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Although humans are not wholly aqueous, this fact does not temper our fascination with large bodies of water. Perhaps having originated from an amniotic sea inspires our affinity with the ocean and all things aquatic. We habitually peer into the reflective surface of water, skim it with inquisitive fingers and enthusiastically dive into its depths. Once the transparent boundary has been breached, a substance that is mysteriously palpable yet ungraspable envelopes us. Human contentment is rekindled. Therefore, it is no wonder we are drawn to something that resembles an ocean. In a gallery, large rectangular photographs of water have been laid side by side on wooden supports standing waist high. A blank narrow space has been left for us to “wade” into the “ocean”. By being enticed and perhaps tickled by the theatricality of such a gesture, we perform the action of wading into an ocean, all the way into the depths of Smith’s “Thriller”. There at the center of this oasis when we think an aesthetic interaction has been achieved, our movement activates the theme song from Jaws.

It is a devilish trick, thankfully innocent, but one that conjures up a chill. The artist’s desire to have us eaten rather than drowned is diabolical. Even more deplorable is the fact that our demise has been perpetrated by pop ideology. “Thriller” camouflages the intention of producing blockbuster cinematic sensationalism with the seduction of high Romanticism. Smith often uses covert techniques to demonize society’s enjoyment and consumption of pop antics. He is aware of his own absorption by and delight of mediated culture, and in turn, borrows from media’s deployment of the prank. By assuming this guise, “Thriller” declares the loss of authenticity as being a casualty of immersion into a culture of coercion and manipulation. Smith is actually constructing an inquiry with “Thriller”. He scrutinizes culture in a similar manner to Deleuze’s investigation of Francis Bacon’s work and is progressively developing his own logic of sensation. “Clichés, clichés! The situation has hardly improved since Cezanne. Not only has there been a multiplication of images of every kind, around us and in our heads, but even the reactions against clichés are creating clichés.”(1) Deleuze lamented over a reign of vision and sensation and at present, so does Smith who co-opts the nostalgic experience when creating his installations. In the past, he has rigged a sunset with a dimmer switch, simulated paradise by strewing 550 white golf umbrellas about on a California hillside, and has painted a rainbow, upside down. At first glance, these landscapes appear beatific as they are punctuated by an iconic poignancy. Upon closer inspection, an uncanny sensation overtakes us as we realize the images are derivative of the already derivative.

When commenting upon the subject of perception, Smith uses the terms, “speculative and assumptive.”(2) For him, a contemporaneous moment is preceded by assumption and subsequently followed by mediated sensation. He questions the logic in traversing a path that leads us towards the acquisition of sensational simulacra. “Thriller” is really a parody then, a sea of lunacy that simultaneously mimics an oasis as well as a theme park. Its creation was influenced by iconic source material Smith drew from childhood memory. The story of Moby Dick, its 1975 contemporary adaptation, Jaws, and Michael Jackson’s hit music video of 1983 have not only achieved stratospheric popularity, but have implanted themselves into our memory. They share a common link, each being an iconic story inhabited by a sacrificial lamb. In “Thriller” two sacrificial lambs are led to slaughter, the viewer and the viewer’s authentic moment. When this moment is lost the potential for developing a unique private memory is eradicated. “Nothing (is) more central to the formation of identity than the power of memory; nothing more guarantee(s) one’s continuity as an individual.”(3) This belief, originating from Freud’s analysis of self-identity, specifies how memory not only reorganizes the course of life; it is a “retranscriptive” process that is crucial to growth and change.(4) Our indulgence in sensationalistic simulacra thwarts the use of imagination, which is an action supportive of personal sovereignty. Smith is highly aware of the collective unconscious and an avid observer of how the contagion of conformity can be spread via the use of culture. The predictable reaction upon hearing the theme song from Jaws is a guffaw followed closely by the relief of being an insider on the joke. However, Smith has no desire to be an insider or follower and engages in tactical measures to halt the continued regurgitation of tropes. He is also not merely interested in copying the appropriationist techniques of the 1980’s. Smith’s intention is to expose how in the 21st Century the media continues to take possession of an image or action and by doing so, lulls individuals into relinquishing creative control thus forming intellectual blind spots in memory. Freud has already determined that the absorption of an image or action is not simply mechanically reproduced by memory like a copy machine, but reconstructed through the use of imagination. Smith reminds his viewers to return to this fact and to formulate idiosyncratic reconstructions of memory in order to fill in the blind spots. “Thriller”, being a slapstick hypothesis, prods our memory to challenge the logic of knee-jerk sensation and inspires us to re-cultivate the authentic moment and rejuvenate the imaginative process.


(1) Gilles Deleuze, "The Painting before Painting", Logic of Sensation (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002)
(2) Conversation with artist in New York, 2010
(3) Oliver Sacks, The Other Road: Freud as Neurologist" in Michael S. Roth, ed. Freud: Conflict and Culture (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998)
(4) Ibid

Thriller: Adam Parker Smith


Exhibition Catalog Essay
Tarble Arts Center at Eastern Illinois University, IL
2010

Exhibition Catalog Essay
Tarble Arts Center at Eastern Illinois University, IL
2010