- S1 Artspace
At a surface level only a fine line differentiates the desire to escape from a given situation from the more existential yearning to disappear altogether; for both types of willed departure are marked by the longing to slip the net of one's everyday existence in search of new experiential frontiers and the yet unknown. At first glance too, there is little to delineate between the forms of situational and existential boredom, for each dreary manifestation seems plagued by the slow monotony of passing hours and a feeling of deep, dark dissatisfaction in the here-and-now. Closer examination however reveals a greater disparity between these two modes of ennui: for it is the different indifference between waiting for the belated bus and waiting for life's final curtain call.(1)
Undeniably familiarity breeds discontent and situational boredom is the emotional flatness or dismal disenchantment experienced as events become routine; it is the foggy substance of endless repetition or mind-numbing inaction. The nature of the restlessness felt in relation to the dull and current moment is however only a temporary displeasure or passing disquiet. Its effects are like a heavy vapour that can be escaped by skilfully moving to new surroundings or inhabiting a fresh space or a new challenge. As such, situational boredom might be relieved by a change of scenery; the prescription of a medicinal holiday or island vacation; or the application of some other fleeting or flimsy distraction.
Existential boredom, on the other hand, is a deep malignant rot at the heart of one's existence and calls perhaps for more drastic measures. It is a form of lingering dissatisfaction that requires a more lateral and abysmal interpretation of escape. Here escape is marked by the desire to lose oneself through what surrealist Hans Bellmer described as humankind's greatest yearning – the longing ‘to escape from the outline of the self' (2) and to collapse the boundaries that demarcate the limits of the body and being. This desire to lose oneself and escape the limits of existence is a project that has both fascinated and provoked speculation in philosophy, theology and fantasy alike, where each has proposed different models and methods through which to reimagine a realm beyond the present moment where the visceral yet vapid concerns of this world are left behind.
For Albert Camus the dilemma of suicide is the only great philosophical question: it is the site of a terrible choice between flight or fight; between opting for an elected death or approaching the absurd meaningless of life with some strange and new-found fervour. The willful abandonment of the already known is also the fuel that drives the formation of all delusional fantasy and dreams of illusory realms. Here play can be used as a performative means of escape or of immersion: it can be a gesture of bored distraction performed whilst whiling away lost hours or empty days; a means of desirable disorientation or vertiginous disruption that transports the player into some other fictional zone or psychological state of mind. Drawing on cultural theorist Roger Caillois' analysis of play, this desire for escape through the game or fantasy might be seen as the search for some "restricted, closed, protected universe: a pure space" where "the confused and intricate laws of ordinary life are replaced, in this fixed space and for this given time, by precise, arbitrary, unexceptionable rules that must be accepted as such".(3) In drastically different ways the practices of both lethal and ludic escape are performed in the hope of a place beyond one's present reality, some other space of reinvention or rebirth where the absurd and capricious logic of one's habitual reality might be replaced by alternative rules and possibilities.
This uneasy proximity between the pull of suicide and lure of fairytale or fantasy underpins the exhibition, ‘Everything is so much bigger than us' which presents a series of dimly lit landscapes as sites through which to reflect upon the desire for escape and the process of purposefully ‘getting lost' or losing oneself. Described as "the perfect place to die" in Wataru Tsurumui's bestselling book The Complete Manual of Suicide, the dense Aokigahara forest in Japan is a site of both fantasy and fatality; of hauntings and homicides. The forest is a ghostly meeting place for tortured souls, a liminal space of departure and of spectral return. Kate Allen's large-scale drawings are inspired by these grave hinterlands: two threatening tree trunks loom like a pair of disembodied shadows that stretch beyond the edges of the paper and the gallery wall. Witnessed only in the twilight hours, these eerie trees blankly withhold dark secrets; they remain mute witness to the forest's deadly apparitions.
The faint and ambiguous trace of human activity can also be discerned in Lynne Monks & Rebecca Marshall's fragmented map drawings and scale model of an island, lit up and flickering with tiny illumination. Their drawings reveal small clues of fractured narratives; barely-there glimpses or hints of some episodic adventure or process of exploration. Dwelling places and more indecipherable constructions emerge like clusters of mushrooms; flimsy bridges stretch treacherous ravines or probe recessed caverns. Peering (or disappearing even) into these constructed territories in the dim dark of the gallery space, something is not quite as it should be: scale falters, incongruous objects puncture the logic of the illusion; woodland thickets suddenly appear like marine corals or tiny fungal growths. Less a space of physical escape, this unknown topography presents its landscape for a more imaginative or playful abandonment; a secret dream space or sanctuary emerges where innumerable fantasies might be quietly played out.
Whilst both suicide and fantasy represent an attempt to deliberately opt out of reality, the latter is performed only as a temporary exit or partial departure from the real, and is fore-grounded in the knowledge that return is always imminent and inescapable. Fantasy thus operates at the threshold between life and not-quite life: it is the liminal zone or state of limbo between fact and fiction, between how things already are and how they might yet be. In this sense, play or fantasy might be seen as a strategic tactic through which to take a step back and rethink habitual patterns or routine behaviour. Temporary escape from the logic and laws of a given reality thus has a more critical or creative function in opening up an imaginative space or gap for a process of discovery, experimentation or as a means of subversion or critique: for in the realm of fantasy and play there is always more than one way of telling a story.
1. See Lars Svendsen, A Philosophy of Boredom, trans. John Irons, (London: Reaktion Books, 2005), for further distinctions between these modes of boredom.
2. Hans Bellmer cited in Hal Foster, Prosthetic Gods, (MIT Press, 2004), p.233.
3. Roger Caillois, Man, Play and Games, (1958) trans. Meyer Barash, (University of Illinois Press, 2001, pp.6-7.