Hippocamp Pharmakon

At the turn of oral culture, Socrates warns against the malevolent use of writing by the sophists, claiming it is a pharmakon, both a disease and a remedy, a duplicitous predicament that ends up befalling him as well when he is made a scapegoat for corrupting the youth. The portent of his virtuous self-sacrifice resonates throughout Plato’s dialogues to lay a heavy claim on the polis he sought to actuate but which ends up betraying him. The treachery slips into the concept of health as even the Hippocratic Oath founded on principles of confidentiality and non-maleficence is not impervious to the infidelity implicit in the Caduceus, staff of Hermes, the divine trickster, God of imposters and brigands. In the epochal leap that brought the printing press, writing undergoes another upheaval, laced by the pros and cons of the industrial revolution just as predictably, the digital age unleashes unprecedented freedoms interlaced with technocratic abominations. Exosomatisation, the use of prosthetic extensions to tackle the acceleration induced by technology, succumbs to the forces of entropy because even though a process initiated in archeological time and relatively unnoticed up to its quickening since the 18th century, its exacerbation with automation and robotization hurl it into the dispersion of a suicidal decline. Modern technology is thus a pharmakon where some have sought to counter entropy with the capacity of the living to evade closed systems. Yet the pedagogical metaphor intended to impart a sense of nemesis or proper balance between abstinence and excess, rests on a more fundamental fault line, a rift that beckons an inquiry into the nature of substance and essence which since Aristotle, have been concomitant with the ontological structure of reality. The fission of the atom may not be more consequential than the implosion following the extraction of substance from essence. A residual of its divorce from the latter, substance becomes the trapping of the addict and the pharmakon congeals into an interface that dispenses shards of irreducibility broken into bundles of habit-forming qualities. The nefarious split is at play in the ubiquitous proliferation of images claiming independence from their grounding objects, leaving their captive audience hinging between the false security of virtual intimacy and the implacable demands of full visibility. The therapist couch at the liminal interstice of the healer and patient is replaced by the interface of a self-help medicine cabinet, both a confessional and favor dispenser, separating an id having undergone a Kafkaesque metamorphosis and seeking solace in a sanctum of oneiric rehabilitation, from a superego of surveillance and all-pervading visuality, enforcer of a transparency that controls the very possibility of enunciation. This duplicitous shield serving as an entertainment screen and distributor of the alienated products of the imagination, makes it difficult to locate the real outside its self-referential hall of mirrors. The issue then becomes how not to lose the essence of the object which is an irreducible moment of the real by approaches that end up absorbing it in their methodology. The insufficiency of phenomenology is tied to its notion of intentionality which distills the radical alterity of the object in the unhindered awareness of it. Neither is it given justice by the formal constraints of rationality or the Hegelian generative conceptuality that entrenches the primacy of the subject. As for religion, it is not that essence, the reality coefficient of the object is necessarily sacred but rather that the sacred is fundamentally concerned with essence. In the two-world systems in which only one is developed and the other left as a bounding principle such as Plato’s and Kant’s, we come knocking on the door of Noumena with the intent not to latch on to the means of our perception.

Hippocamp Pharmakon is a three-piece multi-media sculptural installation whose components, aligned in a theatrical configuration within a short distance of each other, arrange into a self-performing audio and visual platform. An inter-objective collaboration and a play where the stage also steps in as an actor. Situated in the wake of the multi-disciplinary practice pioneered by Mike Kelley among others, in which the aesthetic object is in the grips of its abject double, it hinges performative and iconographic figuration to polarize the space it occupies. Amalgamating a number of techniques such as dual video projection, the random association of word and image or the heterogeneity of materials and techniques, it nevertheless retains a duplicity of form and content that bears on an ontological divide. If a surrealistic assemblage, it is intently non-transcendent to its Dadaist bedrock and immanent to the tension between process and representation. But the McLuhanesque medium matching its message like the process its icon is a balancing act that risks degenerating into commodified simulation, the isomorphy that makes it “jump over its own shadow” as Baudrillard would put it.

What is portrayed is a chimeral self-absorbed entity which interfaces the impartiality of a surveillance system crowning an impermeable media fortress. The instrument that perpetrates the spatial cleavage and mediates their encounter is a medicine cabinet open unto a back wall of oncoming projections, “worlding” a display case that doubles into a personal tabernacle, attested by the coveted yet undefined relics on its shelves. The subject on the user-end, a creature holding its animal becoming in a scaffold stands in sharp contrast to the human head circling the horizon of the visible from its monadic watchtower. Its limbless, amphibious body seems hatched from a metamorphosis gone awry, cowering in its folk armature behind the screen regulated by its monolithic counterpart. The latter, a brutalist anti-lantern outfitted with a video camera in each cardinal direction, intakes the installation site and projects it on the liminal screen, like a sinister beacon feeding the creature its coefficient of reality. On its very top and in reference to the duplicitous sword of Damocles which cuts both ways, a chopping kitchen knife crowns a gauze-bandaged and confetti-covered human effigy that looms as a rotating insignia of pleasure and pain. To the glut of images and surveillance data broadcast by the inverted panopticon, a rhythmic and poetic recitation emanates from the anthropomorphic figure, part confessional rant, part prescriptive rhapsody, part disillusioned nursery rhyme, to strike fortuitous associations out of the contingencies generated by the meeting of the actants.

The polarized determinations that cluster on the partition are numerous but remain random in respect to a radical schism, a fundamental rift between what the objects are in themselves and the qualities drawn from their interactions. For what is touted as free expression and creative instinct on one side of the divide bears the mark of a calculated algorithm on its other. It is as if something goes missing from both the thesis and its antithesis without ever finding a resolution in a synthesis, leaving the viewer implicated in a perceptual mise-en-abime that beckons another perspective, albeit a reversible one. The interventionist inclusivity of the site within the artwork - hypothetically installed in the wide aisle of a busy drugstore – is strategically deployed to implicate the gallery, museum or privileged setting for its reception and asks the uneasy question of whether the art object is solely confined to the human experience of it, because ‘after all, it is all that matters’. A rampant outlook that correlates mind and world with the treacherous consequence of occluding the non-human which the human is itself made of. In the image of the creature observing a liminal threshold, anthropomorphism is pushed to the dislocated edge of what exceeds the experience of an object and peers into a looking glass in an attempt to unglue it from its reflection.

The political dimension of the work challenges the notion of partisanship usually hinging on issues of identity, leading the latter to its mimetic fundamentals where it encounters an irreducibility which is not conferred from without. The postmodern condemnation of essentialism confuses essence with an assignation of meaning or traits and makes subjectivity a bastion of resistance against the coercion of such branding. But essence only applies to particulars and is perishable unlike its universal attribution which condemns it to the trials and tribulations of identity politics. Thus, not an extraction of unique qualities or a meaning that can be ascribed but a singular building block of reality. Moreover, in choosing not to reduce the object to a product of alienation that is the Marxist commodity, its ‘surplus value’ is rather found in what is not exhausted by its use and reveals what the political arena misses altogether when bound to dictates of visibility. While there is no easy way to cut the Gordian Knot, opting for more than a deconstruction of the apparatus of identity leads to an inquiry into the irreducibility of essence in view of a redefinition of reality, freed from the triple harness of its dialectical, utilitarian and rationalist definitions. The colors of the flags behind these three orientations can be identified, a history of colonial abuse uncovered and a retribution list unfurled but on what discounted battleground does all of this occur and on what sacrificial altar is the object given to disappear in transsubjective resolutions.

Mike Kelley once said that a lot of art goes unnoticed because critics do not know how to talk about it. The same befalls what does not conform to current theoretical discourse. Beside relinquishing the over reliance on language characteristic of poststructuralist thought, the uneasy task of upholding what in the object is independent of our access to it, has the reward of initiating a bifurcation from the self-same and triggering a metamorphosis in a perspectival shift no longer confined to the slavish predicate of a subject.

This work is both a distillation of lifelong concerns and a welter of novelty, being composed of elements drawn from methods not attempted before and parts that have been lying in a workshop’s dusty background for years, coming alive in a state of disrepair as in Heidegger’s broken hammer, although not as dormant otherwise as silently awaiting the propitious moment to jump on stage. A summary compendium then, for the sole purpose of spawning new directions.