Wednesday, April 1, 2015

ESSAY: An Exhibition Essay on Kyle Beal's Exhibition

“Jokes are products of human ingenuity that at their driest and most refined, fall within the domain of art. Yet many people – even people blessed with a rich sense of humour – loathe them.” [1] 

Kyle Beal’s exhibition Roulette is an installation that asks the viewer to explore a hallway lined with doors; to literally linger in a passageway. In the 1967 film Playtime Jacques Tati creates a humorous critique on modernity as the film follows two separate characters throughout a thoroughly modern Paris continuously absorbed by the sites, sounds, and gadgetry of the large metropolis. Throughout the film we can’t help but find humour in the discombobulating and angst Mosieur Hulot (played by Tati himself) experiences as he goes about his day. The female protagonist, an insouciant American tourist who haphazardly discovers Paris on her own terms, contrasts this. The two main characters’ days overlap throughout the film juxtaposing playfulness and disorientation. Beal’s hallway of doors reminds us of the ‘fun house’ and the disorientating yet playful interventions it flaunts. Like Tati – Beal draws on simple oddities of modernity and the unsuspecting disorientations we experience and discover as we move through space and time. Once inside the hallway we are surrounded with multiple closed doors - each having their own function giving us a curious but sublime feeling of alienation.

Beauty can be far too limiting as a term for an art object, so we instead look at the object’s aesthetic value. An object like Beal’s hallway is interactive and the observer transitions into an active aesthetic engagement. Our experience within the hallway is characterized by the condition that we do not ask anything of the hallway itself but take pleasure in the contemplation of the playfulness it boasts.

In the video Poke in the Eye/Nose/Ear (1994) by Bruce Nauman (USA) the artist presents us with a very detailed and closely cropped image of an eye, a nose, and an ear to be interpreted at face value (pun intended). Each considered image of the artist as a disembodied subject spotlights the individual act of a self-inflicted literal poke in the face. Nauman’s intent for the viewer accentuates the unusual situation as the art, instead of a more traditional product as the art, giving the experience as a whole more importance than the individual actions taking place on screen. In Beal’s exhibition Roulette we too are looking at art as an activity and less as a product. By creating the physical hallway this object’s function becomes less about its literal properties; instead being the experience the viewer has deciphering its purpose. The contrast between sense and nonsense becomes significant with the humorous artefact we are left with from this experience.

Freud theorized that a nonsensical joke references the time of our childhood – when our innocence didn’t need humour to feel happy. In contrast laughter can too relate to hopelessness, frustration, and more specifically alienation. When we run out of emotions to express our feelings laughter is often the bodies last form of expression. A frustrated laugh is a lot different than the innocent laughter of a child. The importance of humour as a coping mechanism for these themes is illustrated in the discoveries behind each of the doors. These physical objects are recognizable comedic tropes that take a slapstick approach into finding place in the zeitgeist of innovation. Which one should we open, and what awaits us on the other side?

As we hurtle through time, modern design and technologies attempt to bring us closer together making it easier for personal connections, repairing a social fabric while at the same time unraveling it. Feelings of alienation have never been so prominent and unsuspecting. There is nothing funny about this except that it can be made funny. “Jokes are a medium for fantasizing about what must be avoided in reality, a way of laughing off our cruel, irrational, and aggressive instincts.” [2] Looking back at the mishaps of our failures a sense of humour brings light to these dark places. ☺  

“You Are the Clown who put the ugh in Laughter” – Richard Wilbur

Essay by Jeremy Pavka
[1] Holt, Jim. Stop Me If You've Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes. New York: W.W Norton, 2008. 125. Print
[2] Holt, Jim. Stop Me If You've Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes. New York: W.W Norton, 2008. 41. Print