Dream of Flying, Side Show Gallery, Williamsburg, NY 2009
By Denise Carvalho
It is in the realm of the psyche where dreams—the so-called network of signifiers of the Freudian unconscious—and the aesthetic meet. The surrealists knew it well, drawing from its endless source of inspiration and expression. In the lucid “dream of flying,” emotional and sexual energy pair up with the body’s ability to “fly.” This is where the “flying” body feels natural, despite its physiological impossibility. Gaston Bachelard notes a reversal in the connection between image and imaginary in our experience of the dream. He states that the lexicon of the imagination is not the image but the imaginary, and that the imagination deforms rather than forms images, subverting an immediate response to what we see. Therefore, imagining is a liberating act. In its open and elusive qualities, the imagination shapes the sensations that we look for when we finally experience things outside the dream state. Bachelard writes, "I will therefore, postulate as a principle that in the dream world we do not fly because we have wings; rather, we think we have wings because we have flown. Wings are a consequence. The principle of oneiric flight goes deeper. Dynamic aerial imagination must rediscover this principle.” (Bachelard, 2002, pg. 27) Jacques and Tony Roch delve into the questions and experiences of the imaginary in their exhibition at Side Show Gallery. In medium, concept, and sensibility their works could not be more different, but their exploration on the poetics of flight places them in an agreeable stance.
Jacques Roch’s most recent paintings explore the contingency of time/space relationships in the poetics of visual language. His sense of time is not set by a syncopated repetition or by any allusion to order and symmetry, but by primordial rhythms, variations, and interruptions. In his work, space escapes. It rejects mimetic three-dimensionality grounded by a common axis, and fully embraces the state of vertigo. These are land-escapes or interior-escapes of open color matter. Through a bird’s eye view, the viewer becomes the bird. Jacques’s familiar anthropomorphic tropes line up in a procession traversing his world of color fields, reconnecting with a world of dream or a dream world. Humans are both animals and cartoons. Jacques’ world is as Giorgio Agamben states, a world in which “Paradise calls Eden back into question.” (Agamben, 2004, p. 21) Here we are reminded of the hierarchy of culture over nature as the necessary measure for the reproduction of Eden, and it can only be experienced through the dream of Paradise. “If animal life and human life could be superimposed perfectly, then neither man nor animal—and, perhaps, not even the divine—would any longer be thinkable.” (Ibid. 21) Returning to Eden has finally become equal with nature.
The equality of culture and nature is the great dissonance of a world defined by correspondence and abandon. Referencing Baudelaire’s Correspondances of colors, odors, and senses, Jacques’s semiosis of colors and linear narratives also “mingle in the distance,” in the open of the surface, but not in unison. (Aggeler, 1954) As in Baudelaire’s Correspondances, Jacques’s world is also that of phenomenal multiplicities intentionally unspecified. It is in this lack of specificity that the artist applies his absurd sense of humor, a humor that is driven by dissensus. Jacques’s correspondences are broken patterns, spaces of transit, groundless interiors, and suspended or transitional objects. Their logic is incongruent, typical of the dream: kites flying alone and staircases leading nowhere, or even Jacob’s ladder bridging the visible with the invisible, man with its soul, heaven and earth. Ominous birds are everywhere, sometimes disguised by white strokes of paint, sometimes metamorphosed by diffractive lines. A large anthropomorphic butterfly sheds its wings and ascends as a woman. Interferences are part of Jacques’s strategy of seduction, creating a sense of lyrical order amidst chaos.
Elevation (2006) consists of large blue spaces that break the boundaries between interior or and exterior settings. On the right side of the canvas, a silk-screened wagon jammed with aging people sets the trope of the voyage. In the dream world, voyages also signify change and transition—not just spatial—but temporal. As in the dream, we define spatial arrangement by our familiarity with the object, not by the veracity of its normative placement; there are no conflicting dualities, no oppositions or binaries. In this fantastic world of potentialities, what we see are puns that animate the psyche of the artist. An anthropomorphic-cartoon figure on a parachute could be defying gravity by ascending rather than descending. Objects have a life of their own, like the face of a woman sleeping inside the color red, or an empty bed with two pillows and a side lamp, quasi-human and needless of people. As Bachelard states, “the journey to the far-away worlds of the imaginary does not really channel a dynamic psyche unless it takes the form of a journey to the land of the infinite. In the realm of imagination transcendence is added to immanence. Going beyond thought is the very law of poetic expression.” (Bachelard, 2002, p. 5).
Escalade (La Chambre de Bonne) (2009) is a recurrent theme of the ladder but with an erotic twist, as an ascending passage leading to the room of the chambre de bonne. In a typical bourgeois building of nineteenth or early twentieth-century Paris, the room of the maid, was usually located at its very top. La chambre de bonne would have been the cause for a young man’s romantic misadventures in his endless climbs to the attic. Logistically, the ladder was catered for a concierge, a Napoleonic invention serving to control staircase traffic. These practicalities, however, are subsumed by the presence of the ladder in Jacques’s work. In the center of the painting and on top of the ladder sits a man’s smiling face sleeping next to a bird. While birds flit about, one of them eats spaghetti under another’s claws. On the left side, a large magenta smudge composed of tiny flying birds creates a pattern. For the French, the ladder serves as a strategic site of transit, linking all floors within a building; it is a heterotopic space that belongs to no one and to all at the same time. La chambre de bonne and le concierge are both familiar tropes used in Jacques’s earlier works. As in a dream, they reappear in different vignettes, bringing distinct messages in each of their appearances.
Suis Moi (2008) depicts a vignette about archeology, tourism, and romance in the ancient Aegean world. The work features a silkscreen of the façade of the reconstructed palace complex of Knossos, here turned into a fictional Greek hotel dubbed “Minos Palace.” To its left stands the winged horse, Pegasus, with a human, perhaps Bellerophon, who falls from Pegasus onto a cactus. The etymology of the name Pegasus points to words such as “spring” or “lightening,” both suggested by a yellow clearing in the corner of the painting where both Pegasus and “Minos Palace” are depicted. With Ionescan flare, Jacques’s work gives emphasis to concepts such as ‘floating’ and ‘light,’ starkly contrasting with the meaningless cycles of decay, revealing a resistance towards tangibility, a distrust of communication, and the sense that a better world lies beyond reach. Even though his characters are given the ability to fly, they always oscillate between a world of banality and the inevitability of death. Another aspect of the concept of ‘light’ is its reference to ‘the clearing’ or ‘the open,’ examined by Rilke, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Agamben. In philosophy, ‘the open’ means the unconcealed of being, leading to the monumental question of human superiority over animals, culture over nature. And it is because of language that mankind has claimed its superiority. As Agamben puts it, citing Heidegger, “The total humanization of the animal coincides with a total animalization of man.” (Agamben, 2004, p. 77) Jacques uses aesthetic language to defy this opposition between humans and animals. For him, there is no unsubstantiated anthropomorphism; all beings are affected by captivation.
Gaston Bachelard, Air and Dreams, pg. 27, The Dallas Institute Publications, 1988. Second printing in 2002. Originally published in 1943.
Giorgio Agamben, The Open, Man and Animal. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004.
William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil. Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954.
Slavoj Zizek, Organs without Bodies, On Deleuze and Consequences. London, UK: Routledge, 2004.