Kevin Pinkerton is a Philosophy student at York University. He has sent us a captivating essay on his impressions of Toronto artist Maya Kulenovic’s online gallery in a state of sleep deprivation.
Make a cup of tea, settle in, and prepare to read it below!
Maya Kulenovic Presents Damaged Life
by Kevin Pinkerton
Maya Kulenovic is pain’s portraitist, presenting the perspective of the abused and savaged against illusions of benevolence, divinity or hope, and, like Sade, stands as prophet and parodist: their lashings are ours in this “interaction of light and darkness,” those ghosts for furious thoughts. Staring intently at her gallery, our hands or fingers or fingernails seem much less real than those corrosive expressions… In her piece Mystic, those eyes are tight in contemplation and in terror — this future skull meditating, a need to experience the totality of herself in God, every side and angle exposed, naked and scorched, shown to the world, wounded, kneeling and begging for abuse from their sadist deity, and still seeing, in themselves or in the world, in others this contact with the sublime and the sacred: skies without starlight or lunar reflection over decay lost in the smiles of the syphilitics, cold faces, detached and apathetic, one’s eyes out to the world, the other retreating inward, but both are actively manipulating their sensations otherwise obscured in the shadows, charting horrors all the more horrific in absentia.
Shadows = withdrawal. See in them our Progeny, ourselves extending in time, the fractured faces, tasting menace…we can feel Tranquility in there. Visible from the shoulders up, her head tilted away slightly, hair dark, one eye seen as black as the blood on her lips and nose, and from the shoulder down she appears to be sinking, ready to drown, gaining fodder so she can also imagine beautiful states, calm, ataraxia we hope prolonged against our urge to kill, a temporary ceasefire, stillness textured like Frost. In winter worlds is another little one, face scarred, her hair curly, the feeling of cold of varying degrees, idiotic winter nostalgia both idyllic and insipid, and more resentment of it. Winter, that parasitism of everything impermanent and set to die. Each face Kulenovic sterilizes — a barrenness implied in the desolate content and tone, the futureless content, their empty present shattered to bits, each life a relic making comment on our absence in the color and expressions hinting to the esoteric terrors which corrupt the integrity of any forming personality.
We hide in her shadows: nightmare moments like Intellect or Arcadian..and what thrives there? In these atemporal fissures, any articulated thought would only amount to a maniacal attempt to interpret silent victims whose linear time has ruptured and undercut our sense of motion or self as in our nightmares invoked by her work or, rather, what we remember of them, eventually lost, sometimes retrieved in gut reactions — the torso freezes from the feeling, just nerves sharp and compressed, a tension lasting moments soon forgotten but thereafter a sense of amorphous menace, the same felt on those landscapes, slaughterhouses, other terrestrial hells forgotten or replaced by other nightmares: like an autonomous torso struggling toward its mechanized lower half, aimless in a montage of other portraits — a crone, ancient and thin, her eyes skewed, a look of confusion like time stopped the torture a second to stare at her and the shadows at her back, against the gender ambiguity of the Icon — sacked and left to interpret the utopian ruin, the remains of which are still charred and ravenous and sensate as that torso claws still over the languid seas overlapping with other nightmares, like 27 Lbs. — one horse decapitated, its head weighed, quality quantified, and, given its pose and the circumstances portrayed, still majestic. This beautiful animal and our ugly relationship to it, the equipment presented a sculpture to commemorate our ‘control’ over nature, reduced further to skeletal status once consumed…a test of our pity: the beauty of being relieved of beauty via an exposure to the hideous.
Infected by the Muse… It dissolves while it directs identity, making for an upright corpse between two hideous options. The longer we reside in that impasse, the more repulsive, gaping and funereal either side becomes. Desperation, torture and from there, total indecision: dissolution or devotion. It’s devastating until she decides upon dependence. The distraction, the numbness, the sedation, they give some relief to those urges for preoccupation. But, eventually, banality begins irritating the arrangement, and it ruptures, either in rage or in despair. Simple scrutiny damages irreversibly: this imposter has flaws — physical, personal — and weaknesses, which while perverse enough on their own, start to reflect back on us. But our resentment is nill compared to the depths of her disgust. We are abandoned to ourselves, left to fend off what we are or were, crawling around concrete insect-like, alone and devoid of beauty. What should be our one moment lived and savoured is immediately polluted, uprooted, overturned by a sentimental response. The mind is either finding new muses and trying to repair the rift with the last one in an episode of psychotic optimism and tenacity, annihilating the self — surveying and gutting contradiction and flaw, exposing physical defects, drowning drives into paralysis, and outside is now imagined a charred rotland occupied by the demonic and mutated: a conscious episode in terror, simulated live burial, self-generating terror as in Kanashibari.
We are this horizontal paralytic lost to all sensations but terror: we want the fear, rationalize it, to enhance or confirm our feelings and ideas, to be truly terrified again in that waking hell, a torture, a temporary type of insanity to compete with all the other available versions, like dreams: hours of the self lost to an angry chronology, periodic dementia tolerated and even thought necessary to ensure some degree of relative sanity during the daytime — calm and languid until that nightmare skins you, sets up a warzone inside while still expecting you to move through the next day. For nightmares, allegories and Metaphor(s) to the world’s open wound in which we nest…at which we grope blindly, lost and set upon by one another — an experience contained in the average Kulenovic portrait — each empty interpretation a metaphor for anticipated idiocy, inept communication, of future offense and mauled intentions, failed appropriation, poor interpretation…sway while the room moves in to remind us that anyone we ever showed kindness has abandoned us. Everyone — an enemy nursing destructive Grand Inquisitor type thoughts — but still staring at the picture, suddenly ominous, threatening, like someone about to be acquainted with the worst side of the species — there she stands, the subject, hair like light gold, a blonde brighter than atomic angels slutting up the clouds and making more to fatten their ranks for the demiurge. Her face clings to the shadow occupying the room’s lower parts, round her like an Edenic lizard and just as menacing, as isolating…locked in, alone, left to confront one’s thoughts, sadistic and spiraling around outside oneself — harm can hide in blackness cracked, assuming its shape on her shoulders, to crush, smother — surrounding and ready to invade her eyes, her semi-red shirt slanted across her chest an archaic style her lips — the shape of which were ambiguous: a half-smirk, disgust, vengeful intentions (or is she about to cry?) In all that masochism is a moment of lucidity — repulsion from all the occupants of the same slaughter nexus she represents in her Gnostic landscapes…agony and atrophy layered over slate shading. Each piece of granite or steel or neglected fencing or whatever indicative of an entire epoch or consciousness, an eternal battle of design or function, this romantic disposition, orphic and hostile, in which we see the sublime, — (in Field) — the fire raging across the world and filling the sky with its waste, to shun the sun and annihilate everything beneath. (“I have cast fire upon the world, and see, I am guarding it until it blazes.” Gospel of Thomas.)
We see Paris Vanishing: Imagine the occupant of an apartment complex age alongside his city, watching as it changes, seeing it collapse around him swiftly, easily, abruptly and from his ledge he sees the shadows around his city drench each facet, a funeral glow, each sigh a dirge for the city he sees melt into other parts of the French landscape. The cosmic city as a world in decay, the world-as- death. Time will move at an agonizing pace, each second as eternal as each problem…feel it — living —
breathing — this moment — this — this — this — all moments are opposed to that glorious second of imagining and dismissing an entire lifetime: the pasttime of the dictator, of the Stalinist fantasist — to watch one’s world suddenly disappear, to feel detached from it and yourself, a product of time and decay, in the viewer and in the world, decaying together as a team. Symbolic of such change is her Utopia triptych: first, in Sediment, we see Kulenovic’s cathedral reaching skyward seeking to house the deity in gothic luxury, evoking historical ideologies while suggesting their future or present erosion, even as the sky is about to brighten — to make everything livelier or more apocalyptic like the Trinity.To Breakwater, still they point and still the sun waits, deciding whether to make an appearance or not over the scaffolding, newly erected, to either repair rot or to continue constructing industry around it, an industrial ambiance for the new God to replace the old — and still we all fall into another version of the void, God is the limit, a romantic nothingness in which we see our liberation from ourselves following the day we learn of our relationship to nothingness as an allusion to Erosion — She moved in closer and looking high up to the ever-brightening sky and its ominous relationship with the sharp structures beneath, stabbing and conflicted, hateful toward that atmosphere constraining our contact with the demiurge, slaves as we are to gravity — which, from this angle, gives the impression of total architectural trash littering the firmament.
Architecture: tombstones of dead cities, history’s waste an atrocity gallery, like the Sanitarium, its bone-bleached face rust-contaminated, a front diseased, its scattered windows resembling stab wounds both badly stitched and absorbed into structure, leading nowhere. Archways like bones or ancient sewer of illusory depth, and on the roof a chimneystack absent its expected warmth and alluding likewise to the industrial savagery of a setting obscured in chiaroscuro. Inside is sickness, the sigil of the frail and hideous in us, our bodies an outlet for hostile pity during those encounters with limitation, with rot both temporary and permanent, a negative intimacy stretching over our nerves. Her depiction perfectly raises that state and all accompanying pathologies of the hygiene obsessed, those needing to cure all in a place both prison and sanctum, a site of experimentation and torture eagerly projected (an effect of its look of discarded malice implying any of the nightmare cruelties tethered to medical history. And as nightmares are to God…a sense of impending doom: intuition, an apprehension). From there we have Infantry, Orderly and Chirurgeon: The Orderly against stark black is age, another stoic composition, the eyes like coal and crimson, staring downward at something, maybe movement or sudden withdrawal. Without understanding our basest state, our annihilation is even less available — all we do is repeat historical footage in our minds (never vivid enough, never cataclysmic enough). Post-humanity resembles a Dresden, a Stalingrad, an Auschwitz…but those events, ostensibly, had some ‘goal’ attached, a means to reach it, and afterwards life went on. So all those stock footage memories we play and replay do not constitute apocalypse, and as such, the further we remove ourselves from their memory, the less potent their influence. The Chirurgeon gives an impression of humanist suffering — the frontal stare, full face and tired eyes, sympathetic and black, numbed mouth, the collar open and bloody and pallid. Seen by those eyes, we have no history, only moments of suffering, remembered or not.
Traditions lost…and an Heiress wanders in darkness, strolling through a nightmare — a nightmare within another, an atmosphere mirroring this moment directly, and memories…childhood, and fearing blackness so black that everyone is still scared of how it consumes, crushes, promises black holes and rips across the cosmos. Every kid remembers that sensation, the smothering, almost maternal an aggressive gangrene across the sights, torture of a definite and unknown type, all the more hideous against the young — its moral: nobody escapes. But the blackness is only the face given to the void by inverse romantics understanding it as a wondrous alternative to what they know, and, in the process, ensuring it’s identity as one would God or the Infinite or any other Ideal. We read about
it, we try to meditate it into existence and are thus unable to think of it without visuals: Dante and Lautreamont depicted the animal’s nature best and most brutal — an underworld of rot and terror, and each encounter drives us further inward, further apart, further to music, and from music the inward self expands, explodes — ecstatic in the rain, we falsely identify the void with the world, seeing them linked, and as beautiful as stars.
In Kulenovic’s wonderful portraits of sadness and anarchy, each piece a report from a frontier as decrepit as the Aristocrat: subject of a class distinction achieved by carnage, this woman watches past us against a grey backdrop, her hair brown, eyes and nose and lips a little bloody, mouth open, a scarf tainted with blood drops, shirt black, dazed this one…an image of a waning tradition, of a lost opportunity, of spiritual decline, a relic like a cancer to be cut out (after being cause) by Trinity — Oh the sun is so bright surrounded as it is by bloody clouds, perimetered likewise by blood blackened. An apparent apocalypse, here. An imitation eschatology. Her ambiguous tone hints at the full range suffering’s spectrum and demands we choose something specific and identify with the revelation that there is no ‘hidden truth’ to uncover but rather a deep absence as seen in her work. Her voice speaks moral waves while an interpretation, all guesswork, is best abandoned before it begins. Hers is a will to empathy. The detailed expressions add a touch of humanity to which the audience wants desperately to relate. The harm is shifted onto the audience, and the violence is always worse than the mind can tolerate intimating to complete her voice (that which shares, bonds and understands that which is absent), its Sound. This girl is pale, dead pale, black eyes and mouth open — pried open — in shock. Her hair, also dark, is sinking into the world at her back: an alienating image of an already alienated subject, trancelike, enjoying the same memory, relived forever, all the violence for the first time everytime. She is, to steal Guillermo del Toro’s phrase, ‘an emotion trapped in time’ (The Devil’s Backbone). Her dead eyes ensure our distance from her feelings or experience. Our literal silence leaves us guessing about what’s being conveyed. Words or concepts have no place in the accurate portrayal of disintegration, or any other experience, really, but especially those extremes where the terror is the void, being lost as a person, a climax, a culmination unrelayed except in a scream, a howl, or, worst, total silence which is never total as long as the survivors sit and theorize about its significance. This voice echoes throughout. All her subjects are silent but for what their expressions betray, enough voice for audience speculation. Dead objects suddenly subjective through interpretation — their voice is an artifice gifted by an audience, a puppet in the mind of the recipient, a model version of oneself to exorcise the past while exercising their own voice to circulate cliches and cultural axioms about the commercial merit of art. We have as much voice as is functional, and, really, beyond the most basic is silence, stuttering, choking, grunts…our vocabulary, for all its advances, exists to fade and be silenced. With shadow comes that ascetic feeling that general removal from one’s environment to gain perspective on fluidity and nullity. Meeting sterility, we try to speak louder than the dead, more profusely than its spread, to assert ourselves as ‘our’ Voice: the range of masks worn, concepts considered and tactics required to maul out a connection with some other semi- speechless person — a single sound arisen after the destruction or assimilation of our idols. All of us prophets and everywhere a wasteland and silent by default, our teeth Clench(ed), lingering disembodied in blackness, absent a jawbone or skull to which it can attach itself to function, its body disintegrated, open and eternal — reduced to the display of those evils we strive to hide or deny by building over and around ourselves myriad successions of theater. During this ordeal, we cut ourselves off from our bodies. We forget to interrogate. We forget how, and when we realize it’s a necessity, we’re repulsed: “this writhing infectious thing is not us.”