A Grain of Sand in the Salad Bowl of the Imagination
Jimmie Durham begins his text with a deconstruction of a fragment of advertising copy for a financial trading platform. He then presents what appears to be a scientific analysis of cannabinoids on lab mice. In the first part, he isolates words such as “Cross Asset”, “Risk” and “Management” in the second, he highlghts “Article” and “Satiety”. Between these two, he seems simply illuminates linguistic relations between the science of exchanges and the exchanges of science. He follows this with an interjection of a non sequitur concerning the “statistical illusion” of movie box office exchanges. Durham then introduces a personal soliloquy of a visit to a physiotherapist, which morphs into a universal poem “everything is light years away” that ponders the persistent materiality of a grain of sand in a salad bowl.
In its hybrid construction, Durham’s piece is mimetic of how our organic “random access memory” presents information for synthesis, as fragments from differing categories that get processed by the mind and the body simultaneously. His choice of the trading system Calypso and the piece’s title refer directly to the Odyssey, specifically the point where it’s hero gets detained from his quest to rejoin his wife and home by a nymph’s enchantment. Calypso wants to set up Odysseus as her immortal husband. Hers is a charming simulation of a wife who transforms her unwilling suitor into a prisoner.
The metaphor can be read as the ideologically infinite supplanting mortal finitude. For Durham it seems the symbolism is also apropos of the systematized fluidity of global commodity trading and how its extensions can constrain and supplant actual physical cause and effect on the ground. The “Apocalypsis” of the title makes Durham’s attitude toward this phenomenon unambiguous. By following this with scientific language relevant to the pain relief afforded by administering cannabinoids in laboratory mice, Durham juxtaposes the syntax of science with the body in pain. This again presents a dialectical relation between the abstract and the real, between the high and the low, the exalted and the abject. His ending with a poem that moves from the personal to the universal reverses this abstract/real order to present a personal/ideological opposition that then ends with the real “ a grain of sand” upsetting the ideal “salad bowl” of memory and its abstract conflation of terms in memory.
Durham’s word piece suspends categorical distinctions to metaphorically cross boundaries between typically compartmentalized disciplines in order to form a poème concret which contains these differences in an ontological bricolage , one that erases being as difference with the intent of making radically present both affective thought and the neural effects of material being.
How might his contribution be relevant to the 56th Venice Biennale? One way might be to point out the conceit of formal, categorical differences (and the granular partitions of the vectoral class) and how these tend to hamper a more emancipated picture of the poetics of thought; a poetics that might lead to real consequence: an imaginary toad in a real garden or the crunching of a grain of sand in the salad bowl of the imagination. Is this humble poetic form and its suggestion of a transcendent meta-consciousness still an adequate mode in which to address and critique a present in which the speculative is becoming the realist ontology du jour?
Tom McGlynn is a New York based artist, critic, and independent curator whose work is represented in MoMA and the Whitney Museum.