– Spring/Summer 2003

Infernal Rodeo

Lars Bang Larsen

Infernal rodeo:
I change
at top speed
from one mount
to yet another
sort but
at full speed

- Henri Michaux, Experiment Five

'Psychedelic' is a recurring adjective in the writings about Jeremy Blake's work. Obviously it is a style denominator for the late 1960s, like punk is for the 70s or art deco for the 20s (though slightly more obscure perhaps, like glam or goth or similar sub-cultural phenomena for which there are no other words). Blake himself says, à propos of mining the mind, that 'exploring the potential threats and pleasures of losing oneself is central to my work'.1 Desire and anxiety are prime movers in Blake's work and, we might add, in our civilisation. But what is psychedelia's logic beyond the period associations it evokes, and why is it around in visual art at the moment, in an era when it could be said to be a pervasive, virulent life condition? Here I will try to make the psychedelic trope stand out in the work of Jeremy Blake, which certainly offers something to look at for both apostates and believers.

With reference to Blake, psychedelia covers not just the specificity of the free highs of the 60s. It also involves the transformations of the following three decades and the way cultural moods affect our understanding of style. In other words, it isn't the same as granting the '68 generation the right to have invented the world, because other things are mixed up with it: the Manson murders, Abbie Hoffman caught red-handed in a coke deal; how neon somehow looked cool again come the 1980s; the glitzy

  1. i-D, 'The Memory Issue', October 2001, p.184

  2. Mike Bode and Steffan Schmidt take a sideswipe at the Kantianism of the avant-garde, something that psychedelia doesn't risk to be confused with: 'A newly matured interest for Situationism must be assigned to Kant: how aesthetic experience shields a principled and general consensus.' Artists' pages, Hjärnstorm, nos.76 and 77, 2002

  3. T.J. Clark, Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999, p.105

  4. In the words of Lane Relyea: 'Blake only simulates the effects of painting; otherwise he participates in the dissolution of its material identity, and so its chance to advance a history of its own. That history is shown stalled in the past, caught in the purgatory of an endless playback loop.' Lane Relyea, 'Jeremy Blake Now Playing', in Jeremy Blake: ALL MOD CONS (exh. cat.) Houston: Blaffer Gallery, 2002, p.4

  5. Force Fields: Phases of the Kinetic (exh.cat.), London: Hayward Gallery, 2000, p.35 Or, as Deleuze and Guattari have it in A Thousand Plateaux: 'All drugs fundamentally concern speeds, and modifications of speed. What allows us to describe an overall drug assemblage in spite of the differences between drugs is a line of perceptive causality that makes it so that (1) the imperceptible is perceived; (2) perception is molecular; (3) desire directly invests the perception and the perceived.' Giles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaux, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987, p.282

  6. Henry James, Turn of the Screw, New York and London: Norton Critical Edition, 1966, p.9

  7. Michael Hardt and Toni Negri, Empire, Boston: Harvard University Press, 2000, p.389

  8. Ibid., p.201

  9. Ibid., p.202