SUP­PORT STRUC­TURES

Canadian Art - - Keynote - By Emma Healey

Writer Emily Gould once tweeted that she’d “sub­con­sciously been wait­ing for years for the mo­ment they take away all the scaf­fold­ing and NYC is Com­plete.” I was in high school when I first dis­cov­ered that if I drank more than three beers in one night my con­scious­ness would come un­teth­ered from my body. For weeks af­ter­ward, I’d feel like I was float­ing out­side my­self, watch­ing my life hap­pen to me from an eerie, arm’slength dis­tance. Any good doc­tor, when pre­scrib­ing an­tide­pres­sants, will also rec­om­mend that you but­tress your life with rou­tine: ex­er­cise, hard work, con­crete goals for the fu­ture. This makes sense. If you tend to drift, you tend to need some ty­ing down.

Struc­ture helps. But on a good day, I can tell you con­vinc­ingly that life is not just a chain of lev­els to be played and beaten; that clo­sure is a fic­tion, if a nec­es­sary one; that most “self-care” is just a bunch of tiny spells you sing to shoul­der back the dark­ness of a world that wants to swal­low you. Still, as I run, drink wa­ter, plan my days and track my sleep, I can’t shake the se­cret cer­tainty that there’s some cheat code for com­plete­ness I can crack if I keep try­ing. I don’t think I’m alone in this—if I were, “self-im­prove­ment” wouldn’t be a thing. The fin­ished city shim­mers just out­side the reach of rea­son, pulls your de­sire to­ward it like a mag­net. The prom­ise of no more scaf­fold­ing is the prom­ise of ad­ver­tis­ing and bad-faith pol­i­tics and cults of all kinds: that the right ges­tures, per­formed pre­cisely in the proper or­der, might some­how free you from the end­less work of ges­tur­ing it­self—of won­der­ing how best to do it, and of al­most al­ways know­ing you are wrong.

The bad news is, your flaws don’t come from nowhere. The world is deeply fucked from ev­ery an­gle; its dam­age is in­com­pre­hen­si­bly vast and an­cient, hooked into the fu­ture and printed upon you in end­less, in­nu­mer­able ways. You can’t re­verse it. But art can un­make you dif­fer­ently. A per­fect pop song, the kind that knees you in the chest while you’re stand­ing in a check­out line, is the sound of some­thing fa­mil­iar re­solv­ing into some­thing tran­scen­dent. A good poem finds the cracks in the foun­da­tions of your think­ing and out­lines them with glit­ter, or sets the whole build­ing on fire. Peo­ple make things with money they get from the govern­ment, or from jobs, or from steal­ing, and one time out of ev­ery 500 that you go to see those things they’ve made, some small corner of your world will come un­laced be­cause of it. That’s not a lot, but it’s proof that the work of liv­ing can be more than just ges­ture: that there is more to do with struc­ture than to sur­ren­der or be crushed by it. You can al­ways be made a lit­tle more un­sure; you can al­ways be taken a lit­tle more apart. ■

Pierre Ayot La croix du mont Royal 1976/2016 Metal 8.6 x 1.2 x 13.1 m COUR­TESY GA­LERIE B-312

PHOTO GA­BOR SZILASI

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