“In every dream home a heartache
And every step I take
Takes me further from heaven
Is there a heaven?
I’d like to think so
Standards of living
They’re rising daily
But home oh sweet home
It’s only a saying”
–Roxy Music “In Every Dream Home A Heartache”
“Memory–what a strange thing it is!…” writes Gaston Bachelard in The Poetics of Space (9).In contrast to its dry and dour title, The Poetics of Space is a thoroughly Lynchian trip through memory, home and dreams, or more specifically, daydreams. And despite Bachelard’s seemingly tossed-off exclamation about memory, he’s right–these fleeting ephemeral moments that inhabit, at once, the past and the present are an odd thing.
How are artists supposed to faithfully represent memory’s strangeness? It’s not enough to just precisely record and pin memory down like a butterfly under glass. As Bachelard writes, “To localize a memory in time is merely a matter for the biographer and only corresponds to a sort of external history, for external use, to be communicated to others” (9). But, what about capturing the internal experience of memory? Certainly artists, writers, playwrights and other creators have explored this before, often with a heavy dose of surrealism and an embrace of a cursory relation with the truth, from Lynch’s nonlinear films like Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway to Tennessee Williams’s classic “memory play” The Glass Menagerie. “Memory,” observes Tennessee Williams in the play’s script, “takes a lot of poetic license. It omits some details; others are exaggerated, according to the emotional value of the articles it touches, for memory is seated predominantly in the heart.”
However, artist Glen Fogel seems to take another approach to aesthetically wrestling with memory’s ethereal complexity in his current exhibition With You…Me at JTT. Though With You…Me is dimly lighted and sentimental, much like Williams’s protagonist and stand-in Tom Wingfield’s description of a memory play in the beginning of The Glass Menagerie, Fogel trades attempting to construct an accurate reflection of memory’s experience for an engagement with memory’s material remains. He does this through two series of works: an engrossing seven-channel video installation with the same title as the exhibition and First Love as Drawn by Second Love, which, as gathered from the title, is a series of tender graphite drawings of Fogel’s first boyfriend as rendered by his second.
Fogel is certainly no stranger to exploring past romances or relationships in his work as seen in his previous show Why Don’t I…Pretend To Be Your Dad. This exhibition included a video installation with the same title as the show with dialogue from Andrew Haigh’s film Weekend that was inspired by Fogel and Haigh’s relationship, as well as a series of Man Quilts using fabric culled from the clothes of important men in Fogel’s life. In many ways, With You…Me is an extension of that exhibition’s bittersweet engagement with loss, the liminal space between presence and absence, and its material traces.
While Why Don’t I…Pretend To Be Your Dad depicted a bygone relationship without bodies, Fogel’s new First Love as Drawn by Second Love returns to the figure. In this series of drawings, surrounding one corner of JTT, a teenage boy poses sincerely. In one drawing, he’s sitting on a stoop with his arms folded, while in another, he stands holding onto a chain-linked fence near some industrial pipes. And in yet another, he stands looking like an angelic vision with the sun shining behind him–his body and face illuminated by shadows. The teenage boy, with his button-down shirt and short haircut, looks as if he could be from any era–at once, timeless and out of time. Resembling a typical all-American kid next door, these drawings wouldn’t be out of place on the cover of a young adult novel, one hidden among the bookshelves, secretly coded as queer.
However, these drawings are not just of an anonymous attractive teenager, but of Lucas, Fogel’s first boyfriend. The imagery is also sourced from Lucas’s senior portrait photo session, shot by Fogel himself. With that knowledge, the series takes on another dimension, documenting the intimacy between Fogel and Lucas, as well as Fogel’s early artistic experimentations. Set in more inventive surroundings and with a wider variety of poses than the typical cheesy senior portrait schmaltz (aka tilting your head unnaturally and awkwardly, while sitting on a bale of hay for some reason), the works signify a monumental period of growth and exploration. They portray a time of burgeoning same-sex desire and love, as well as the development of an artist. Even the poses were meaningful, as Lucas describes in an email exchange with the artist, which acts as a part of the show’s press release. In First Love as Drawn by Second Love (the sun inside him), the haunting interaction with the light was supposed to mimic something Lucas’s mother told him. As he writes, “It’s actually that my mom told me when I was seven that I had a sun inside of me, and that she did too. The sun is ‘the ally’ which is like a spirit of love that exists within.” And like his mother’s conception, the series, overall, exudes a spirit of love that is sweet, without being cloyingly saccharine.
The series is further complicated by its authorship as the drawings were rendered by Benjamin Kress, Fogel’s second boyfriend and a fellow artist who also knew Lucas. Not only becoming a physical remnant of the relationship between Fogel and Lucas, the series, then, documents the strange intimacy forged between one’s romantic partners. Each relationship builds on the last as we’re changed, sometimes imperceptibly, by partnerships, particularly formative first loves. By having his subsequent boyfriend recreate these photographs, Fogel makes visible this tenuous and often unspoken link with the tender touch of a graphite pencil. In so doing, it also confuses temporal boundaries of memory. Rather than looking back to a naïve and wistful teenage photoshoot like digging through a box of old dusty photographs, Fogel, by commissioning Kress, draws these memories back into the present, reinscribed, reinterpreted and recreated by another lover. Essentially, Fogel not only asks what did these moments mean at the time, but what do these memories mean now and what do they mean to others that have come after?
Fogel’s video installation With You…Me also tangles with memory through the imprint of memory and experiences on a home. In JTT, the seven-channel video forms a semi-oval around the gallery space, with each screen playing a different view of a room in Fogel’s childhood home in Denver, before the house was sold and demolished. Of course, it almost goes without saying that the childhood home is a rich subject for exploring memories. As Bachelard writes in The Poetics of Space, “Memories of the outside world will never have the same tonality as those of home…” (6).
With its slow rotation around each room, the video could have presumably been quite dull in its simplicity. Instead, however, it was mesmerizing like a 360-degree tour of the physical traces of childhood memories. Shot with a gyroscopic robotic camera, the video is, unlike the nearby drawings, without human touch and yet, it also is imbued with a sense of life lived. Dents and scratches stand in for visible action–past voices, bodies, experiences and interactions are literally etched on the architectural structure of the home. Without even the artist’s hand in the work, the home feels haunted by both the memories contained within and the promise of the house’s inevitable destruction. The video feels like both a reclamation and preservation of home, even in the face of its loss and presumed absence.
“When we dream of the house we were born in,” says Bachelard, “we participate in this original warmth, in this well-tempered matter of the material paradise…our daydreams carry us back to it” (7). It should be noted that home can be a fraught location, particularly for queer people as a site for trauma as much as the idyllic halcyon days of familial embrace and acceptance. In With You…Me, Fogel doesn’t seem to apply a particular judgment, rather he’s depicting the home as a palimpsest. However, what memories it records remain unknowable to viewers.
And yet, the video installation’s strength lies in its familiarity, forging a connection between Fogel’s childhood home and the viewers’ remembrances of their own. For example, stuck on the ceiling of his childhood bedroom are a smattering of glow-in-the-dark stars that exactly mirror the ones I still have on the ceiling of my childhood bedroom at my parent’s house (I’m pretty sure it’s now a permanent installation, affixed there forever by that awful blue gummy tack). Like Fogel’s home, we bring our own houses with us, even if they no longer exist physically. As Bachelard theorizes, “But over and beyond our memories, the house we were born is physically inscribed in us” (14).
Fogel shows, in the exhibition as a whole, that it’s not just houses that are inscribed in us, but romances too. “I prefer to remember things my own way,” says Fred Madison in David Lynch’s Lost Highway, when describing his skepticism toward cameras. Though certainly much less paranoid than Fred, Fogel’s exhibition showcases an artist manipulating memory in his own way, beyond typical documentation, confusing temporal boundaries and reflecting the very nature of memory itself. As David Lynch observes in Lynch on Lynch: “The old and the new sometimes connect in beautiful ways.”