music, in wanting to connect with artists who are unkind to tradition, not out of some immature need to be punk rock, or to head quickly to the mall, but out of a need to be high risk, high maintenance, and honest to whatever degree the accompanying situation allows it. It means reaching for bravery even if it might feel impossible. I don’t think vulnerability in its popular form is “bravery” but I do adhere to the belief that it appears upon the meeting of certain conditions – a sequence performed with enough care and fluidity that could be described, loosely, as bravery. 

How often the intention to speak “seriously”, to over-theorise, to assume meaning and history where it may not apply only give us cliches. In our attempt to strive for significance, vulnerability is effectively stopped in its tracks.

Everyone has read, for example, an over-enthusiastic essay from a first time writer (or even, maybe, a first book) from someone who confuses a vivid vocabulary with substance or charisma. Engaging with work like this is often painful, if only because it reminds us how unpleasant it is to be so driven by a desire to prove oneself rather than sheer need, or out of authenticity. In fact, what authenticity “really” is cannot be faked, like an orgasm, though both may produce interesting and ultimately unsavoury outcomes. 

At some point this week I broached the topic in the group chat (no new friends, as they say.) Do you feel like you experience happiness, or just occasional, rare moments of gratitude and joy? For once I’d like to aim a little higher than the sweetness of contentment, which I do value – bur thinking of something more highbrow than just surviving. 

Think too of how truly alive you feel in a moment of the unadorned, in complete abundance with the ones you most love – irrespective of time and place. Nothing is redundant anymore, audiences rush to attention, people leap to their feet in the grandstands, and the present moment becomes “perfect” outside of a qualitative, or moral, judgement. 

There is something religious about the peeling back of the layers, of accepting what we look like when the mask slips – the tan lines and the smudged YSL lip. Jane Fonda reminds us of this! 

But this is not an informational brochure – this is apparently about pretense and art. 

Unprovoked, here is a list of meme formats I feel pleasing as of the year 2020: “A part of the old self exists in the new self”
and of course:
“My son isn’t gay….he loves women!” 

The allure of concept can be all-consuming. To want to prove your worth, to actualise, to combine the sum of your parts and express it through a vehicle designated for flight. But there is the equal danger of letting the destination obscure the journey, if you want to put it in vulgar terms. 

In her interview with Zane Lowe, Lady Gaga reflects on the last 5 years of her career, where the “concept” of her albums and the accompanying dialogue threatened to eclipse what made her appeal so vital in the first place. In setting impossibly high bars for her work, the frivolity, multiplicity and many-faceted joy of her work, certain child-like eccentricities, had been stripped away. If occasionally imperceptible, these elements were still vital and they had been lost in the process. She says that with Joanne, she wrote songs with the intention to “heal her father” only to realise that she “could never do that.” And so, inside the heart of this admittedly quite difficult interview, she recounts the dive into depression that followed, the feelings of purposelessness and ineffectiveness. 

And then comes the inevitable journey back to agency: “just being myself…and seeing little glimpses of myself come alive here and there.” 

Finding our way back to the wisdom of the child – is that the ultimate goal? It may arise in the lecture halls of art schools as much as it does therapist rooms, to find some kind of “wise mind” type balance between the intellectualism of the adult and the emotional purity of our younger selves. There’s a kind of chrysalis we need to journey to, promising untold spiritual pleasures, if only in the form of momentary self-actualisation. It’s a journey that is shiny and hyper-modern, tricked out with contemporary flourishes, though not unafraid of the textures of tradition, material, compost, makeshift sculptures. 

A quote from Marina Abramovic, if it’s allowed: “if you are scared of something, that is exactly the direction you need to go.” 

Some words from Ryuchi Sakamoto, which might be more permissible: “bad music is made intellectually.” 

How quickly the mighty fall! How desperately we move to catch the debris, as the idols topple! Knowing, perhaps, that we would be better without the burden of false icons. 

I’ve always preferred the desecrated statue to the original. There’s something really very sexy about a colonisers statue, drenched in hot pink paint – or alternatively, a paparazzi shot of Chris Crocker circa 2007 with “fuck perez” written out on his (their?) chest. 

The process of making something requires an undue element of risk. Which may sound obvious, but always stands to be reiterated. To predict everything and to put all your ducks in stunning little row, thinking of safety; it is the aligning of necessary chains, disallowing you from letting the unconscious come through – or, perhaps, blocking the possibility of god from entering a vessel. 

Like light through a pinhole, like the click of a camera shutter as it absorbs the colour and outline, like a curtain being slowly pulled open, like a teenager before the plenitude of desire, the process demands that we accept all that is unruly before we decide on direction. 

To be in the moment – every therapist presses it upon you. But there are different fences blocking your view as you try to peer over, to see the truth, become distilled by the purity of something as it’s honestly happening. 

America falls and the world burns, but all you can stomach is a half-assed response, a wheeze or maybe a sigh as you leave the room, having long exhausted your capacities for actual shock or sadness. Reasoning to yourself, you engage only with what you can. 

2020 has added a new listing under the DSM – the first in many years – instastory graphic fatigue. 

At the point where I can’t separate natural fatigue and proportionate ennui from the technical self-assessment of “mental illness”….or what is to be gained from discerning that line. 

Jonno Revanche

Installation images by Docqment