The artists’ text for O, can be found here.
GARDEN PARTY/ARTS presents: O,
Amy Beecher and Kerry Downey
October 13, 2012 6-10pm // 147 Halsey Street, Brooklyn, NY
“I am not the subject of a hymn but of a hum, the thing that resonates around me, which might be heaven or bees or desire or electric wires, but whatever it is it involves being in proximity to someone and in becoming lost there, in a hum not where “we” stood but all around, not in the mapped space of drives and driving, but a space that is lost. Queerness substitutes itself for religious affect’s space of reverence: in the end, life is at the best imaginable of impasses. What intersubjectivity there is has no content but is made in the simultaneity of listening.”
-Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism
GARDEN PARTY/ARTS is pleased the present “O,” the fifth and final installment of our series this year. “O,” features artists Amy Beecher and Kerry Downey, both of whom have made work that takes an interest in the self help industry and the Positive Thinking movement. We chose Lauren Berlant’s 2011 essay Cruel Optimism as a way to begin our conversation about the show and to prompt the artists’ text contribution.
There are two concepts in Cruel Optimism that are of primary relevance to our discussion. First is the “object of desire”, which Berlant claims is the optimistic attachment of a “cluster of promises” to an object that represents them. An object of desire might be a career, a house, a car, a lover, or any number of other things, as long as the belief in the object and the promises it represents sustains our desire through the object’s absence. So, for example, if the object of desire is wealth, the cluster of promises might include not just comfort and happiness but also belief in upward mobility and the American Dream. Desire for the object thus facilitates participation in capitalism even for those who are its victims- so long as the belief in its promises is continuous.
The second concept is what Berlant calls the “moment of impasse” which is a crack or fracture in our perception of reality that allows us to perceive otherwise unimaginable ways of being. The impasse is “an event that displaces and dissolves ordinary life” and suggests the possibility of “a radically re-sentualized subject.” This idea is attractive in feminist terms because it suggests that though systems of oppression are self-reproducing, they are not inevitable. Furthermore, since the moment of impasse occurs within an individual’s psyche, it implies that our bodies are themselves sites of radical possibility.
Beecher’s previous work has involved the appropriation and reproduction of the language of self help, emphasizing the hypnotic effect of habituated normativity in sexual relationships between men and women. Downey’s work takes a different approach, picturing and thus insisting on the physicality of marginalized bodies. Both artists’ work seem to confirm Berlant’s description of contemporary life as characterized by “the ordinariness of suffering, the violence of normativity, and the [production of] ‘technologies of patience’”.
Their title “O,” refers to the concept of apostrophe: the rhetorical animation of an absent person, object, or abstract concept through its direct address (as in “O, happy dagger!”). Berlant describes apostrophe to highlight the desire to share the psychic space of others, which is the fantasy of intersubjectivity. In one example of a moment of impasse, an apparently anonymous encounter results in what Berlant calls “collaborative unknowing”. It thus seems appropriate that Beecher and Downey have decided to produce a work collaboratively despite not knowing each other previously. The result of their collaboration will be on view for this show.
Amy Beecher (born 1984, New York) lives and works in Gowanus. She holds a BA from Brown University and an MFA from Yale. You can see more of her work at the BRIC Rotunda gallery in “On Purpose,” opening November 14th or at www.amybeecher.com.
Kerry Downey (born 1979, Florida) is an interdisciplinary artist based in New York. She holds a BA from Bard College and an MFA from Hunter College. Downey is a current participant in the Queer/Art/Mentorship program; her work has recently been exhibited at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College, Invisible Dog, and The Bronx River Arts Center. She teaches at the MoMA and Hunter College Art Department.