by Ann McCoy
All that is solid melts into eros
MICROSCOPE GALLERY | MARCH 16 – APRIL 22, 2018
“Despise not the ash, for it is the diadem of thy heart, and the ash of things that endure.”
Rosarium Philosophorum (De alchemia 1150, fol. L3v)
An elongated, “keystoned” vertical projection, updated daily and made from ash adhered to a slide, fills the gallery’s first wall. To produce this ash, an impressive array of documents has been burned in a glass bowl, including excerpts written in extinct or endangered languages such as Abnaki, Biloxi, Calusa, Delaware, and Eyak. To this mix have been added obscene words and phrases, pages from an auction catalog of sacred objects, an artist statement, and list of extinct species. Ash is generally associated with the remains of a body, the embers of a fire, or the Christian Lenten ritual of Genesis 3:19: “For dust you are and to dust you shall return.” In alchemical literature, this was not the case. The product of incineration opened a path for a connection between body and heart, which was regarded as the real seat of the soul. In his ash works, Bradley Eros conjures up another dimension: what the alchemists called the “subtle” body and what H. P. Blavatsky—the Russian occultist who cofounded the Theosophical Society in 1875—referred to as the Linga Sharira (“double” or “astral" body). Here, the ashes from burned texts of forgotten languages and lists of extinct creatures suggest another kind of non-material body—one that exists in the more timeless realm of the collective imagination.
Images of the body described by ethereal forces have been around since the thirties—Kirlian photography, a photographic technique that captured the phenomenon of electrical coronal discharges, is a prime example. It is hard to think of ash without thinking of Ana Mendieta’s gunpowder goddesses; the body may vanish in a puff of smoke but the image remains. Eros returns us to a world of poetry and fantasy, of an un-jaded playfulness the art world has been missing for quite some time. A gallery poetry and performance event given by the artist and his friends reinforced this critic’s yearning for shuttered poet’s cafes and lost salons. Eros and some of the participants involved have decades-long relationships with Anthology Film Archive, and the community that surrounds it. Microscope Gallery was founded to give filmmakers and artists who are not known primarily as object makers a venue in an art world now dominated by marketable products and art fairs. This exhibition has a “no sale contract,” and the lack of emphasis on art commerce on some level feels freeing.
All that is solid melts into eros is a spin on Karl Marx’s phrase from the Communist Manifesto: “All that is solid melts into air.” While Marx hoped that the world as we know it would change through political processes, Bradley Eros adds his own twist on the phrase. What has love got to do with it? The artist’s nom de l’amour, Eros, comes from several sources: the Greek god of love, Herbert Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization, and Marcel Duchamp’s transexual persona, Rrose Sélavy (Eros, c’est la vie). The show uses social materials such as magazine pages, along with analog and digital technologies that undergo transmutations of sorts, as they encounter the alchemical elements of water, earth, fire, and air; Eros then returns them, playfully, to a social context, by making his exhibition interactive. Viewers are encouraged to make planes, fly planes, and crumple paper—the artist invites us to be co-creators and return to an earlier time of wonder.
The four alchemical elements are present—earth, air, fire, and water. Blocks of melting ice encapsulate technical artifacts: DVDs, 33 mm film, old microphones, and other assorted obsolete analog and digital detritus. Somehow, they are disturbing. One almost hopes modernity will be kept at bay and they will remain frozen. The darkly printed crumpled pages filling a table, which have taken on a bronze-like patina from handling, have a greater charm. This viewer kept thinking of the artist’s ephemeral films, some of which disappear, alter, or change each time they are shown, and his early collaborations with the Alchemical Theater performed in Lower East Side squats and abandoned buildings.
The alchemists suggested one must approach “the art” with the intensity of children at play, and the artist takes their cue. Eros has created a theatrical, film-like space—the gallery is dark with a few spots of light—and an homage to Harry E. Smith, in the form of paper airplanes, is suspended from the ceiling. Flying, casting shadows, and strewn about, they hit this critic with a wave of nostalgia for a more innocent time in the art world. Smith collected his “found object” paper planes off the street. Eros had no such luck, children rarely make these planes today—he constructed his own using an old muscle memory—a return to a time before high-tech gadgets took over the lives of children. The planes are a link between Eros, Harry E. Smith, and Anthology Film Archive, which once housed Smith’s paper-plane collection before they were shipped off to the Smithsonian.
The combination of the child’s paper airplanes combined with the solemnity of the ash allows for the elements to transmute in a safe space away from the concerns of the market place. This critic felt grateful to Microscope gallery for giving this forgotten corner of the art world a safe haven.
ANN MCCOY is an artist, writer, and frequent contributor to The Brooklyn Rail. She teaches in the Yale School of Drama, graduate design.