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A Postmortem Assessment of “Bad Soda/Soft Drunk”

Case of NexCite. Image credit: Garry Wilmore

Case of NexCite. Image credit: Garry Wilmore

Nicolas Lobo played out his latest hand at Gallery Diet by waxing metaphysical. The effort began with the serendipitous discovery of a large cache of expired Nexcite tonic in a warehouse in Opa Locka, Florida, part of which was relocated to Gallery Diet.

The installation begins on the outside and flows in, and from the inside goes bottom up, then back out again. From the beginning we’re bombarded by an onslaught of several mutually exclusive elements that highlight a disjointed visual feast of unrelated real and conceptual phenomena that formalize an expertise–an intoxicatingly confusing expertise that presents a series of non-sequiturs into a sort of bricolage, in which a haphazardly quixotic intention avalanches into a rationally aloof installation.

An off-the-cuff list of such non-sequiters includes:

1. Miami, Florida, and, the neighborhood as an emerging socio-economic cultural zone

2. The white cubed gallery (an enclosed commercial tautology), trying to break out

3. The gallery staff, art voyeurs, confused students, critics, pregnancy, an artist, other artists, at least a couple of wondering libertarian protagonists and other biological facts

4. Props: Crates of expired Nexcite soda, non-expired beer, a dozen or so Flip Flops, terrazzo pedestals, petrol melted polystyrene covered with Play-Doh–ghosting Chinese Scholar Stones, a video monitor, oxygen, and then some

It would be futile to examine this ensemble as though each part relates to a whole. Instead this ensemble is more synonymous with musical counterpoints or streams of consciousness, both of which thrive by avoiding harmony, a rational whole, traditional narrative, traditional epistemology or a cogent metaphysics. From this perspective, Lobo’s latest exhibition at Gallery Diet treats us to a clever pataphysical mixing of ad hock non-hierarchical elements, ordered up by a more or less evaporated sense of relational content, in favor of a mashup of conceptual and visual phenomena.

Pregnant moment. Image credit: Gallery Diet

Image credit: Gallery Diet

Put another way, this exhibition is not about one particular thing, yet it is about one fundamental thing. This exhibition is about desire and the machinery of desire–the contemplation of desire by desiring machines, highlighted by the desire for “Difference.” Consequently this exhibition is pregnant with an intentional desire to analyze the expanding and contracting relationship between signs, highlighted by an aesthetic gaze that looks at objects and their relationships through multiple imagined narratives. This exhibition is also about the desire to forget.

Additionally, this installation is not about understanding cause and effect or discovering relational facts or conclusions based on syllogistic thinking or a dialectic. Instead, Lobo’s latest performs as a thoughtful experiment that achieves an irrational schizophrenic-like mining that affirms the drift and delirium that dwells below all our rational attempts at making sense of the world.

It is precisely this irrational landscape, founded on the central commodity of an expired elixir called Nexcite, that we are asked to self-choreograph a stroll across the tops of, wall to wall. Cases of expired soda covered the gallery floor as though a recent archeological discovery had revealed a millenniums-old treasure trove of highly explosive Dionysian nectar, guarded no less, by the simulacrum of “Chinese scholar stones,” whose sculpted awkwardness and overhanging asymmetry ironically adds a threatening potential for violence. The sculptures are made out of Play-Doh and petrol combined with melted polystyrene. The latter conjures up the horrors of that cheap weapon of mass destruction: napalm. Which, alongside carpet-bombing, is part of the collective memory of those who witnessed the physical and psychological brutality of 20th century warfare.

Gilded Chinese Scholar Stones. Image credit: Mark Weeks Photo Journal

Gilded Chinese Scholar Stones. Image credit: Mark Weeks Photo Journal

Despite numerous, ongoing, and brutal conflicts that continue all over the globe–even with old-school boots on the ground and cameras in hand–journalism does not guarantee coverage of them, and media is used instead for particular ends. Instead, many of us now live oblivious to the realities of global conflicts, in part due to the acquiescence of globalization.

And as we all should know by now, globalization cannot succeed without various forms of violence. In other words, instead of witnessing the real fire and brimstone raining down on innocent parades, we now experience an artificial, commercialized carpet-bombing unlike any previous generation has experienced before.

However, the previous generational meme of overt violence still survives covertly in the commercialization of violence, as metaphor, through which new generations are more or less still absorbed into that same old neoliberal globalizing narrative, that which replaces real-time aversion to the brutality of war with a moral indifference and desensitization to historical violence.

As such, the desire for more intense images of violence accumulates, causing an even greater indifference and desensitization to violence, while simultaneously erasing images of real world suffering by replacing that reality with commercialized simulacrums of violence, the kind which better sustains violence through the ritualized spectacle which is manifesting through the entertainment complex, i.e. cable news, sports, gaming, film and video, music, performance, and so on.

All of which leads to a profitable pursuit of temporary satisfaction by marketing new forms of pleasure that contribute to the commodification of desire–[re]producing desire instead of producing desire. And it is exactly this blaze of destructiveness that causes the desire for the unsustainable overproduction and consumption of false desire to [re]produce and guarantee its commercial success.

Play XBLA game box. Image credit: Play XBLA website

Play XBLA game box. Image credit: Play XBLA website

By adding the reference of violence to a sexually charged foundation of Nexcite, marketed as an aphrodisiac, Lobo’s installation relieves us of the violence associated with napalm by showing us how easy it is to forget (of course, the added innocence of Play-Doh helps). And instead of an ensemble dynamic, steeped in Apollonian and Dionysian revelation, we are begrudgingly kept alert to the revolving traces of temporary victory as all the disparate objects and surfaces in this installation take their turn at provoking us. Causing any one narrative to evaporate as the lineament gives way to the liminal display, replacing the linear metaphor with atemporal stacks of metonymy.

Lobo’s installation encourages chance encounters, as though a nostalgic taste for automatism or a neo dada-like intervention exemplifies the dissatisfaction for the ordinary singular narrative. Today, to cope with the accelerated speed of information distribution and consumption, we adjust our bodies by employing cross-disciplinary strategies and modalities that essentially afford us a seemingly greater macrocosmic understanding, which can’t help but actually transcend and supersede the dissatisfaction for the inadequacy of singular, traditional linearity–Spinoza’s divine narrative.

All of which sets the stage for an intervention that re-inscribes our already-inscribed “Mystic Writing Pad” (Freud), by overwhelming our comfort zone with simultaneous story lines that bombard our already sensitive senses, by creating the possibilities for an infinite re-inscribing of the body towards an “ontological univocity”–towards a Deleuzian, “folding,” mind-fuck.

It all adds up to univocal being, the satisfaction of all our senses enframed by the simultaneity of difference: ”Pluralism = Monism”, that “being” is, univocally, founded on difference (Deleuze)–an inversion of Spinoza’s monism–“being” emerging from one substance–or the necessity that “being” is a divine narrative where homogeneity argues with heterogeneity.

Between the two, Lobo’s hand deals out a primordial-like ontology that interrogates how unique entities, that are grouped psychically or conceptually together in a primordial-like vacuum, manage to survive the mashup. This exhibition works as a kind of strange dialogue between the two: between a Deleuzian fold and Spinoza’s necessity for divine narrative. On the one hand, each element in the exhibition is a standalone element, yet when combined, they each spin new narratives in a kind of vortex, highlighted by an iconoclastic canceling of hierarchical value, which lays bare an imagined dialectic between the play of signifiers and signified visual novelty.

Cause and effect is replaced by the novelty of raw experience focused on radical difference that causes us to search for new ideas of association, exceeding our normal experience of how things relate. An intern becomes a catalyst for our own individuality to remain in an equivocating flux of positive Being.

From the outside in, we have the neighborhood, the once nascent warehouse district searching for, none other than a non-ethnic identity, which became the whited out Wynwood arts district, named after an imaginary elite, white, European family: the Wynwood’s. From that point, the Wynwood district evolved from a capitalized wet dream, driven by dreamers who hoped for an something not unlike what we got now: a complacent weak-kneed recurring softcore art spectacle, which is no longer an arts district.

Second, we got the “Gallery Diet,” the name which provokes a self-conscious willingness to be aware of the weight of consumerism–especially while in Wynwood. Diet is designed, like so many other galleries, to peddle local and globally aware occidental narratives, highlighted by the contradictions embedded within a complicit, salient, wanton Wynwood art community gone commercially wild.

Next, from the bottom up, we have the Props: The crates, cases of expired Nexcite drink, a cooler of cheap beer, the sculptures and the supporting terrazzo pedestals, the audience, the staff, a pregnant Gallery Director, critics abounding, confused students too, and assorted hidden geckos, spiders, wall flies, assorted invisible biological facts, and finally a wondering Libertarian and son, sipping the “expired” Nexcite swill in champagne glasses, no less (perhaps protesting the mandatory government labeling of a free market aphrodisiac).

Nexcite Label. Image credit: Foodetter reviews

Nexcite Label. Image credit: Foodette Reviews

On a side note, the expired Nexcite, was born again. And after a little research I found that the old energy drink, which was originally marketed for its aphrodisiac qualities (primarily to women, I think), had been re-marketed by a new campaign, as a less gender specific aphrodisiac. Below is an an excerpt from Foodette Reviews:

“This particular beverage came to the United States by way of hatred and copyright infringement in equal doses. Nexcite, a whimsical Swedish penis pumper, is a soda designed to provide a proprietary formula of herbal extracts and caffeine with which will fuel your manbits like no other… [with] a rabbit on the label, the soda is Viagra blue and smells like an energy drink. The five supplements: Yerba mate, an herb traditionally used in hot tea, which everyone knows makes you look brooding and sensitive, damiana, nature’s off-brand Viagra, illegal in Louisiana, ginseng and guarana, everyone’s favorite acid-flavored energy drink supplement, and last but not least, schizandra… a Chinese berry that aids in soothing the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. How sexy is that?”

While the new product has the same basic ingredients as the old product–both, new and old, still strike a nerve in today’s sexually charged marketing environment by selling liquid fetish. All of which is laid in by a sexually charged platform, a field of a blue tinted sexualized energy, which by sheer volume becomes quite a humorous backdrop that supports all the puzzled art voyeurs and a pregnant gallery director (who I assume was not inspired by the expired swill).

Orgone Accumulator. Image credit: Neil Fox

Orgone Accumulator. Image credit: Neil Fox

While musing about the myths of modern sexually charged environments,  I am reminded of a mid-20th century myth maker whose unfortunate ability to take advantage of cultish gullibility ended in heart failure while in prison. Wilhelm Reich was once a promising psychoanalyst who impressed Sigmund Freud as a undergraduate–but who, from the 1930s onwards, became increasingly controversial, to say the least, due to his pseudo-scientifically generated ideas and therapies. Most notable was Reich’s claimed discovery of “Orgone” energy, a portmanteau Reich coined, by combining two terms: “orgasm” and “organism”. Reich propagated the idea that Orgone energy was a cosmic sexual energy, that if manipulated correctly had healing effects for just about anything that ails a body. Reich claimed the orgone energy has been historically referred to as God–a sexually charged energy field that he claimed was as real as gravity.

From the wall-to-wall Nexcite platform we move upwards to terrazzo pedestals that support sculptures (fabricated by Giancarlo Sardone). Terrazzo is very Miami. “Terrazzo artisans create walkways, floors, patios, and panels by exposing marble chips and other fine aggregates on the surface of finished concrete or epoxy-resin…Terrazzo was originally invented by Venetian construction workers as a low cost flooring material using marble chips from upscale jobs.” (Wikipedia)

From terrazzo pedestals we ascend to the underlying polystyrene that was carefully sculpted by pouring gasoline on the surface to melt it, resulting in a napalm effect that coincidentally or not took the shapes reminiscent of Chinese Scholar Stones. Scholar stones are naturally occurring rocks that have been weathered and shaped by the elements. They are characterized by having interesting shapes and open gaps. The stones have been revered by Chinese aesthetics since 1200 A.D., and are still widely used in traditional Asian gardens and homes. On top of which is added a layer of Play-Doh punctuated with a blunt tool.

Drawing of Dan and Galt Mikesell imbibing their share of expired Nexcite soda. Drawing by Richard Haden, source photos compliments of Elizabeth Renfrow and other anonymous sources.

Drawing of Dan and Galt Mikesell imbibing their share of expired Nexcite soda. Drawing by Richard Haden, source photos compliments of Elizabeth Renfrow and other anonymous sources.

In conclusion, from the outside in, to the bottom up, we are asked to come to grips with the rest of the installation and its mash-up outward. From imagining the confluence of napalm and Nexcite with the rest, we are forced to participate in our own archeological investigation by a carefully choreographed walk, trekking both physically and mentally, across more than what we just see beneath our feet, or around us. Yet underneath it all we are still looking for that cure, sexualized or not, for the drift and delirium that dwells below all our attempts at making sense of it all[.]

Nicolas Lobo’s “Bad Soda / Soft Drunk” at Gallery Diet ran from March 13th – 29, 2014

This post was contributed by Richard Haden.


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A Postmortem Assessment of “Bad Soda/Soft Drunk”