Tuesday, 20 July 2010

David Thorpe (1)

I remember the day I was introduced to David Thorpe's work. It was winter, but it felt like autumn. I was reading one of those pieces of writing you were supposed to read as an aspiring philosopher in the early 2000s. I think it was Lyotard's interpretation of the sublime. So I was thinking of Malevich's white square when a friend with a far keener eye for contemporary concerns showed me another picture engaging with the 'unrepresentable'. It was Thorpe's Life is Splendid (2000). It took me a moment to appreciate it. It was not that I didn't immediately experience the work. It was rather that my mind, set to think postmodern, could not instantly process it. Appreciating this peculiar piece meant silencing that sarcastic homunculus whispering in my ear that this was too grandiose, too mystically meaningful, and too sincere. I needed to consciously decide to be naive. Life is Splendid cuts-and-pastes through various media and surfaces, and eclectically references at once the iconology of the Western, Friedrich's landscapes, Le Corbusier's architecture, populuxe and Nietzsche's tightrope walker - but sincerely, without wincing. The moment it acknowledges them is the moment it disavows them. The instance it declares its knowingness is when it asks you whether you know anything at all. Whatever the history it references, it is mostly just in awe of a future it cannot yet predict (for are the three tightrope walkers celebrating life, or contemplating death?) but puts its faith in nonetheless. Valuing Thorpe's Romanticism is to value the metamodern: acknowledge one, but believe its opposite.

Image: David Thorpe: Life is splendid (2000). Courtesy Maureen Paley

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