Thursday, February 17, 2011

"At Moments Like This He Feels Farthest Away"

Once you get past the rather irksome security check point a wonderful treat awaits you at the Fales Library and Special Collections gallery. On display until April 29th is a wonderful realization of a window installation commissioned by NYU's Grey Gallery in 1983, then censored before its completion. At the time, Tim Dlugos was a young poet on-the-rise in the Manhattan poetry scene and Philip Monaghan was a trained painter serving as artistic director for fashion haus, Fiorucci. Beginning with Dlugos' crowd fave, "Gilligan's Island," a personal poem which mashed-up imagery from the namesake T.V. show, the Kennedy assassination, Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds and Dlucos own memories of angsty queer teen longing, Monaghan was to create a space that embodied and expanded Dlugos work in painting. As it turned out, the Grey deemed Dlugos' two-line mention of masturbation entirely too much for 1980s public consumption, and shuttered the whole idea, until now.

Entering the gallery through the narrow corridor, you're met with a rather unfortunate homage to the text. A wall-sized shiny plasticine reprint of the poem bubbles and crinkles on its matching grey wall. With light grey type on a dark grey backing, there's too little tonal distinction between the back and foreground. Impossible to read, the gesture is further troubled by an ipod shuffle deck mounted on the wall, where Dlugos (I presume) reads the piece aloud. I, for one, cannot read a text while someone else is talking at me. Perhaps a better choice would have been to privilege the audio, a more precious fragment from our recent past than some badly reproduced wallscreen.

Passing the peculiar larger-than-life photograph of a goofy Dlucos in suit and tie, you enter the gallery and suddenly everything comes into focus. Over 54 uniform panels (18" x 24") Monaghan covers all of the wild imagery that Dlugos wearves through his poem. Images where Jackie O mounts The Professor. Ginger - or is that Tippi - looks on, in total fright. The Gilligan's Island logo is trained in the same site as that limousine. Time has afforded an additional process to convey the assemblage nature of this narrative. Beneath the surface of Monaghan's vibrant and youthful painting strokes are inkjet prints of images mostly ripped from the T.V. show, swathed in the candy hued-paints that create this gay teen psyche.

The paintings are installed uniformly, positioned somewhere between comic book panels and salon-sytle hanging. Their excitable imagery thankfully shies from direct representation, more striving to evoke the ethos of Dlugos wonderful poem. I'm not so familiar with the particulars of Gilligan's Island, but Dlugos mines key sequences, presenting them as gospel, as if their momentous importance is etched into an entire pop subconscious. "From the water comes a thick and eerie tropical silence," near the end of the poem. "The famous conversation is about to start." There's a flippant self-reflexivity to the language that situates us in the space, but just as quickly careens us out to the loveseat, to the red velvet of the theater. Elsewhere, "Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren are totally concerned. They realize that something terrible is happening. Each has been savagely attacked by a wild songbird within the last twenty-four hours. Outside their window thousands of birds have gathered in anticipation of the famous school-yard scene."

Devoid of medial mimesis in the 1960s, these queer role models and erotic icons were stolen, adopted, projections. Tippi, Jackie and Ginger are Dlugos, are Oedipal mothers. And The Professor is the dream lover. Is our dream lover. The trauma begotten by the assassination, stirring in the allegorical heart of The Birds, is a ripe one for any a teen faggot, wetting his hand and rubbing one out in daydreams of the boy two rows back in government class. It's like Michael Moon, writing about gay children from earlier generations who took delight in the gendered excesses of Maria Montez and Jayne Mansfield, only in Dlucos swirling cosmology, these figures that inspire a shared breathlessness ebb a bizarre 1960s-brand of pop normalcy. Each figure seems, to me, stoicly banal. Instead, their wildness is in these juxtapositions. Monaghan's works are the hyroglyphs for this rag-tag manner of collective dreaming. And the paintings depict the beautiful and uncanny shock at the realization of a shared gay experience. That the fantasy of one isolated faggot in Dallas, TX is gripping another thousands of miles away. "I realized that I had always had the same feelings," Monaghan writes in the sensational complimentary catalogue that accompanies the show. His paintings are raw, exciting, loving. I'm not sure I'd find them enchanting individually, outside this setting, but as an installation, Monaghan's work is dazzlingly successful. It's a glimpse into a creative space drunk on the erotics and kindred devotions of this shared subconscious fantasy. This firey island where teens of the particular moment that the poem recalls - 1964 - had to read through popular fictions, inserting themselves in the cracks of these sources.


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