The Drone, The Doom, The Beat
By Jacquelyn Davis
“One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
—The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus
Summers allow one to fall hard into a self-designed vortex. To fall deeper into a mélange of devices proves to be seductive—let us choose a sci-fi netherworld of escapism which answers to no one. My summer consisted of examining Jacob Dahlgren’s work, cycling fast on Sweden’s highways, listening almost non-stop to the lo-fi Southern CA rapper Elmo Kennedy O’Connor “Bones” (a.k.a., TeamSESH) (plus other cloud / death rappers: $uicideBoy$, A$AP Rocky), (re)reading pivotal short stories (e.g., Franz Kafka, Lorrie Moore, Joyce Carol Oates, Lydia Davis, Dan Chaon, Miranda July) with an altered view on what “good” writing is and should be, as well as avoiding monstrous egos in a cleansing, blank-slate effort. These pursuits overlap; they are repetitive, structurally obsessive and fodder for a lone wolf. The prerequisite for one artist to produce work spanning over the course of a life, the hiss of slim wheels and swift gear changes (even more awe-inspiring during group rides), a self-made voice refusing to “sell out” (“Bones” doesn’t even have an assigned genre yet), a timeless literati chorus, my solitude as a manageable act of rebellion—some of my favorite things.
Dahlgren emphasizes the all-consuming power of ‘flow’; one gets lost in his repetition, methods and curiosities. He has a style which doesn’t easily sway due to the opinions of others, yet his work is made with an omnipresent “everyone” in mind. Dahlgren’s genius is located in his good-natured ability to introduce the political without forcing one singular agenda or dogma into view; take him or leave him—similar to a wildflower waiting to be found in the forest which thrives despite being recognized or chosen. His flow goes undetected by those who casually “pop in” to view just one work as opposed to those who might follow his entire trajectory.
Flow is a phenomenon defined (loosely) as a continuous stream or current of something specific yet usually ineffable. I wonder if Dahlgren initially thought that his art would possess a therapeutic, healing component. Perhaps later, he began to perceive the benefits of his art for others, but I doubt that one of his earlier goals was to help anyone hone their personal flow. The book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi doesn’t reside on my bookshelf, nor have I read it. I hope that I never have to read “literature” which gives instructions on how to calculate, maximize or package my spirituality; I take it as a sign that my head is still above water because I haven’t yet evolved into a neurotic self-helper. For those who don’t have the attention span (perhaps, they have not mastered their flow) to read Csíkszentmihályi, his TEDx talk is available. It seems only appropriate that flow can be found and extracted from any raw material—not just from books, videos or pre-packaged tools which conveniently originate from humans. When I visit NASA’s Instagram account, I sometimes feel the flow:
Peer into the vibrant core of a starburst galaxy, where new stars are forming and springing to life. This galaxy, spotted by the Hubble Space Telescope, is located approximately 50 million light-years away from Earth. Spanning 15,000 light-years, the galaxy displays massive and violent bursts of star formation, as shown by the hot, young, and blue stars scattered throughout the galaxy’s rose-tinted core […]
Flow is related to one’s ability to be in control of what one focuses on, what one thinks about, and: what one does with their life force, which is dictated by their state of consciousness. Many of us choose to pay attention to art, but we didn’t know what we signed up for. Art can be addictive, redemptive, obsessive, passionate, fanatical. Dahlgren is no exception. Yet, some may assume that his creative expression via abstraction and minimalism possesses only a few of these aforementioned traits. For how can one be passionate yet simultaneously subtle, symmetrical and controlled? Has fanaticism become unjustly synonymous with overtly extreme or radical? Who can argue that Dahlgren isn’t enthusiastic and ardent?
I contemplate forms of power which by nature flow, and such powers also move within the art world. I gravitate towards the dichotomy of cruelty versus compassion—what motivates individuals to choose some calm path or violent journey. Artists are influenced by these polarities; they waver between them on a spectrum of creative production—punctuated by periods of rest and refuel. To highlight the distressed or askew versus what is known as universally beautiful—to move towards the painful or pleasurable. Artists can be inspired by one variant or another: the excessive, extreme, volatile versus the passive, emotional, placating. Is Dahlgren flirting with a subtle, nuanced cruelty? His work does not encapsulate any feverish pain, yet he suffers and sacrifices to produce; he is both the initiator and victim of self-imposed rules which many would have abandoned.
Whether or not Dahlgren was ever aware, he has completed multiple projects dictated by a rule or constraint. In Colour Reading and Contexture (2010) and Endless Cut (2012), Dahlgren is a practicing 21st Century Oulipian. More accurately, since he has not created a new literary variant, he is an OuXpian—X representing other expressive mediums (omit text) such as visual arts. Oulipians affirm that freedom can be located and acquired by following exact rules. In the words of the movement’s co-founder Raymond Queneau: Oulipians are, to paraphrase, rats who build the labyrinth from which they will try to escape. Individuals can structure, build and re-build their reality, and a similar sentiment applies to artists who play in this maze.
Pressure remains to succeed and reach one’s potential. As a slight protest and exercise in procrastination, I turn up the volume. My headphones hum; I am engulfed in this self-curated microcosm. I repeat favorite songs, shuffle, tamper with bass and treble. I remind myself that I, at least now, am in control of intake and stimulation. I am the recipient of a throbbing beat:
You say you’ve got them guns but I’ve never seen you bang You say you’ve got them drugs but I’ve never seen you slang You say you’re in the game but I’ve yet to see you play You say you’re going hard but nobody feels the same
As an art appreciator, one can shuffle from one artist to another which better suits a compatible set of values, constitution, vibe, ambition or identification markers—such as race, gender, status, affiliation, aesthetic ideal. Exercise your right to choose, instead of being chosen. We are often told that it is detrimental to believe that we are the center of the world—or that the world revolves around us—but without the ability to dive into one whirlpool or climb some plateau, Dahlgren’s work would either lose relevance or desist. Particles, remnants and remainders needed to draft the future live within this intangible floating potentiality. Now: consider Per Fhager’s textile works of video game panoramas, landscapes and players, for one artist is inevitably linked to another—value the web as it unravels. Regard Fhager’s Field Study (Megaman VII) (2014-2015). Someone somewhere decided that being selfish got in the way of progress, but by submitting to this self-loving modus operandi, riding the spiral, moved by the drone, the doom, the beat—creation lurks here, and periods of introverted egoism destroy self-doubt and nourish esteem. In this zone, there exists room for intensity, repetition, meditation, release, fiendish delights—one can be childish, boring, daring or: whatever. Because here exists the right amount of chaos.
Ride with me, ride with me I need to know Will you die with me, die with me? Just let me know ‘Till we both turn ghost And our bones disappear
With a song at its apex, my beloved artists are fused, creating an elegant concoction which I down in one shot. This neo-absinthe is required to erase myself, human failure and disappointment which holds me back, disjointed from those who wait for me to join their communion. With titles such as Heaven is a Place on Earth (2006), Dahlgren infers a carpe diem outlook—where the secular takes precedence over misguided reverence. Now: visualize Dahlgren’s Baertling-inspired banners and flags floating in this far-reaching cosmos: slow, blissful, unbound.
To fall into an abyss of BASIC—this is, in part, what many struggle to avoid. Dahlgren bounces between the general and specific, highlighting a mutually shared quest to make a mark where pens, pencils and paintbrushes (i.e., weapons) are clenched in hand, ready to override every scratch. Without this manic, feral urge to scratch—even if it falls over the scratch of another—the drive to move forward may become a paltry replica of stale ambition and petty motives. There is nothing worse than being barely here or there, barely alive, and the actuality of failure (i.e., doom) is a minuscule price to pay when confronted by the drone—entranced by a seductive beat, in sync, with no one and nothing in mind or to serve.
Fuck a closed casket bitch put me with the trees Let me rot, throw some seeds, water me and give me leaves All I’ve ever wanted was to be Breathing the way the ocean be
Dahlgren coins his trance-like style. I sway to his aesthetics, absorbing image after image into my cerebellum, clicking at lightning speed like the internet junkie the art world has made me. Multiple tabs open, crowded browser reinforcing emergent possibilities to upgrade. My rapper confirms pandemonium and an inherent drive to override and reconfigure with his molasses rhymes:
Lost in the woods, burn it down to the ground No shirt hair down, somewhere in your town So high, I’m never coming down, coming down So high, I’m never coming down, coming down, coming down This is why I’m hot, and this is why I’m hot
Those who make and love art resemble cannibals; one work will be eaten by another in due time. Brazilian poet and theorist José Oswald de Souza Andrade would probably agree. Instead of absorbing the expired flesh of humans (usually enemies), we instead ingest energies of other territories—artists are the first to dodge blows of colonialism and post-cultural domination. Whether or not it is a “tribal rite” to consume such energy is witchy, dangerous terrain; nevertheless, I voraciously eat certain artistic stimuli which fuel my freakish transitions. These stimuli are usually not authentic models but rather: a chain of morphing ideas and memes appropriated, tweaked, borrowed, stolen from some primary sprout.
There is the idea that once we locate and secure our “tribe,” then everything follows suit. I support this notion via this text and its conversational, straightforward approach; for at this moment, I write for my tribe—not identifiable by race, creed, orientation, gender (ad nauseam), but instead: by those who possess an eerily parallel mindset and spirit. They hear my howl; I listen for theirs. Dahlgren is a member of my tribe, but the explanation as to why and where we belong and remain is encrypted; in this case, words fail allowing the visual and intuitive to dominate. The encoder is embedded in the vortex—within the buzzing drone.
As if I’m submerged inside a stellar entity soon to explode, Dahlgren and others push me to expand limits and realign expectations. Now: let us “switch gears.” I cycle hard and fast; towards the end of this ride, I’m spent. My loyal cycling partner glides up next to me and places her hand on my back—she then peddles harder. She pushes me forward because she is strong, and I feel light enough to conquer the last stretch. She wants to see me finish, or even better: win—this thick-legged, hard-ass femme is also a member of my tribe. I look forward to becoming a cloud of free-floating particles which will join others of corresponding constitution. We will be rearranged into the unfathomable, unspeakable. I practice being a dissipating cloud with my secret playlist. I may come back as an art work, and you might return as the artist (my maker); we can mingle in some wilderness where rehashed, second-rate melodies are prohibited.
There are days when I desire to become one with the black hole buried within my psyche; this dark vacuum pushes me to eat, drink, sleep, shop, run, love, swim, fuck, make, bike, work, hunt, hate, and though this vortex pays no attention to any universal concept of time, it motivates me to carefully watch my seconds turn to hours turn to days and put these intervals to nobler use. Other artists like Yayoi Kusama assist. Let them help you wipe out your life—its idiotic sorrow, confusion, deceit. Kusama and Dahlgren are contrasting windows into the infinite with their polka dotted nets, striped patterns and brave investigations which obliterate the toxic and trite—affirming the unknown, a.k.a. The Other. Dahlgren and I (in short: our tribe) stand to confirm the following statement, with our chosen versus unchosen actions which lead us through the rest of our days: “I am still alive.”
1. https://www.instagram.com/nasa/ (July 25, 2016).
2. Refer to Dahlgren’s I, The World, Things, Life (2004).
3. Compare the work of Chris Burden, Bas Jan Ader, Lars von Trier, Sylvia Plath or Mary Gaitskill to: Claude Monet, Georgia O’Keefe, Piet Mondrian, Frank Lloyd Wright or Terrence Malick.
5. Refer to Viktor Rosdahl: http://www.johanberggren.com/past/11-12-hatchtoanabandonedvein.html
6. Kennedy O’Connor, Elmo a.k.a. “Bones.” “Dirt.” Scumbag. TeamSESH, 2013.
8. Kennedy O’Connor, Elmo a.k.a. “Bones.” “BackstreetBoy.” Scumbag. TeamSESH, 2013.
9. Kennedy O’Connor, Elmo a.k.a. “Bones.” “HighVisibilityRainCoat.” Skinny. TeamSESH, 2014.
10. Refer to Sofia Ekström’s Light Absorber (2014): http://galleririis.com/artists/sofia-ekstrom#image-4423
11. Kennedy O’Connor, Elmo a.k.a. “Bones.” “DeathMetal.” Scumbag. TeamSESH, 2013.
12. Refer to the literary phenomenon Kathy Acker.
12. Refer to On Kawara’s I Am Still Alive (1974).