Trying to make sense of the nonsense in this world
through April 13
Young Projects Gallery, West Hollywood
By Simone Kussatz
One can sense right away that Princeton-born artist Kim Schoen is not only a creator, but a philosopher, thus someone who tries to explore, comprehend and interpret the world and human existence. Her current exhibit “The Hysteric’s Discourse” examines the structures and similarities between hysteria, consumerism and art making. Schoen’s current works were inspired by an essay titled The Hysteric’s Discourse, written by psychologist Gérard Wajcman, who analyzed the dynamics of the hysteric, in which the supposedly ill person asks the expert (a doctor or psychoanalyst) who she or he is, but never receives a satisfying and accurate answer.
For if one looks at the history of hysteria, starting with the treatment of it at the healing temple Asclepeion through the Victorian era and up to now, there is not one and only answer and there are many theories that have been written about it. Yet, the patient demands an answer and so more research will be conducted and knowledge produced. But the knowledge is never quite reliable, which keeps experts in the medical and mental health care field busy and hysteria a mystery. For Schoen, this paradox of having more of something to choose from that never really satisfies is similar to the force that drives the creation of art and consumption.
The exhibition opens in the lobby of the main show room of Young Project’s Gallery at Pacific Design Center. It shows a silver mirror next to a gold framed trifold makeup mirror, in which one can either see oneself or the photo of two bronze sculptures. Having this choice sensitizes the viewer to the idea of an identity that’s in constant flux. In addition, photos of possible locations for Schoen’s future video projects are displayed on the wall.
The exhibit continues with the centerpiece Tell Me Who I Am and I Am What You Say, two videos on a single screen installed back-to-back.
The first video Tell Me Who I Am shows two workers at Grosh, a Los Angeles company that makes and rents custom hand-painted backdrops, as they display empty prosceniums; two employees repeatedly putting up and taking down backdrops. These range from a light-blue palm tree scenery to a pyramid landscape to the surreal image of an hourglass with soft pink lips, on which the flipped words of the title of the artwork appear, creating fictitious worlds, the viewer can partake in. The other video, I Am What You Say, show the same procedure of the two workers, repeatedly putting up and taking down backdrops, however, here the title’s words are no longer in reverse but the language is re-arranged in different ways which make them still difficult to decipher. The piece suggests that we present ourselves to the world in any way we wish to be, which is hardly ever our true self. This is similar to the condition of the hysteric, who also exists through an elusive identity, because the expert can only say what the symptoms are, but not who she or he is. The combination of text and images recall the works of Ed Ruscha, Lawrence Weiner, Jennifer Holzer and Barbara Kruger, various “identities” to be experienced via their font choices.
As one moves deeper into the show, a video titled Is it Opera or Is it Something Political is presented on a white board leaned against wooden beams next to a white orchid in a pot. The video’s only and main character is Maia Garrison, a theater actress in New York, speaking gibberish in such a convincing way, sparking interest, curiosity and laughter. Schoen said that the monologue was completely improvised and that there was no script for it, just her direction to try and speak without meaning.
The final piece is a 3-channel video, Now We are Extinct, displayed next to a uniquely shaped vase with an artificial purple flower (an object from a store in the Pacific Design Center). Two channels show a similar scenario at slightly delayed times in which an actress surrounded by various objects is trying to say something, but is tripping over her words. The third scenario on the third channel is quite different, creating once again an atmosphere of ambiguity and uncertainty.
Overall Schoen’s works are intriguing and create a mystery for the viewer. As much as they can be interpreted as an identity crisis, they can be understood as one’s need to keep searching for something resembling truth.