This, too, falls apart

Glitter and Folds
Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, 2013

This, too, falls apart

Introduction:

In 1919, Yeats surveyed the damage wrought by a world turned in upon itself, and imagined a second coming. A resurrection called forth by destruction so complete, it had eviscerated the freewheeling abandon of previous decades: the cabaret-culture of drag expressivity found in Berlin during its Weimar heyday. The sensation of this aftermath—its cyclical reoccurrence—is conjured by the intimate, yet potent, world created through the interplay of the four works exhibited herein. Seductive spiraling creations in photography, video, performance, and installation—by four artists with radically distinct positions and practices—intersect these shadow lines of poetics and philosophy in ways that pull upon different histories, different outlooks, and different desires. All, however, call upon the cultural capital of glitter: the way it facilitates a folding of invisible phenomena into material reality as well as a self-fashioning in and through the world at moments of crisis—the extreme precariousness of social and cultural abandon that foretells possible redemption.

To begin, glitter. I think, first, of disco and Jack Smith: a theatre of the absurd, an avant-garde refraction of glam rock. Gathering cohorts in apartments scattered throughout a decaying urban core, Smith fashioned spectacular performances of self: positioning the fabulous against the depravations of economic and social neglect. For Smith’s theatricality was born from a New York City at the dawn of neo-liberalism: the city open for play and closed for opportunity, communities and individuals folding back onto themselves as they sought new forms of expression in uncertain terrain.

And now, once again, as in the late 1970s, sparkle seems to be everywhere. What was it about that time, and what is it about the present, that demands glitter as response? An atmosphere of political precariousness, perhaps, but also an aggressive expansion of commodity culture premised on illusion, debt, mirages, and rabbit-hole futures. Surfacing in fashion and pop culture, increasingly mobilized as a material for artists, glitter appears as both diversion (a fantastical material of pure surface) and critique (what artist Liam Gillick calls a “material signifier within the culture”).

These different historical moments of glitter in the West—World War I, the 1970s, today—seem connected not as repetition, but as embedded redoubling: what post-structural philosopher Gilles Deleuze refers to as the fold. A concept that appears throughout his writings, most significantly in relation to Leibniz and the baroque, the fold, for Deleuze, is a physical movement or structure that enables a concretized understanding of both the movement of time and the functions of memory. Positioned against linearity and a strict external/internal divide, folds articulate the relationship between our bodies—our selves—and the world that engulfs us: the way in which histories and identities are formed by a folding of the world within the individual, what Yeats calls a “gyre” (a vortex, or spiraling form). Through photography, video, and site-specific installation, the artists in this show coalesce these two distinct materials and movements—glitter and folds—to form new significations by sidestepping obvious meanings.

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