Nellie Castan Gallery, Melbourne
September 20 – October 13 2012
One century now marks the invention of the kaleidoscope by Sir David Brewster, an influential and entrepreneurial advocate of science that since this time has continuously revealed new experiences of viewing, and ultimately understanding, our world. The accounts of early nineteenth century London describe a society in the grips of ‘Kaleidoscopism’, captivated by a new way of seeing. The experience of looking through a kaleidoscope was often described as a process of being opened up to a world of different cultural sensations.
A century later and the kaleidoscope still offers that same experience, where external views undergo a multiple of reflections through intersecting mirrors to produce endlessly transforming symmetrical patterns. Just as a kaleidoscope needs light to view the endless possibilities and visual combinations of the colored materials, light also provides the illumination for the viewer, as learner, to contemplate and unify the endless possibilities and potential views and connections we can compile of the world.
Light is a necessity to also activate glitter’s reflective qualities in these paintings circulating our memory of child’s play – and as a man made plastic, introduces a discussion on the importance of light as a source of activation, but also to the illusion and ideas of artificial light as our victory over night and the sun.
These ideas of light and memory connect to the visual effects of the kaleidoscope that have long appealed to artists as an optical device to portray a new way of seeing the world. As an optical device the kaleidoscope is singularly inept as a metaphor for conveying the notion that we need at times to view singularly disparate ideas and parts as whole.
Charles Baudelaire in The Painter of Modern Life positively inflected this surrender to instability with a cosmopolitan hue, turning a fleeting inward look into an emancipatory outward one:
Thus the lover of universal life enters the crowds as though it were an immense reservoir of electrical energy. Or we might liken him to a mirror as vast as the crowd itself; or to a kaleidoscope gifted with consciousness, responding to each one of its movements and producing the multiplicity of life and the flickering grace of all the elements of life.
What seems to captivate Baudelaire was the idea of a perceptual process that transcended the circumscription of a single body and mind. Again the kaleidoscope metaphor captures a sense of a celebratory “multiplicity’.
The metaphor of the kaleidoscope for modern life is an omnipresent idea for me that expresses modernity’s constant and rapid change and disruption through time and ultimately reveals surrender to our own instability to be captivated by a new way of seeing the world. What remains consistent across this associative spectrum is a temporary and celebratory look into emotional freedom of emancipation. Setting time and emotion free to exist and operate in potential transformation is like the kaleidoscope, where a moment of release and delight in the pleasures of associative play create a fleeting prophetic vision of hope and natural beauty created by the interplay between movement and light and the object and the eye.
The title ‘Pleasure Seeker’ and the titles of these works investigate the simplicity, and the complexity of this label – because we all exist in a contemporary sociological state of decadence and pleasure. Of special interest to me is how pleasure is experienced in our modern lives in comparison to history, (much like the exhibition FLOW) – what it is that we find pleasurable, and why might we find pleasure in these things and at this time? Is pleasure an exercise experienced across time, or is pleasure specific to how we live in this specific time? What and where is pleasure?
Through researching those three key references listed I was steered toward accounts in time where pleasure is experienced by a mass majority – this has occurred throughout human history as part of the 250 year cycle, or 10 generations that all empires in history experience before its collapse. From Alexander the Great, Persia, Egypt, Greece, the Ming Dynasty, the Romans, and Ottomans and our present day capitalist empire have all shared the same pleasure and decadence principles that became the signifier to each and every empire’s demise.
Pleasure is associated to Glubb’s understanding of the 6th cycle that each and every empire has experienced across time. The 6th cycle is where a societies decadence is defined by displays of wealth, the disparity between rich and poor, by sexual obsession, living of the state, the debasement of currency, extensive involvement of the militia, and curiously, the celebrity chef.
Each of these definitions has an obvious connection to how we all live and participate in existence today, but the three particular pleasure seeking principles of sex, wealth and food – the things that can define contemporary hedonism, seem to be at a complete climax in our contemporary environment.
Society is apathetic, and the importance of defining and relaying systems of contemporary pleasure seeking seems more than relevant, at this time.