Y Gallery’s current exhibition, Death Drive, explores the Freudian concept of the mind’s drive towards self-destruction. According to Sigmund Freud, humans have two commensurate but opposing instincts: life and death. Our life and survival instinct manifests itself in sexual desire, while our death and self-destruction instinct reveals itself in aggression. The show includes 14 artists working in diverse media (photograph, painting, sculpture, performance, video, audio, etc.) and using disparate and provocative approaches to address the topic of destruction.
The first work in the gallery, an experimental short film by Bjørn Melhus titled FREEDOM & INDEPENDENCE, follows protagonists Mr. Freedom and Ms. Independence in their comical yet disturbing journey that criticizes capitalism, neo-liberalism, and Christian fundamentalism. No doubt a reference to the 1940s Polish anti-communist organization that shares its name, the work satirically portrays a doomsday or apocalypse scenario in which Melhus expertly performs all the characters (perhaps better described as caricatures).
FREEDOM & INDEPENDENCE is a loud work, both thematically and sonically, and it’s juxtaposed with a quiet and fragile sculpture, Glass House II, by the duo Ori Carino and Benjamin Armas. The tall disintegrating wooden structure is a beautiful and delicate metaphor for things that can crumble: relationships, morality, humanity. Simultaneously, however, it’s important to notice that the work has not yet collapsed or entirely deteriorated, has not given up, and thus represents the dichotomy between internal strength and weakness.
The most contentious and climactic work is the only one by a woman artist included in the exhibition, Katya Kan’s Crash, referring to the 1996 film directed by David Cronenberg – not to be confused with the 2004 Academy Award Best Picture winner – in which a group of people derive sexual pleasure from car crashes, a type of paraphilia. The painting depicts a reflection onto a side view mirror of a naked man flanked by a woman wearing a chador and an unidentifiable figure wearing a gas mask. “1996 CRASH” is emblazoned across the man’s thigh like a tattoo, transposing the film into one of the recent horrific car bombings. The masked figure’s head floats near the man’s lap, alluding to fellatio, while the scene is framed by the orange fire from the explosion; Kan’s controversial picture is a conspicuous commentary on the fetishism of terrorism. Symbolism addresses gender equality and justice: the woman in the chador is holding a key, the man – staring directly at the viewer instead of lowering his gaze – is wearing a male chastity device. Although the death and sex instincts are in opposition according the Freud, Crash shows them intertwined and intrinsically linked.
Freud’s hypothesis on the death drive remained open and his opinions on the instinct changed in the last years of his life; coincidentally, he died before he had time to confirm his theory. The exhibition is similarly open-ended, inviting an infinite number of interpretations and responses. Although each artist is interested in a different aspect of destruction – Melhus in societal collapse, Carino and Armas in the beauty of fragility, Kan in the sexualization of violence – the show still feels cohesive. It’s a brilliant analysis of the psyche’s relationship with brutality, sadism, and loss.
The exhibition will remain on display at Y Gallery until May 2.
Luis Alonzo-Barkigia, Shay Arick, Alberto Borea, Ryan Brown, Oliver Bulas, Ori Carino and Benjamin Armas, Christoph Draeger, Christopher Van Ginhoven, Katya Kan, Zebadiah Keneally, Hernan Rivera Luque, Anuar Maauad, Bjørn Melhus and G.T. Pellizzi.
Writing by Brittany Jones
Photographs provided by the gallery
Video by Arte Fuse