REMNANTS OF THE REAL
by claudia bohn-spector
“Few people have the imagination for reality.”
—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Reality, or so the dictionary tells us, is the world or the state of things as they actually are, not as they appear or as we might imagine them to be. Reality, so conceived, is the raw stuff of life–tangible, familiar, and accessible to sensory experience and scientific inquiry. More broadly defined, reality can also be seen as the totality of all things, ideas, and events, both past and present, which shape our lives from moment to moment. In that sense, reality encompasses not just immediate objects and occurrences, but mental and cultural constructs as well, such as language, perceptions, values, and beliefs. One might even say that such constructs generate reality, integrating both the internal and external dimensions of our being and filtering all aspects of the material world so that we can act meaningfully within it. Language, especially, is a powerful means in and through which our sense of reality takes form. As the eminent French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan has shown, language helps us to make sense of ourselves and of the world around us–through laws, conventions, ideologies, and other real or imagined structures–while forever separating us from that ineffable, primordial ground of our biological existence that he called, “le réel” (the Real).
For centuries, the materiality of human existence has given powerful impulses to artists and writers as they search for the truths that reality, in all its myriad manifestations, often obscures. This quest for the true and authentic seems particularly relevant at a time when “reality,” however broadly defined, seems to be in short supply. The dawn of virtual worlds, interactive digital media, reality television, and the evanescent realms of the World Wide Web draw us deeper and deeper into mediated experiences that bear little if any resemblance to the physical world. Yet, “good fiction is made of that which is real,” the writer Ralph Ellison reminds us, even if reality has become increasingly slippery and hard to catch out.
Jane Brucker, perhaps more than any other artist in this exhibition, has an abiding interest in the material world as it represents human feelings of grief and loss. Her installations of found objects and discarded clothing draw deep connections between art and life, reminding us of the inevitable cycles of human existence. Here, the real is quite literally present in all its ephemeral contingencies, soulfully revealing its mysteries one relic at a time. Often paired with language, Brucker’s objects show us what remains of things after people have left. Inanimate matter is imbued with the aura of time, history, and human emotion.
CLAUDIA BOHN-SPECTOR is an independent scholar, art history and curator living in Los Angeles.