Galleries are strange places. Dedicated to housing great thought and innovation, they have become a sacred space of the 21st century. When we walk around a gallery, we experience things which are alien to us and often, what we were feeling before we entered the space is erased and replaced by something altogether different, altogether strange. We experience a delicate balance between sleepy calm, the urge to yawn deeply, the frustration at the presence of others, the strong desire for a cup of tea and sometimes, we hope, a sudden moment of clarity, in which the thing before us hits somewhere deep inside. We go and look at art not, hopefully, because someone else has told us to do so but rather, so that we can feel something that we never even knew existed. We go to cut ourselves off, just for a moment, from the rush and flurry of our lives.
Talking about art, then is a very hard thing indeed. Moments which move us cannot normally be reduced to simple speech. We all have tried to talk about an affecting or lasting experience to our closest friends and been struck by the thought that language simply is not enough. It's hard to talk about art in a way which feels truly meaningful. Art criticism, in spoken circles at least, has become reducible with a sort of middle class elitism, a thing about which we claim to know but which really holds little value to how we think.
When was the last time in which an exhibition really stayed with you? Where were you and what were you doing? Can you remember what the weather was like that day and what the gallery smelt of? The last great show I went to was a year and a half ago. It was in the winter and it was night time. I had left a group of friends and was waiting for another to join me. I had a few hours to kill so I headed to the Pompidou centre and bought a ticket to Pierre Huyghe's first retrospective show.
A half-pink dog roamed the gallery space, dry ice was pumped out of the block tile ceiling, people strolled around in masks, videos played and overlapped one another. Were I to have read something like this in an arts journal, I know exactly the mock humoured, exasperated, nonplussed response that it would have brought about. When I experienced it in real time, however, I didn't for a moment question its authenticity. Huyghe's exhibition was another world and the rules there were different.
Huyghe's art was alive and the only way to truly do it justice was to allow it to show you itself. Writing about how it made me feel or what he showed his audience would have been useless. Words about the art would have stood in the way of the thing itself, diluted its impact. Words are ineffable and ephemeral; they do not last when trying to describe a thing like this.
Of course, it's all well and good to go on about the validity of real experience over written ones. We are only able to experience relatively few things for ourselves; for everything else, we have to trust the words of others. What if, then, instead of writing comprehensive reviews about art, critics were to respond in ways which felt most fitting to them? Instead of listing words and making linear statements, what if they were to show us how it made them all feel? Huyghe's show made me feel lethargic and warm; it made me think of tea and honey. It may not be the most comprehensive way to talk about art nor may it be the most informative. But it feels the most right and surely, that counts for something?
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