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murphblog: Saturday, July 12, 2008

From the files: This is my statement for a solo exhibit at Meyers/Bloom Gallery in Santa Monica in 1992. "Chiasmic Symmetry" was a visual element in the paintings but, looking back, I should have made it more of an element in the installation except, of course, that would create a black hole in the universe situation -- an impossible installation.

Sorry, there's no pictures from that exhibit and I've lost all my slides and hadn't got around to digitizing them. So your guess is as good as mine as to what it looked like. Maybe the former owners of the gallery have installations shots but I haven't had any contact with them for years. Some of it must have sold but the work that didn't is probably in some garbage dump.

Looking back I'm most suprised that I used the term "interfaced" in 1992. I still like the strategy of chiasmic symmetry and "silence, exile, cunning."


"Silence, Exile, Cunning"
Robbin Murphy
January 18, 1992
Meyers/Bloom Gallery, Santa Monica

..." Look here, Cranly, he said. You have asked me what I would do and what I would not do. I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can, and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use ... silence, exile, and cunning."
-- James Joyce, "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man"

James Joyce knew that a book is a silent thing but that it is also visual and can be constructed to suggest more than the meaning of the words. In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, he employed a technique called "Chiasmic Symmetry" (from the Greek letter Chi or X) to give a visual structure to the novel as well as the main character, Stephen Daedalus (from the Greek Daidolos meaning cunningly wrought). He devised a story that had a "criss-cross" internal form, using the basic data of his own life, creating a fictional reflection that was autobiographical. In this way he was able to narrate a life and to also show the shape that life took as it interfaced with the world.

Joyce's more paranoid disciple, William S. Burroughs, reshaped the facts of his own life and combined that with other texts to the point of almost total fiction because he wished to "avoid recognition at all cost." The result is one of the truly great portraits of a post-bomb artist -- Naked Lunch.

Why not just make the whole thing up? The facts of your own life may be the only thing you really own. Recasting those facts has been and continues to be a dominant strategy in art as it is one way of declaring difference without the usual Balkanization of ethnic/racial/sexual divisions. Simply commenting on the state of the world without personal reference may be well-intentioned but is rarely effective (and both Joyce and Burroughs intended to change the world with their work).

I take the structure of my work from the book, the journal and the album. Though each piece is meant to work independently, there are general categories that I use: mother's family (fields, farms, and building); father's family (cops, Irish Catholicism, the sea), and myself as a family unit separate from my parents (parks, fires, Greece)

When shown together, each painting takes the form of a chapter or volume and can be manipulated much like Joyce's alternating male and female chapter subjects. This is also true of Burrough's printing chapters of Naked Lunch as they came back randomly from the typesetter. Once isolated from the group, each painting becomes anthologized in context with the work of others. In this way, my "autobiography" becomes a part of a larger story.