I watched a movie two weeks ago that has stuck with me inordinately longer than many of the ones I watch, so much so that when I read about Doug Wheeler’s new show at David Zwirner Gallery (at the age of 72 his first solo in New York) I was reminded that without even one of our senses, the world we take for granted would be turned upside down.
As Randy Kennedy wrote in Sunday’s New York Times the “… story takes place at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, where several years ago Mr. Wheeler created a complex installation he calls an “infinity environment,” featuring a light-saturated, all-white, rounded room with no corners or sharp angles, rendering viewers unable to fix their eyes on any surface. It invokes an experience of light itself as an almost tactile presence. As Mr. Wheeler continued to tweak the piece, a small boy walked up to the room and hesitated before entering, putting his hands in front of him because his senses told him that the square entrance was a wall, not simply a wall of light flooding his vision.”
I love the part about the boy ‘hesitating’ and putting his hands in front of him because his (subconscious) use of our basic senses became jumbled. Was it fear, his ‘sixth’ sense, telling him to tread carefully in uncharted territory? I remember doing the identical thing upon entering a totally black room at an exhibition at The Hirshhorn a few years ago. Instinct took over with the immediate loss of vision and sound, sort of like sensory ‘underload’ I guess.
In David Mackenzie‘s remarkable movie, Perfect Sense, two strangers meet and fall in love just as people around them are beginning to lose each of their five senses and in the following order: smell, taste, hearing, sight, and touch. A chef (Ewan McGregor) and an epidemiologist (Eva Green) have just begun the dance, circling each other, trying to connect, all while the strangeness begins. The movie uses music, food and photography (ok, so I am a bit biased towards those things) to generally great effect to suggest how this mystery has gone viral. But in raising and addressing the larger questions of losing the very things that connect us all, the director goes further and eloquently shows that as society begins to disintegrate that which forms our foundations of communication and understanding is vanishing. It’s the plain message that both Wheeler and Mackenzie present which underlies the profound nature of even examining such a concept.
Maybe it’s also a reminder that as we move further and further away from human contact—mostly through electronic means—the comfort many of us feel through the sharing of the simple joys which our basic senses provide is getting lost to the growing gulf between humans and nature.