I don’t mind today but the everyday makes me barf. There’s no such thing. Puking would put something on the sidewalk of the everyday so it might begin to be now.
—Eileen Myles, Sorry, Tree, 2007.
I continue to find this statement perplexing, even after a day that finished hurling on the pavement of an underpass on my way home. I conceive of this “now” to be something of a present affined with a special kind of urgency, even if involuntarily so. Illness is a rarified disturbance of our routine, a sudden disorientation and estrangement from ourselves. You’re rendered sluggish and speechless, alienated from everything nattering around you. Language becomes what artist Beatriz Santiago Muñoz describes as a “faulty machine” with a limited vocabulary to express our ailments. It is only through the process of breaking language apart into the particulars of embodiment and its transgressions that more attentional forms can flourish.
An exhibition of photographs titled poems by Eileen Myles, currently on view at Bridget Donahue Gallery, speaks to this embodiment of the particulars, as opposed to an eye-rolling celebration of the everyday. These pictures do not so much transform glimpses of public and private realms into something mystical; instead, they are blatantly banal and technically irreverent, yet leaky with panache. They offer up a kind of artworlding relief that you get after a substantial puke.
In their essay, Everyday Barf, Myles elucidates that puking itself need not be a solitary experience–it can be a palpably shared experience through sight, sound and stench. Instagram presents a democratization of everyone’s mutual spewing forth of imagery and ideas. Anybody can take pictures and set about “storying” themselves. Few people can afford not to be connected to social media, particularly artists. To be an artist, or any creatively inclined being, and to not be on Instagram or Twitter, is to barely subsist. Myles is no stranger to poverty, nor to the economy of image and word making. They have managed to do what few can and make an actual living out of crafting words.
Though the installation and scaling up of these visual poems was a nicety to behold, you need not necessarily have seen this exhibition in the flesh (and just as well, since I’m writing this review during the final week) to appreciate a Mylesian lens on life. The titles, which mirror their captions, on Instagram afford the images contextual cues. I refer you to their Instagram page where you will discover a substantial accumulation of a journeying companionship with their beloved pitbull, Honey, occasionally punctuated by a news headline, a contorted toilet roll, an encounter in the street. These images are an act of marking out territory–they are of life lived in motion, all coming out in an incessant, fragmented stream. These images appear to say, the viewer can only infer what’s being said, as with any given poem.
Writer Alan Gilbert related the Myles poem “Whax ’n Wayne,” in which Myles writes: “Television is what the night eats…” Gilbert follows on to ask: “Is Instagram what the day eats?” In one image of “poems” titled The cow was not drugged (2017), an already licked ice cream invites another lick. An exposed nipple, titled “-“ (2018), invites sucking, a cocktail, it’s absinthe (2018), invites sipping, a pair of undies invite sniffing in I think Honey missing Joe (2017), and a bike tire entering a dark, shadowy street invites sex, obviously. Any hint of narrative is just a tease, yet there’s an edible familiarity and tactility going on, a sense of journeying and unrelenting movement, like disheveled sheets overlooking a leafy fire escape, as in certainly (2017), or a door left ajar, or rosary beads dangling from a dashboard.
In another image, Consternation about Mimm’s (2018), Honey attentively gazes across at something specific in the distance off camera. Of course, here Myles is projecting what Honey “seems to say,” since dogs operate via expression and gesture, perpetually indigent in lieu of speech. Even as a devout cat person inside and out, there’s an endearing camaraderie and affectionate telepathic correspondence between Myles and Honey, this interchangeable muse and enraptured observer, radiating energy.
There are moments in the title poem of Evolution, the latest collection of poems by Myles, that distill in words what the pictures similarly try to distill, that which “feels / good & true” their being “enchanted by everything” (Sweet heart). Then, an excerpt from a poem called In the Picture: “I cleaned / the mirror / as if I’d / never lived in evidence / in photographs…”
Do we ever post a picture in defiance that “this is evidence of my life,” or do we, rather, take a picture in defeat and deduce that “I’ve wasted my life”? Is taking a picture to take away from the poignancy of a moment, to discredit its genuine memorability, or is it simply a matter of distinguishing one moment from the next? How seriously do we need to take it? How else might we commemorate “evidence” of ourselves in a mode that doesn’t feel self-deceptive or indulgent? Are words any less narcissistic? Instagram indeed shares an affinity with the kinds of cuts, incisions and omissions made in writing, in terms of what Myles describes as a “day that’s captured / some way / separately.”
We, the spectators, are propelled to move intuitively and sensually along with Myles and their kith, between their moments, the vast majority of which are of course lived outside of the frame. All we have are “tastes” of life. These are the kind of travel pictures that convey being a tourist in your own town and a traveler in others. Insidious implications aside, Instagram remains an archival tool for personalized journeying, a means to display our best and worst angles, to spread obnoxious memes, to share humorous insights, sprinkled with neural rewards from those who endorse them. One can reasonably infer, then, that we’re all destined to become dogs of Instagram, lured by a suspicious whiff of that which might amount to a feverish and urgent now.