Looking and Pointing: The American Dream – Musings on The Matrix, The Land, George Bolster’s show ‘Communications: We Are Not The Only Ones Talking’ and my new coat

Reality is more than We can Comprehend, George Bolster, Jaquard, acrylic and sand, 2023.

I should probably begin with the disclaimer that I watched The Matrix for the first time this week. I am somewhat aware that this film has been championed by the far-right boyos in recent years, as they (mis)interpret the idea of a ‘matrix’ or simulation to be the reality of the existence of those who differ politically/sexually/gender-wise/racially from themselves. However, I’ve been wandering around like someone who took the ‘red pill’ and had the facade crumble down around them too. The first thing I did after watching the film was buy myself a long faux-leather trench coat﹘naturally﹘and the second was to consider the exhibition, by New York based artist George Bolster, ‘Communications: We are not the only ones talking’ at Uillinn: West Cork Arts Centre.

My experience of the exhibition was through the lens of a talk with IMMA director Sean Kissane and the artist Bolster. We, the audience﹘the spectators﹘ sat facing a wall-sized Jacquard tapestry of Monumental Valley. It hung like a large curtain from the double-height walls meeting mounds of saturated yellow sand on the floor. The conversation veered around ‘humankind’ and our relationship to nature and the universe at large. Our world, in the West, is built on a Christian tradition that shapes how we behave in relation to our role on the planet. The artist’s continued emphasis that ‘we are not the masters of Nature’ seemed redundant as I’m not sure this belief was ever held by more than a very select part of society. However the idea that this jacquard tapestry, with its highlighted saturation and science-fiction palette, was a fabricated reality resonates.

In Jacquard weaving, the repeating series of multicoloured warp and weft threads can be used to create colours that are optically blended. This causes the human eye to read the threads’ combination of values as a single colour. ‘We Are Not The Only Ones Talking’ assumes a hegemony of the human race. The questions and answer section of the talk led to conversations about Trump, Joe Rogan and Roe v. Wade. The ‘red pill’ has awoken me to the fabricated reality that America is the centre of the world.

The tapestry’s reproduction of Monument Valley is highly saturated and cartoonish but it doesn’t even need to be that interfered with for me. I have not seen this place, I have not experienced it, it could be science-fiction. I have experienced it pretty much exclusively as a setting in a John Ford Western. Ford was of course Feeney, a first-generation, Irish immigrant in the land of the American dream. The history between Ireland and America is long and complicated. Our lads went over there during The Famine and rose to the rank of policemen and now America acts as policemen of the world. Like the old friends you leave behind, or like the parents who regale neighbours with their sons’ fantastic escapades abroad, our obsession with America works on this almost delusion that we are there too.

A few months ago, Irish Examiner correspondent, Maeve Higgins wrote a fanciful article about how it takes ‘guts’ to live in New York City and how the subway is filled with danger and diversity and everyone is grafting and bettering themselves and it all sounds so thrilling until you remember you’re not there. You’re in your parents gaff, or you’re in overpriced student accommodation or you’re in one of the many mouldy houses on Barrack Street. You begin to realise that it’s actually pretty hard to live fucking anywhere right now.

As I sat in the audience facing the tapestry, I had the overwhelming sense that I was watching a screen. We were a herd of spectators, sitting agog with our mouths open﹘is this what the sublime is now? The Famine (An Gorta Mór), the major point of Irish immigration to America, gave way to distrust in the land. Irish culture and belief up until that point was a peculiar blend of Catholicism and mythology that focused on a communion or harmonious relationship with our landscape. Such a traumatic event as An Gorta Mór and the legacy of colonialism saw us disconnect from our belief system and seek solace elsewhere. 

In the words of Chomsky or Razorlight, whoever your prophet may be, ‘all my life I’ve been watching America’ and I want to change the channel, I want to turn off the T.V. Monumental Valley is the home of the Navajos, Native American people, and I don’t think you’d have to explain to them that ‘we are not the masters of Nature’. Similarly, you wouldn’t have had to explain that to the Irish people up until the nineteenth century either.

‘Communications: We Are Not The Only Ones Talking’ runs from 7 January to9 February 2023 at Uillinn: West Cork Arts Centre.

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* I chose to use the term ‘red pill’ and references to The Matrix in opposition to terms being adopted by incel ideology. In the film the ‘blue pill’ lets you live in a comfortable faux-reality and that the ‘red pill’ awakens you to the facade, the ‘matrix’. The use of this terminology in the text is intended to resist the misuse and misinterpretation of this idea in order to silence others.

‘America’, Razorlight, America (Mercury, 2006)

Noam Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2003)

The Matrix, dir. by The Wachowskis (Warner Bros. Pictures, 1999)

Maeve Higgins, ‘It takes guts to live in a city like New York’, Irish Examiner, 12 November 2022 <https://www.irishexaminer.com/opinion/columnists/arid-41004797.html>

Manchán Magan, Listen to the Land Speak: A Journey Into the Wisdom That Lies Beneath Us (Dublin: Gill Books, 2022)

Roland Barthes, ‘The Great Family of Man’, Mythologies trans. by Annette Lavers (USA: Vintage Classics, reprint 1993) pp. 100-103.

Text by : Sarah Long

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