The title for this show was originally Non-Linguistic Communication. We wanted to express the same idea, just less directly. Linguists define language as something exclusively human and we want to question that by finding moments where language doesn’t behave like itself. Besides scripts like Egyptian hieroglyphics and Chinese pictographs, there are books like Finnegans Wake. The Japanese title of the surrealist video game Katamari Damacy (塊魂 lit. "clump soul") is a visual rhyme. Our title is something like that, a pleasant mouthful that refers obliquely to our objective. “Symbolic” is an adjective describing a relationship between two concepts, where one stands in for the other. “Symbiotic” is an adjective describing a relationship between two entities, where each depends upon and benefits the other.
There are several qualifiers a set of utterances must have to be officially called a language – grammar, vocabulary, syntax, semantics, and evolution. Writing, however, has never been an academic requirement. The rules all have to do with how languages are structured, not how they’re expressed. Writing is the tryst of art and communication, anthropologically. Just as the wheel was created as a tool of convenience before the formulation of π, art was created as a tool of communication before the formulation of language. Cave paintings depict stories of hunts, conflicts between tribes, and mythical creatures. Without a single morpheme, cave paintings depict narratives. And they are not just documentation but invocation; the oldest human artifacts are ritualistic.
Much of art history is dedicated to visual storytelling. The wealthiest art patrons usually had an agenda, be it religion or self-aggrandizement, so there are many glorious works devoted to the same subject. (If we trust the Met, every artist in Europe spent the 1300s painting Madonna & Child.) Thanks to the humble camera, the whole field of pictorial art production exploded in the 1800s, and our human artists have been able to explore more abstractly.
In Symbolic Symbiotic we consider the work of seven contemporary artists in New York City. We sought out artists that deal with the core themes of American Cyborg: animalness, humanness, and robotness. In this catalog we will point to the symbols we see in their work, and interpret them through our lens. Welcome and Excelsior.
Takamura Kōtarō, 1910:
I am born Japanese. Just as a fish can’t live out of water, so I can’t live as a non-Japanese, even if I remain quiet about it. … I often think I’m Japanese when I’m dealing with someone. The thought doesn’t occur much when I face nature.
Clement Greenberg, 1960:
The essential norms or conventions of painting are at the same time the limiting conditions with which a picture must comply in order to be experienced as a picture. Modernism has found that these limits can be pushed back indefinitely before a picture stops being a picture and turns into an arbitrary object; but it has also found that the further back these limits are pushed the more explicitly they have to be observed and indicated.
Mark Rothko, 1961:
I'm not an abstractionist... I'm not interested in relationships of color or forms... I'm interested only in expressing basic human emotions – tragedy, ecstasy, doom and so on – and the fact that lots of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows I communicate those basic human emotions... The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them.
Agnes Martin, 1969:
Beauty illustrates happiness: the wind in the grass, the glistening waves following each other, the flight of birds – all speak of happiness.
The clear blue sky illustrates a different kind of happiness, and the soft dark night a different kind. There are an infinite number of different kinds of happiness.
Donna Haraway, 1985:
By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs. The cyborg is our ontology; it gives us our politics. The cyborg is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality, the two joined centres structuring any possibility of historical transformation.
Nicolas Bourriaud, 1998:
The contemporary artist is a semionaut, he invents trajectories between signs.
We come upon Bryan McGovern Wilson's work as a stumbling into a computer screen. His textiles are a tangible gesture extended to the viewer from the digital realm – falling into haptic chaos as it blooms like flowers before our eyes and in our hands. Unlike his source images, algorithmically respliced into abstraction, textiles provide maternal warmth. A marriage of pixels, petals and threads it becomes a reality virtually recognizable but still a stranger. So we want to touch, to move through it, to see what it is we know, understand, or identify with, hidden in those enigmatic folds and lines. We become bees on his field of vision.
Dusk drifts in on a celebration. A furry friend's daily scavenging has found her in the yard of Dana Sherwood's forest. With trepidation she follows the heavy scent on the air. The source comes in the form of a wonderland. Such a merry occasion she has never seen! Plates overflowing with meats and treats to make any hirsute diner squeal in glee. Seated at the luxurious table she sinks in her teeth and savors. Savage and bloody the tearing and ripping. Intestines squishing between gnashing teeth and snorting bubbling nose deep. What noble fare! After dinner fill her cup and up to romp about the yard she dances with a swollen belly under the moon and sausage streamers. A night not soon to be forgot! The feast of the lucky Skunk.
Habit donning bakers from evil bygone epochs twisted and molded dough symmetrically weaving their little rewards into the fabric of time. Its shape unmistakable, like an ampersand. Golden arms crossed in orbital looping and molecular poses of alchemy. Ben K. Voss reaches into their world, tickles the past age and bronze pendant wheels melt playfully treating forms like tippled Bavarians at Brezelfest. He taps Kepler and they smirk at the mighty war god Mars ballroom dancing with Apollo. How deftly he steps on the big man's toes.
Amanda Dandeneau’s hand and lens gesture towards the females in her life. They reach out to the dog that has just been spayed (a requisite for good social standing in the human world of dog ownership). They reach out to her mother, hosting a party for her friends to enjoy sexuality in a comfortable and reflective atmosphere. This photographer is a foil to the detached photojournalist. Her camera undresses – in one instance, through unabashed eye contact; in the other, by exposing all the backsides hidden from a posed photo.
Poseidon is the water, the ocean god, extending his form to mortal men. They are ready to battle all the beaches and raid on the waves of Titans. A piercing cry rises above the sieged gates. Priam is reserved, balanced by Hecuba as Achilles’ call reverberates their wall with taunts and Hector’s fate in tow. Colin Oulighan retells the Iliad’s tale in the age of mechanical reproduction; a new ode to a Grecian urn.
What leaf-fringed legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
The hose becomes a liminal character on a hot summer day in the suburbs. Children spray rainbows over sunned cars, tears drop from flower garden petals, to the lips of just ran across the lawn and drink with thumbed over stream at screaming soaked to a pail to wash the threshold of home. Unnoticed, everyday but unusual, natural but unnatural, between sink and stream, between gardener and garden. It is playful, reliable, nourishing. Tamara Johnson points to the hose as the umbilical cord to a house’s womb; the lawn a site of transition into nature.
You’re wandering through the forest and it’s not dark yet, but the sky is that blue that signals a childhood conditioning to go back home. You think you’re going the right direction but you’re not sure; weaving around large rocks and fallen trees prevents a true straight path. Where a few minutes ago were happy chipmunks and chirping robins are now unidentifiable scuttles and squawks. The ground gets softer, spongier, squelching water in your footprints. You have a light but it doesn’t seem bright enough. A tattling magpie hops between branches, watching, reporting back to Nathan Catlin.