The full range of such a major show, with over 30 artists and a mini festival to boot, could never be represented in a catalogue despite its 328 lustrous pages. This is a shame as I am sympathetic to the project’s ambition which tries earnestly to address our society’s ‘melancholic introspection’. As all we have is the book all we can hope to assess is the project’s principal theme.
The hand of curators and editors Ellen Blumenstein and Felix Ensslin is heavily felt in this weighty tome designed to deal with weighty problems. The title ‘between two deaths’ quotes Lacan’s metaphor for Antigone which the curators seem to have picked up from Slavoj Žižek. Their loose understanding of the metaphor and its implications is shown by their excellent choice of commissioned writers. Sonia Arribas and Howard Rouse’s co-authored essay gives sharp erudite analysis and is the first place to turn to. When coupled with Žižek’s own contribution both Blumenstein and Ensslin’s essays are rendered superfluous. Welcome tangents from the application and reapplication of the metaphor are offered by Eva Illouz on love in an ‘age of irony’, and from Dan Graham and Robin Hurst in their 1987 social history of corporate lobbies. These essays and the artists’ pages give space to let the play of association and implication do its own work.
Arribas and Rouse nail the important balance between providing the historical/theoretical context for Lacan’s metaphor and considering its implications for art and artistic production. Citing Flaubert and Broodthaers they conclude that: ‘If, in the capitalist mode of production, art cannot overcome its conditions, it can sometimes… show them’. This sentiment is echoed in Mika Hannula’s bravura yet very human essay.
between two deaths makes a sincere attempt to address the reality of depression and melancholy in our society and tries to rustle up some theoretical gumption to convince us that this depression is legitimate and can even be productive. The project becomes a subdued call to arms. Subdued because it can have no banner; no rallying cry to bring us together. We live with a dizzying flux of information with no dominant narrative to guide us.
The failure in this project derives from the curators’ desire that their metaphor become the silver tip on a single magic bullet. Their conviction that this metaphor can unlock our potential reveals nostalgia for a dominant narrative. Despite the evident quality of many of the essays and many of the artists, and despite the pertinence of the metaphor, the wider thesis collapses under the weight of this nostalgia.
Luke Collins is an artist living in Glasgow