Cinema Fatalité: Ben Murray at Monique Meloche
Up close, buried in it, approached with a loupe, it feels like … Christ …. like static on the wire, like the first crepuscular creepings of dextromethorphan—mucilaginous medicine the color old blood sloshing down sulci and optic nerves and then back up again—like a cataract, hot shimmering light and textual fuzz, an uncanny fading in, selachian skin rising up from a great obfuscating darkness—the darkness of the upstairs hallway when someone other than your parents had to put you to bed; the darkness of water the first time you are bifurcated by it; the darkness of every corner after a horror movie; the darkness of depths, of fainting, of dying—which is, despite its nature, because of it? you recognize the darkness, it's the door, but you don't know it, but it's shimmering, glistening, with promise and menace both—don't shark eyes glisten, and cobra hoods, and hypodermic needles, and freshly mopped floors, and sugars and fruits and feathers and halos?—and the simple fact of the matter is, presented with nothing but this great obfuscating black door, cruel Janus!, which seems to shine like the cheek bones of a post-performance circus artist and the soft spears of light the color of heliotropes, the gentle envoys of the blinding OR brightness behind the great obfuscating black door, you have all manner of reference points—a lifetime of them, memories and experiences and impressions and moments—but not a single solitary fucking cardinal direction; is the door holding something back? is it holding you back? should you go through it? should you hope and pray and scream and kick so that you never cross its threshold?
Do you die? – B. David Zarley, Chicago Contributor
In Life Review, Ben Murray's solo show at Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago, continues the artist's reconnaissance of the maddeningly amorphous landscape of memory, here pinned to the walls in its most dramatic form. The “life review” is the classic, quasi-paranormal event wherein one's life flashes before one's eyes—in totality, crystal-clear—during a near death experience. A fictional trope and indelible fact to those who have experienced them, the life review is memory armed with the exigency of death, its celerity contrary to every little thing we imagine about ourselves—that we are some grand elegy in our total, that we are incapable of reduction to a series of scenes—when in fact we are, of course, nothing but scenes, none ever seen from the same perspective twice, singular in both our mind and the minds of others.
And Murray is, as the press materials note, the projectionist of someone's—his? yours?—life review, their own private premiere condensed and transposed and transmogrified into stills via canvas, ink, and acrylic but still identified as if they are scenes from a screenplay. There are, as the gallery manager Allison Moore pointed out, numerous references to the experimental film of the 1960s and 1970s in Murray's works, although one's enjoyment of In Life Review does not hing whatsoever upon a familiarity with them. It might enhance, however, the experience to know that, say, his triptych of hallways in the backroom is an homage to Michael Snow's Wavelength, or in the least to put oneself in the frame of mind that memories, like movies, must be developed and strung together and (sometimes) edited before they are recognizable as such, and our memories share a spiritually similar process of conception.
What exactly is being conceived, however, is left gloriously open (the great black obfuscating door notwithstanding) to interpretation even beyond the quotidian scenes aesthetic abstraction; EXT/INT. Driving – Room – Night is, via its name alone, both inside and outside, a melange of a room and a drive and an evening. Observation does little to clear up the matter; the soft pink streaks could be the slurred prismatic shadows of motion through a windshield, or the smudged reality of rain seen through the room's window, or maybe it isn't the car or the weather but tears provide the swimming sensation, or the degradation of time, and what, after spending so much effort on those soft glowing forms which beg, cry for attention, then to make of the rest of the fucking painting, the bollards or door frames or columns (both automative and architectural)? Even something so simple as the glittering incandescence, which imbues each piece with a supernatural aura and hint of charm, could be Nostalgia, could be Holy, could be the beautiful result of massive brain trauma, a million brilliant fragments refusing to coalesce.
There are, appropriately for show hinging on the space between life and death, only two undeniable aspects of In Life Review. The first is Murray's technical proficiency. The acrylics and inks and oils lap at one another like stratified water columns, most every seemingly solid block actually a chorus of textures and blends, the soft fuzzing of memory. Paint applied to the back of the canvas leaches through to great aesthetic effect, and an even better conceptual one, the Other and Beyond and Invisible seeping through to us, becoming perceptible.
The second, as pointed out by Moore, is that every image depicted is Janusian. A tunnel, a hallway, a lake, a drive, a searing smear; all are transitory, presenting thresholds to be crossed, and often freighted with imagery (light at the end of the tunnel, stairway to heaven, coming into the light) and, presented as they are with filming directions, all are currently—and forever—in the process of being traversed.
Ben Murray | INT. STEPS (Rise Above), 2017. Acrylic and ink on canvas, 84 x 78 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.
B. David Zarley is a freelance journalist, essayist, and book/music/art critic based in Chicago. You can find him on Twitter (@BDavidZarley) and at bdavidzarley.com.