From Universe to Goddess
Last summer, while visiting my parents in New Jersey, my mom gave me a copy of Kafka's The Penal Colony: Stories and Short Pieces. It's a slim tome sporting Kafka's greatest hits, full of strange manners and clean cruelties. It reads something like a mutant antique: musty but weirdly fresh, arcane and possibly very dangerous.
I started rereading it again this summer and it wasn't long before the infection took hold: once through “A Country Doctor”, I Googled to discover a Koji Yamamura animation of the tale. I watched it, and as I watched, I started to identify uncanny visual similarities between the animation's stills and Maurizio Cattelan's, like, entire oeuvre. Something insidious was spreading — I realized that I needed more.
A couple of weeks ago, while visiting my partner's former professor's home for a barbeque, I noticed a handwritten list on her table that enumerated writers and their books. One jumped out: “Kafka, The Castle”. Could this be the fix? Linda confirmed that it was a must-read (and that there was a film version also worth watching), so I ordered it online. The seller didn't post a photo of the book's cover, so my ten-or-so-dollar purchase came with a gambler's edge.
Sometime between my ordering the book and its arrival, I attended the Second Annual Chelsea Art Walk. One show, at Matthew Marks, stood out; it had been curated by photographer and paper-illusionist Thomas Demand, who had transformed the gallery into a maze, a master-mindbended complete spatial mindfuck. After snatching up a copy of Central-Park-recorded birdsongs-on-vinyl (offered Gonzalez-Torres-style in a shingled grid on the floor of the gallery), I proceeded to wander this strange exhibition space gone daedal.
While winding the synthetic hedge-maze, I saw small photos in identical frames with oversized beveled mattes; they were pictures of potted plants and railings and hallways gone to pot. I remember a video of a cactus having its spines shaved with an electrical shaver, while somewhere else, a vitrine displayed rows of porcelain botanicals. Trapezoidal, dish-liquid blue windows penetrated many of the maze's interior walls, and a section of the labyrinth's perimeter was comprehensively wallpapered to look like high, thick theater curtains. At the end of two paths, I found darkened rooms, haunted by sound and projections.
At the end of another hallway – this one well-lit - a refrigerator stood sentinel. It was facing a wall; the photos sharing the room depicted doors propped enticingly ajar. I took these works as signs and permissions. Emboldened by the birdsong souvenirs (and, somewhere deep within, the myth of John & Yoko's first encounter), I opened the refrigerator door.
And I was rewarded for my efforts: the interior walls of the fridge's belly were lined in a gorgeous blue fabric that echoed the dish-liquid windowpanes — a suture of blue sequins cut across the upholstery's skin like a glamorous, glittering gash. Goodness gracious.
Before I could climb into this unlikely transporting wardrobe, this blue-velvet secret, a man otherwise preoccupied with his iPad rushed over, saying “No no no!” He closed the refrigerator but I, hopped-up on Discovery & Significance, refused to cower and apologize. “Why are there only photos of doors being opened?” I asked, my arm sweeping towards the evidence. “Why is it so beautifully lined? Why can it be opened?” I went on and on. Finally, with a slight smile, he mustered: “It's pregnant with possibilities.”
The gleaming anchors of the exhibit were the triad of René Magritte paintings. As aloof, knowing mystics, these Wise Men, these Norns, these kitschy Weird Sisters collapsed and absorbed and refracted every theme, conceit, concept, style, palette, mood, and tone reiterated by every other work in the show. Their tacky frontal signatures were lavish sneers, florid redundancies that blasély reminded us: “Your world is falling apart.”
The Castle arrived at my apartment a few days later in a cardboard box. I greedily ripped it open, and its cover was finally revealed. There, dead and floating, cropped and flipped, was an image of Magritte's The Castle of the Pyrenees.
[Editor's Note: A version of "More Doors" originally appeared on Jesse's blog, which is well worth reading. -WB]