Perhaps it is only right that an exhibition so obsessed with notions of enlightenment should offer nothing of actual clarity, purpose, or calm. Before meditating upon this endeavour and hunting down those words that will properly delineate the truer purpose of Lindsay Sorell’s show at AVALANCHE!, let me speak about its discrete components. Buddha, Why Am I Alone? comprises the following: Lucky Buddha beers (“The Enlightened Beer”) are served at the gallery’s bar. A jazz drummer sets up a kit in the middle of the space and plays for the entirety of the vernissage. A selection of MIDI-composed sheet music is hung on the walls. Two maps of Calgary are presented with all bodies of water removed. Two photos of the artist are taken, one prior to reading Plato’s Dialogues, and one immediately after. And a small zine.
Lindsay Sorell, Buddha, Why Am I Alone? (The Enlightened Beer)
First, the gallery is fucking crowded. No one wants to stand too near the jazz drummer, surrounded by his glittery cymbals and mysterious knob-ridden gear. Initially, his expression is kind of nervous, frantic, until I realize it’s just that he is wholly unconcerned with his appearance or the social environment. His internal energies are directed elsewhere. Nirvana. Second, it’s freezing out. Everyone is feeling the kind of burn that happens when one re-immerses themselves in a too-hot, too-humid room after a frigid cigarette. The sensation of the temperature shock is absurd, somewhere between painful and unceasingly pleasant. Third, we’re drunk. Every conversation I have has that intoxicated edge of epiphany. No one can wait their turn to speak for all the words on the tips of our tongues. Enlightenment feels real.
The sheet music (Music for Flute) is unreadable. My elementary school music lessons entirely forgotten, I am only capable of reading the titles of Sorell’s compositions. This alone makes them worthwhile. “My Ex-Boyfriend Was a Satanist” stands out, as does “I Have Never Read Trainspotting Which Makes Me Feel Like a Loser.” Others are less funny: “Remember When We Were Seventeen and Your Dad Took His Life and We Sat in the Park Drinking Smirnoff Ice and the Sprinklers Came On.”
The small zine that accompanies the show consists of quotations from modernist thinkers like Albert Einstein, Umberto Eco, and Christopher Nolan. (The publication’s title, Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night and Other Bastardizations, riffs on some of the heavier-handed references in Nolan’s Interstellar.) Detritus from the Age of Enlightenment casually coalesces with Western appropriations of spiritual transcendentalism; the combination honours the former and condemns the latter. I want to use the word “intelligentsia” because the pretentious sound it makes in your mouth is enough to accurately describe the artist’s playful take on the subject matters.
Leaving, I feel curious about what would happen if one attempted to reproduce Sorell’s double-self portrait (title: In Hopes of Enlightenment) – taking one photo before viewing the show and one immediately after. I imagined we wouldn’t look dissimilar to her after her struggle with Plato’s opus. Tired, frustrated, and still.
I wonder about the artist’s attempts to meditate, to silence demons and find inner peace. Elsewhere in her practice, she is obsessed with the vernacular of self-improvement. I decide that I liked her show – a lot, really – but I don’t know if the conclusions I am playing with now were catalyzed by her work or something else. In between bouts of writing this review and nursing my hangover, I am browsing Twitter. #JeSuisNonCharlie, #Ferguson, and #NAACP are trending in my feed. Someone posts, “I do not trust dispassionate people in a world on fire.” I think I agree, inasmuch as the ails of this world will not be overcome with silence and introspection. Enlightenment is not crossed legs and yoga mats. It is upright, engaged, and violent as taken-for-granted worldviews are overturned. I don’t know where these new age connotations of solitude came from. It is, more than anything, about the relationships we build between each other over and above ones relationship with oneself.
AVALANCHE! Institute of Contemporary Art: http://avalancheavalanche.com/?p=1007
Lindsay Sorell: Buddha, Why Am I Alone? continues until February 7.
Steven Cottingham is another artist. Based in Calgary, he studied in New York and has recently exhibited in Havana, Glasgow, Fredericton, and Vancouver. Currently he is writing, as so many have done before, a book about love and art. He can be followed on Twitter @artcriticsm.
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