Over the course of the past two weeks, while having an existential shift in all aspects of my life, serious moments of reflection and examination have led me to a place of creative clarity. We all have forests or fires we must occasionally go through. Sometimes forests on fire, dense foliage ripe with black carbon smoke and the heat of fear and confusion that seems to overwhelm the safety of the plain that surrounds.
The number of times we seem to walk through these fires, to draw ourselves back into the conflagration, the inability to extinguish certain emotions and thoughts and behavior patterns struck me as uncanny. Repetition seems to be an innate piece of our human fabric. This need to re-taste, re-hear, revisit… to re-experience both bliss and pain on various levels so as to offset or enhance the diametrical opposites.
I began to think of the moments of drama in my life that spiraled out of control. Were they self-created? Did I bring them forth in to my life to shake up the existential snow globe? It is pretty watching the little chads of plastic snow dawdle around the miniature figurines and eventually settle underneath it all, anxious for another disruption. In fact, the whole point of a snow globe is to pick it up and shake it. They are boring-by-design just sitting there, unstimulated. Life contained in a globe, going nowhere, dying out ever so slowly through some minute leak that no one can seem to find. I always thought the snowmen looked happier as the water tornadoed around.
Let’s think of repetition in terms of artist’s work. Andy Warhol could be described as a king of repetition, incessant reexamination of a single image, both separate to themselves and as a complete whole. Warhol, throughout his career, used imagery and photography of everyday objects and experiences, things that existed in daily life whether we paid attention to them or not. Boxes of soap, hammers, electric chairs, car accidents, suicides; all these elements of life became the medium. Reprinted over and over and over again in colors from day-glo to black. How often do we confront the image of an electric chair, though? Do we forget that this unforgiving punishment exists in our society? Do we fail to notice the design of our mass-produced consumer products? Couldn’t we just focus on the beauty of the colors of packaging or are we just concerned what those images contain inside: granulated soap.
Now what of magazine racks, a grid of images repeated into themselves? Layer of beauty queen over beauty queen interspersed with 36 point type hyping the next fad diet or advertising the most recent illegitimately born Hollywood baby. Is repetition reenforcement? Do we revisit the same ideas and dramas in our lives to reinforce what we experienced in the past, or are we convinced that the more we try, the sooner we might experience something different? At which usage of capital punishment will all crime suddenly disappear? Which box of soap will really clean all the dirt away?
I think we emulate repetition throughout our daily lives, if nothing else, subconsciously. I think of how many times I’ve stood in front of the mirror, prepping to go out drinking or cruising at a bar, to get the appropriate look. And then to remember it to replicate it in future trials. The homogenization of pop culture demonstrates this current need. Collagen lips, thick brow makeup, six-pack abs, and tight asses squeezed in jeans, all in an effort to replicate the beauty of something else, but in hopes of getting it just a little bit better personally. Reexamining someone else’s beauty for your own.
And in terms of repetition, what do we notice? Do we suddenly realize the all-over image, or do we begin to pick out the elements we disregard when viewing something once. Do we notice the pimples more (there are now twenty-five of them in grid form) as well as the blemishes (the blurring of corners that suddenly present kaleidoscopic?)
And what of non-representational image. What of the sky? While we view the sky above as sky, each representation of the sky, each day, is different. Same element, different presentation. Take Gerhard Richter and his production of color grids. Here, he repeats 256 rectangles, all of different colors in varying hues and shades of the spectrum. Same structure, different emotion. Individually, when focused on discretely, some rectangles appear violent or glum while their neighbors may be serene or joyful. However, it is just 256 different representations of the same model. A single photograph taken once and printed with the slightest variation of value over and over again, and placed side-by-side. Why does this affect us so deeply?
We are faced with the confrontation of repetition each day. The simple “hello” of answering a telephone call. Sugar in our coffee. The stroke of daily masturbation. Somewhere we expect to find the answer, the repercussion, the reply. A different reply. We dance on the edge of insanity, barely containing the illusion of life we walk in.