Santa Fe

Wes Mills

Laura Carpenter Fine Art

What does desire, incessant, unclear and unanswerable, look like? This, as much as anything else, is what Wes Mills’ work is all about: it’s a kind of cartography of desire. According to a Lacanian diagram, the drive sweeps in past the margins of an erogenous zone, and then back out again; the drawing looks, variously, like a nipple, a pacifier, a vagina, a phallus, a mound. Desire is the empty place, the hollow in the middle of all these things—desire is the thing that never gets (ful)filled. We never get what we really want, so we always go back for more, circling endlessly around the trauma zone—around that first trauma, when the Nom du Père interposed itself between us and mother, and told us we couldn’t be the phallus for mommy. The drive is an in-and-out motion—it finds its object, but there is always something missing, an empty place in the center. Which leaves us with repetition, sometimes in the form of metonomy (different objects, same desire), sometimes in the form of obsession-compulsion (same object, same desire). Either way, all we can do is write around the edges, inscribing and reinscribing the object and/or symptom over and over and over and. . . . You get the picture.

Plus something else, which (along with the fact that it’s not your obsessive behavior) draws you in, instead of just repelling you—the unheimlich. In theory, anything that’s not familiar, anything that seems to have come from beyond the home, is uncanny. According to Freud though, the unheimlich is often produced by repetition: “It is . . . this factor of involuntary repetition which surrounds with an uncanny atmosphere . . . and forces upon us the idea of something fateful and unescapable . . . repetition-compulsion is uncanny.” So when Mills writes the same word ten thousand times, laying down layer upon layer of desperation-tinged writing—scratched in, gouged out, gessoed over—it’s not Gertrude Stein (really, five repetitions will turn just about any word into an object), and it’s not just neurotic either. Mills is after—is driven by—something else, something beyond the pleasure principle. It’s what Freud called the “daemonic character”: “a principle powerful enough to overrule the pleasure-principle, lending to certain aspects of the mind their daemonic character.” In other words, the subject is always, uncontrollably, spoken by its symptom, and not the other way around. For Mills, it’s as though if he piles up enough words, if he scrawls “green” and “mother” enough times, he’ll finally be free, finally fill desire’s gap.

And in an uncanny coincidence, the central motif in most of these drawings mirrors the Lacanian diagram of the drive—mirrors the drawing of the endless search for the obscure object of desire. It’s a mound. There’s something beautiful about seeing someone embrace their symptom so effectively.

Mark Van de Walle