New York

Jack Goldstein

Cash/Newhouse Gallery

In a Jack Goldstein work neither subject nor image can be domesticated or colonized. The solar eclipse, the volcanic flare, an impalpable light caught in a photographic instant—all are beyond the material assurance of direct perception. Paradoxically, despite the specificity of the “event” depicted, the image offers considerable resistance to the viewing subject’s desire to locate him- or herself in the picture. Removed behind glass, these new painted images on paper present us with little surface incident or definite horizon, no subjective content that might identify origin or place. Goldstein’s is an image of the ultimate spectacle—light, the sun: that which enables sight but which is beyond the visual. The solar eclipse does not conceal but brings forth the fascination of the viewer’s gaze—the fathomless “hole” that is behind the pupil of the eye/I; the veiled and blinded eye/I that comprehends itself only through the mediation of language. What is revealed is not “truth” but truth’s evasiveness.

Goldstein’s performance work Fire/Body/Light, 1984, re-marks this appearance of nonappearance in which we are caught in the act of seeing. A male fire-twirler, a selection of short films, a female contortionist: like projected images, the bodies of the live performers are comprehensible only as surface impressions. The fire-twirler slips behind shadows and flames, his presence transformed into a “writing” in light. However revealing its display, the body movements of the contortionist are also a language; the body is perceived as bizarre fragments bathed in an obscuring and denaturalizing green light. The work does not describe a “becoming”; “death” has already taken place, for language has already claimed and resurrected it as something other, to be reconstituted as a wholeness only in the imagination. Goldstein’s spectacle acknowledges movie culture’s complicity in the shift from direct experience to a potentially endless exchange of the signs for reality, of facades; it also acknowledges the duplicity of the image, whose arrests or inversions of spatiotemporal order expose fiction’s ability to precede reality. The work is provocative because it confronts us with “truth” masquerading as deliberately false appearance—a redoubled image that is unambiguous about its cultural identity in what Jean Baudrillard has called the “precession of simulacra.”

This overturning of the conventional codes of representation by which we identify artwork and artist cannot easily be accommodated by a critical language framed by a Modernist esthetic clinging to the notion of individuality. It nevertheless coincides with what Barbara Novak describes, in reference to Luminist light, as a particularly American version of the sublime, whose “ . . . dematerializations serve to abolish two egos—first that of the artist, then the spectators.” If Goldstein’s technological spectacles reinvent the meaning of sublime awe in terms of the 20th century, it is not to restore either a subjective or a divine presence but perhaps to posit their loss. The denial of subjectivity questions the ability of Modernism’s integrated, phenomenological self to represent a contemporary subject constructed through a concatenation of mediated image fragments whose effect is to displace the human body as a model for social and individual unity. The artist’s earlier work posed the problem of this catastrophic self through the use of an image poised on the brink of a miasmic defeat. Images in sound like his Tornado and Six-Minute Drown records, 1976 and 1977 respectively, the performance of the arriving train and flying plane called Sound Performance, 1979, the painted images of tiny warplanes in an immense sky, and of burning cities—all confront the viewer with the abject mode of the sublime that sees the disjunction between mind and body, between the self and its idealized image.

We may perhaps begin to see how these images connect with the later ones of cosmic light as attempts to control a Heideggerean dread in the face of a rapidly changing antihumanist technology. Technology, however, can be transcended; to understand its language is to know how to subvert its codes. The eclipse and the volcanic burst burn with a passion that has moved beyond terror, beyond even the rhetoric of desire that demands an object. Oscillating in the suite of records exhibited and played in this show (Planets, 1984) is a desire that desires only itself; transcendence is possible in the voiceless eternity of the imagination.

Jean Fisher