I'll Be There When I Get There?
Dave McKenzie, by his own admission at a wide-ranging lecture he delivered at the Academy on April 7, is an amateur. What he means, of course, is not that his is someone who aspires to be a professional but has not quite arrived. Rather, McKenzie is referring to a Socratic notion of epistemological innocence, of asking questions that are asked again and again but that have no definite answer. This is, as Aristotle reminded, where philosophy begins: in wonder. McKenzie offered the following anecdote to get to the heart of what he is trying to do as an artist:
“Recently, I spent an afternoon answering questions from a group of children aged four to seven who were participating in a museum workshop. They asked me many questions about being an artist, but one little girl’s question remains with me and stands apart from the others. She raised her hand and asked, “Why are we on the planet?” I felt honored that this young girl chose to ask me such a difficult question–though I realize children ask all manner of questions, because they assume that adults by virtue of having lived in the world for a long time must have answers to basic questions about the nature and structure of the world. Still, time has shown me that the question I ask myself might also be phrased like this, “Given that we are ‘here’ what will we do, and how will we do it?” or “What will I do and how will I do it?” To my mind these are not specifically questions about purpose but questions about action and how to handle the time we have. If my talk has a topic then it is about how I have handled my time so far and how I am thinking about handling it in the future.” McKenzie continued his lecture by lending insight into the intersection of his artwork and everyday occurrence, interventions in the quotidian activities of modern life. In "Babble," the first work McKenzie considers to be his first mature work, he sticks the entire head of a microphone in his mouth and wraps the cord around his neck, breathing heavily into the mic and conveying words in sign language. A frustration with language and the instability of "thereness" seem to animate McKenzie's oeuvre, launching him into various expressive directions tethered by the primacy of his experience. The artist's recent works, computer animation, and videos from the past several years deal with the question of making an “appearance in the world,” and how protocol and the weight of social expectations determine much of what we see and do not. McKenzie, the Guna S. Mundheim Fellow in the Visual Arts this spring, addresses how the limits and difficulties inherent in “knowing” play out in his recent project, which seeks to describe the economy as an image. To watch the full video of McKenzie's talk, please click here .