What we see are three copies of the well-known etching, Los Capricos: El Sueno De La Razon Produce Monstruos, by Francisco Goya (1746-1828). The etching is part of a published series titled Los Caprichos (1799), which through their allegorical content critiqued the societal ills that arose due to severe social repression and economic crisis. This was near the end of the Enlightenment, which looked to rational thought and individual rights as the key in escaping these troubles that were particularly severe in the artists’ native Spain. Often considered to be a pained self-portrait, it portrays the figure of a man sprawled out at a table appearing to have fallen asleep of exhaustion while working. Behind him a mass of nightmarish visions encroach: owls, bats, and a reclining lynx emerge from the heavily incised, murky background. It is a rich allegorical work by one of the last great masters on the verge of the modern, here it is presented in triplicate.
In Erik Wysocan’s, The Sleep of Reason / The Dream of Reason / El Sueno De La Razon, the images are placed side by side, each labeled with a different versions of Goya’s title– the untranslated Spanish, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters, and a third title Los Caprichos: The Dream of Reason Produces Monsters. In Spanish, sueno is a doble sentido, a word of double meaning translated as either “sleep” or “dream” depending on context. The entire installation is then seen through a layer of polarized film on broken glass, which obscures the label text within a kaleidoscopic prism from which it can only be read by the viewer clearly from certain angles.
By amplifying the ambiguity that emerges from the translated title and the anachronistic allegorical imagery Wysocan opens his own space of inquiry. The two translations, “sleep” versus “dream”, imply two irreconcilable modes of thinking, both of which may invoke monsters.(1) The nightmarish intruders could either be alluding to the insurmountablility of the plight in which he finds himself or they could be fear of the horrible that can emerge in the name of the Enlightenment, cautious or skeptical, a warning or superstition. This paradox built into the work is reapplied through the introduction of a literal tripling, a manifestation of this space of un-certainty. Wysocan’s interest lies here in this contentious introduced space that emerges through a series of linguistic, cultural, and temporal queries.
A triptych, the same image retranslated three times over, it conceptually stumbling over itself. In numerology the number three is associated with neutrality, a third party breaking the dialectic binary. The third element introduced, simultaneously stabilizing the two existing elements, reinforces their opposition while also contributing to a sense of chaos as it questions the underlying structure of right and not-right. This line of inquiry is mirrored in post-structuralist critical theory of the late 20th Century. Gilles Deleuze and Feliz Guattari’s work pose the rhizomatic space, which describes the productive state as embodying a multiplicity of truths existing simultaneously in an expansive shifting field. (2) Making point of the linguistic shift contained in the title alludes to an image of progress in time and step with chaos, Enlightenment as both deliverance and suffocating. Scraping away this surface to reveal a gray area of un-certainty is where Wysocan’s work gains its strength.
*This text was developed from a conversation between Summer Guthery and Erik Wysocan, NYC. January 18, 2009
1. Schulz, Andrew. Goya’s Caprichos: Aesthetics, Percpetion, and the Body. Cambridge University Press, 2005.
2. Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. Anti-Oepidus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. University of Minnesota Press, 1983.
Curated by CCS Bard Graduate Student Summer Guthery
THE BULLETIN BOARD
The Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College is the third venue to host Matthew Higgs’s (Curator and Director of White Columns) bulletin board project. CCS and Higgs collaborated to begin a bulletin board program at Bard in the fall of 2007 with the understanding that the graduate students at CCS would curate it. The bulletin board is an enclosed glass case divided into three panes by aluminum bars. As of January 26, it has migrated from outside of the CCS Library to its new location in the Bertelsmann Campus Center, adjacent to the billiard tables.