You arrive in a small seaside town where the installations of a little-known artist are currently on view. As you step out a train pipes somewhere up the coast, out of sight. It will be out of sight your entire stay, and you will consider, at certain hours, looking for it. You make your way to the hotel, passing disparate groups that are headed toward the giant casino. The manager of the hotel is an old man dressed, strangely, in the color of mourning. When he asks if you would like the usual casino package you tell him, embarrassed and a bit off-guard, that you are here to see the works of Reza. This is a response that brooks no reply.
Your room is just the way it was pictured in the little brochure.
Outside the hotel, you decide to walk in the direction of the wharf where the exhibition is taking place. As an afterthought, you reset the gauge of your pedometer.
Enumeration of works by magician and writer
La Lullchario. The Billowing of Three Unequal
Sails. Lucky Septimus. Travis Eglantine. The
Other Inferno. The Twenty-two Elemental Letters.
The Exterminated Hoquelots. The Understudy or,
The Lining. The Conversion of the Calipees. The
World Behind the Scenes. Printemps et la verdure.
You’re Next in Camp Monk’s Mind. The Waves at
Different Distances. Toys and an Ear of Eo. The
Identity Papers. The Grotto Cinema. A Dictionary
of Attentions. Creep. The Education of Section G.
Stopgap Falls. The Potential Machines. Operation.
The Fallen Astronaut. The Somnambulists.
The mirror-scenes, reconstructed from a photograph of the shattered fresco outside the Theatre di Dello, stood beside the edge of the wharf, where their backs had been faced toward the sea. The term “mirror-scene” had been taken literally, since not only did the images of the diptych correspond to one another exactly as a figure might with its reflection, but on the back of the scenes the artist had installed two full-length mirrors. These reflected the water and any boats that passed by, but they were turned in such a manner that the audience couldn’t see them.
This installation was titled The World Behind the Scenes, and a small plaque hung beside it, offering a brief indication of the artist’s impulses that included the phrase limitless source.
The Twenty-two Elemental Letters. In order to meet with increasing pressure to steer spectators in the direction of his vast, cork-colored pyramid, the artist had built a small mud-walled hovel equipped with a series of twenty-two openings through which, a pamphlet explained, each visitor was to peer. The openings were shaped in the form of letters from our alphabet, in order to stress “the way that language shapes our world”, except that four of the twenty-six were missing to commemorate the four sides of the pyramid. As an additional part of the exhibit, and to display the curious ludic nature of the artist with his penchant for enigmas and games, a different sequence of letters was missing each day.
For The Billowing of Three Unequal Sails, the artist had arranged furniture on the wharf in the style of a Second Empire drawing room, and a bystander, picked from the crowd and given the title of “baron,” was invited to sit and survey the area from a privileged location. This spectator was then asked to issue edicts, any and all that might occur to them spontaneously, which a group of footmen comically attempted to carry out to the letter. The three men, each ranging in height, wore silk costumes that fluttered around them—adding to the comic effect—as they rushed to complete, for example, the order of “preserving bouquets,” or “remembering themes,” or “construct a crystal roof.”
Using the method of mechanical reproduction, the artist had photographed several well-known paintings from a variety of different distances, often snapping very close to the canvas, with the effect of cutting away the most salient features from the original; so that the Starry Night became, through his excising lens, a bank of waved blue lines, and the figures of Vermeer, normally so gently lit, were reduced to a sequence of hazy bars and spots. The next few steps then reversed this process: The photographs were blown up to enormous size; meticulous care was taken to paint afresh from the images in the photographs; in this way the artist reconstituted his new images with a “photo-realist accuracy,” producing the series entitled The Waves at Different Distances.
The exhibition included an annex of ancient ink drawings whose subjects were rarefied beyond those generally found in classical art, such as the “tactile garden” or the “dimming blaze around the polychrome waters.” They were mostly by female authors from the proprietary class who had taken to sketching in their spare time, and the artist-who assembled and curated this addition to his show-had titled it The Identity Papers. Portions of their writing accompanied each of the drawings; next to her delicate “study in ochre,” the spectator could read a selection from the author’s prose, in this case a meditation, from an Alexandrian novelist, on “the ardent and thanks-giving sun.”
A table was set up specifically to display the artist’s finely illustrated Dictionary of Attentions. The Dictionary had been placed within the bottom section of an open valise, and was surrounded by dust, butterflies, and several glass vials that contained “a survey of natural phenomena” ranging from magnetism to the polarization of light. This book object was originally found, according to the brochure, at the top of a waste dump in a town near the artist’s home. Once retrieved, he had settled in to inserting pages he devised himself, which consisted largely of an elaborate, alphabetized scheme for evaluating perception, accompanied by illustrations in several colors. In honor of this particular showing, the Dictionary was left open to the page with the entry for “Tame Seaside.”