I’ve been batting around a few titles for my next show and for this body of work in general, and I think the one that best suits it is The Myth of Loneliness. I’ve been thinking about that phrase a lot lately and what it means both to me and in relation to the work I’m making right now.
Jeff first used it in a conversation we were having about films that depict the Old West. Those films invariably have something to do with rugged individualism standing out in this stark landscape, the emptiness of which seems to infect every character and moment on screen. So you’ll have this person in the film who is on one hand completely heroic and triumphant and then on the other in the middle of nowhere and not getting out of that situation any time soon. The loneliness and desolation of that landscape seeps into everything, making triumph seem kind of… wistful.
My relationship to the American west is totally different from Jeff’s. Not only do I not care for Western movies (I don’t think I’ve ever sat through an entire one), I’ve only traveled to the west on the rare occasion (Jeff, meanwhile, is from central California and has a great attachment to that part of the world). My main associations to “the west” as an idea are: long, endless drives over summer vacation; various UFO movies; and James Turrell. Isn’t Turrell originally an east coast Quaker? I have no idea, but his work about “the light inside” seems to sum up everything I know about the west:
My take on The Myth of Loneliness is maybe a little different. As someone from (mostly) New Jersey, I am constantly astounded at how crowded our world is. It’s most obvious when I’m out running errands in NYC and passing by a hundred or more people in an afternoon without even really registering it, but it’s one of those things that always remains there. Sometimes, at night, I like to think about the building that we live in and all the people in their apartments, and then pull out like a camera looking at our street and picture all the people in the various other buildings down the block, and on and on… and it’s just so huge. There are so many people around, all the time.
But, almost necessarily, there is also the sense of isolation that comes from living in such a crowded place. And so you’ll have someone – sometimes me, sometimes someone else – walking down the street, passing by dozens and dozens of people in shops and businesses and walking around, and that someone will just feel so alone that they may as well be on a desert island somewhere. It happens to everyone. It’s like you let your guard down for a moment and then you’re there, a million miles away from everyone else.
But one of the things that I think is especially extraordinary about people is how we all feel this way, sooner or later. And in that way, loneliness is almost (an oxymoron? a double negative? what’s the term I’m looking for???) where everyone feels it and it’s an underlying part of our humanity. It comes, it goes, maybe it stays for a while or takes off quickly – it doesn’t matter. There’s no one alive who has never felt this way.
And so in one way, loneliness is very real and ever-present and in another, it is a total lie if only we recognize it as such. We’re all fumbling around in the dark and somehow ignoring this great light inside which – if we paid attention – would be all the light we’d need.
I am in the middle of a very strange relationship with thoughts like these. Part of my overall “program” for the next few months is to figure it all out, if in fact it can be figured out.