“I remember a girl so very well
The carnival drums all mad in the air
Grim reapers and skeletons and a missionary bell
O where do we go now but nowhere?
In a colonial hotel we fucked up the sun
And then we fucked it down again
Well the sun comes up and the sun goes down
Going round and around to nowhere”
–Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds “Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere”
In Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ song “Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere” off The Boatman’s Call, a beautiful and tragic piano and violin-filled breakup album, Cave reflects on both the passionate heights of love and the blunt realization of its unsustainability. A nostalgic but not overly sentimental song, “Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere” mirrors the ghostly flashes of memories and ephemeral longings in Glen Fogel’s current exhibition What If I…Pretend To Be Your Dad at the Lower East Side’s JTT.
Like Cave’s (to his dismay) recognizable relationships depicted in The Boatman’s Call including his intense tryst with fellow musician and aesthetic twin PJ Harvey, Fogel’s What If I…Pretend To Be Your Dad centers around a love affair that has already been publicly documented–albeit fictionally–in a landmark gay indie film Weekend. Directed by Fogel’s former lover Andrew Haigh, Weekend is likely known to many of our dear Filthy Dreams readers as one of the best and shameful films slotted in the Netflix’s Gay and Lesbian section ghetto.
Weekend depicts a short yet no less significant two-day relationship between Russell and Glen, an artist who, like Fogel, only spells his name with one “n.” The twosome met at a gay bar after Russell leaves his straight friends party.
According to the press release, which is composed as an email to Haigh, Fogel discovered a few years ago after much suspicion that the film was indeed inspired by his relationship with the director. After this realization, Fogel, who has mined his past relationships in his art previously like in his short film 7 Years Later, set out to construct his own minimalist rendering of their relationship and its preservation–both in film and memory.
Titled for a line directly sourced from the film, in which Glen offers to “pretend to be” Russell’s dad so he can practice coming out, Why Don’t I…Pretend To Be Your Dad features two black screens facing opposite directions. On the very bottom of the screens, Fogel presents appropriated conversations from the film between Glen and Russell in stark white letters, replacing the character Russell’s name with Andrew’s own. Representing the distance between them, each screen presents one half of the conversation.
Interspersed the clips of dialogue, as well as closed captioned actions and descriptions, Fogel’s screens return to black while the lights in the gallery suddenly transform into colors from purple to red to blue. While the lights appear, resembling a club atmosphere, poppy yet strangely sad music plays, inspired by karaoke backing tracks. With the mix of visual and aural, Fogel invokes an involuntary feeling of nostalgia, reflecting the ephemeral sensory experiences that haunt memories of past relationships.
When initially hearing about Fogel’s exhibition, I admittedly worried that the piece might come off as slightly self-indulgent, particularly the artistic exploration of his ex’s more widely known film. However, sitting in the gallery on one of two chairs pushed closely together on either side of the screen, reflecting the duo’s physical and emotional intimacy, the installation is undeniably moving, portraying the flashes of experiences we recall when distilling, reinterpreting and attempting to comprehend our own pasts.
Further complicating and expanding the exhibition, the walls surrounding the installation are lined with works, which Fogel titles Man Quilts. At first glance, particularly if you enter during an interlude, the wall-mounted pieces could be wrongfully mistaken as acoustic installation. Covered in abstract geometric patterns, Fogel’s ten Man Quilts are sewn from clothing derived from important men in Fogel’s life from his father to his ex-boyfriend to his boyfriend. For example, Fogel’s Man Quilt #6 (Lucas) is made from his ex-boyfriend’s wedding suit.
Rendered in dark grey, black or navy colors, particularly since many of the original clothes were suits, the Man Quilts are undeniably masculine, shattering the gendered stereotypes surrounding the assumed femininity of quilt-making or craft. A tactile trace of care and memory, clothing can often be the physical remainder or reminder of a loved one.
Converting his feelings about these men into textiles, as well as his touching text-based memories recorded and projected in Why Don’t I…Pretend To Be Your Dad, Fogel’s works in JTT engage with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s intersection of texture and affect in her Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity.
Taking her notions of texture from an essay by Renu Bora on Henry James, Sedgwick reveals our intimate perception of texture. She writes, “As Bora’s essay shows, I haven’t perceived a texture until I’ve instantaneously hypothesized whether the object I’m perceiving was sedimented, extruded, laminated, granulated, polished, distressed, felted or fluffed up. Similarly, to perceive texture is to know or hypothesize whether a thing will be easy or hard, safe or dangerous to grasp, to stack, to fold, to shred, to climb on, to stretch, to slide, to soak. Even more immediately than other perceptual systems, it seems, the sense of touch makes nonsense out of any dualistic understanding of agency and passivity; to touch is always already to reach out, to fondle, to heft, to tap, or to enfold, and always also to understand other people or natural forces as having effectually done so before oneself, if only in the making of the textured object” (14-15).
Like Segwick’s reading of texture through the lens of Bora’s essay, Fogel’s textural works allow for an analysis of the hands or forces that touched these objects before the viewer’s gaze, whether Fogel himself, the men who wore these garments or Haigh’s manipulation of their relationship into a film.
Understanding texture as existing in a liminal space beyond both the sense of tactility or vision, Sedgwick highlights “a particular intimacy seems to subsist between textures and emotions” (17). Examining this combination throughout her collection of essays, Sedgwick powerfully explains, “Attending to psychology and materiality at the level of affect and texture is also to enter a conceptual realm that is not shaped by lack nor by commonsensical dualities of subject versus object or of means versus end” (21).
Investigating this same conceptual realm of texture, Fogel’s exhibition seems to inhabit this in-between zone where the memory of loss may be bittersweet but is not shaped by lack. It is also not, as Sedgwick clarifies, clearly defined by means to an end or subject/object binaries. As shown by Fogel, these memorial remains continue to exist within our memories whether snippets of dialogue, bits of disembodied words, old worn suits, bits of fabric or glimpses of long nights spent in nightclubs.