When touch is a million miles away: “i feel u”

On Saturday, October 3rd of last year, not long after leaving PCK with a deposit on Sparky, I wandered into the Kelowna Art Gallery with The Girl.i Despite Kelowna having a modest population of 130`000, I had it on good authority that this public art gallery punched well above its weight. And boy, did it ever!ii

Entering into the four-exhibit gallery, on permanent display front-and-centre was Peter von Tiesenhausen’s wispy willowy ship suspended from the ceiling, all too familiar given the near-duplicate wire-framed example that my parents have in their front stairway; in the front of the gallery was, all too appropriately given the pretext for our trip, an exhibit entitled “FIFTEEN” featuring UBC Okanagan Alumni from their Fine Arts program, a beautifully diverse selection of works, if one that betrayed the relative youth of the artists by the general lack of refinement;iii at the end of the single-storey gallery was “From Geisha to Diva: The Kimono of Ichimaru,” which blew the mind of my textile-obsessed better half — how such pieces could even have been constructed left us dazed and amazed in equal measure; outside in the courtyard was Melany Nugent-Noble poetic “Nothing to be done” inspired by Waiting for Godot; but it was the contents of the interior exhibit at the heart of it all that most appealed to my flâneuristique journey in the “cluttercore“/Arensbergian spirit.iv

There was Jorden Doody’s I Must Be Streaming,”v an exhibit that didn’t need as brilliant of a title as that but was made all the more magical for it. Unlike Rothko-esque modernists, I hold art titling in high regard, and Jorden’s exhibition title captured my imagination immediately by suggesting a geekiness and dreaminess layered one atop the other with all the pun-rife smirkiness of Duchamp, but the exhibit itself then transported me to the set designs of my youth, enhanced moreso by Alice in Wonderland-inspired visuals that distorted scale and skewed perspective with playful alacrity. After only a few minutes in the immersion chamber, I was sufficiently impressed so as to whip out my phone, google “Jorden Doody,” find his? her? website, click “CONTACT” and fire off an email while I was still standing in the gallery.vi

Forty-eight hours later, after I’d half-forgotten the spontaneous outreach, I received an enthusiastic and slightly surprising response from Jorden. Not only did she not have commercial representation, but the piece that had most grabbed by attention, “i feel u” was available for purchase directly from the artist, the pricing of her work was entirely reasonable,vii (even if much of her work requires entirely unreasonable amounts of space within which to display), and she was also open to commissions!

So we decided to focus on “i feel u” to start, and over the next two weeks we want back-and-forth exploring various options for mounting, installing, and transporting the piece and its all-too-essential background mural. While the background mural wasn’t immediately obvious to me in Kelowna, such was its encompassing nature and power to weave together the various pieces of the exhibit so seamlessly, I soon realised its criticality. Our options therefore were to 1) do without the mural and just install “i feel u” on the wall behind the Mah Jong,viii 2) have Jorden paint a large canvas that could be rolled up and shipped along with the faux fur letters, or 3) fly out Jorden to paint my entire wall and then mount the letters atop. Given that Jorden was available to execute the most preferable option (#3) with just two weeks notice, and that she offered to travel with her partner David to speed up the job at no extra cost, we obviously we went with that!

i feel u installation november 2020 - 1

Come mid-November and our basement was transformed into an art studio. Our boys loved observing the process, and Jorden and David were so wonderful in engaging their bright-eyed wonder. Not that it was just about my little ones because yours truly was arguably the real winner here. Not only has our incredible basement been taken to the next level, but never have I spent such an enjoyable afternoon discussing my own art-related passion, philosophy, journey, and “collecter” as I did with Jorden and David at our house. So much of my artistic flâneuring is a solitary endeavour,ix but my eyes are now opened to a new world of dialogue. I don’t just have to listen to Sean Kelly and Lucas Zwirner as they interview world-class artists for their podcasts, I can have those conversations too! And I don’t even need a commercial gallery to do it,  though it probably wouldn’t hurt if I had a larger space in which to commission pieces, but more on that another time…

i feel u installation november 2020 - 2

So what is “i feel u”?

It’s the too-rare Serra-ian touch of artistic object by viewer.x
It’s the Heideggerianxi blurring of self and non-self.
It’s the spontaneous interaction between artist and patron in the midst of a pandemic.
It’s the T9-spelling all but lost in an auto-correct touchscreen world.xii
It’s living with art that’s valuable but not precious.xiii
It’s listening instead of speaking – feeling instead of thinking.
It’s mercyxiv amidst a sea of anxiety.
It’s a project when the days are full of longing.
It’s a revealing insight into the (wo)man behind the curtain of the artistic process, for me as much as my little boys.

And it’s another step in the journey of collecter, a journey I continue to undertake with all the conviction of a man at play.xv

___ ___ ___

  1. We were on this little “parent’s getaway” to pre-emptively celebrate our 15 years together. FIFTEEN YEARS!!!1! I swear we just celebrated The Big Decade a minute ago…
  2. Kelowna Art Gallery really feels like it draws from a population of 500k+ not only because the Okanagan area’s population is exactly in that range but also because the calibre of property owners in that area is a clear cut above. Kelowna is a very popular tourist destination and “cottage/wine country” for Albertans (and Vancouverites) because it’s the closest thing to the Mediterranean we have out west. It’s comes complete with wineries and citrus fruit orchards!
  3. Artists, like fine wines, take time to mature and realise their full potentials. Also like fine wines, 80% of artists are popped and consumed too soon.
  4. N.B. I don’t particularly consider myself a “collector” in the sense of a socially-driven curator of history. My journey of “collecter” is not to be confused with the journey of “collectionner,” as Herman Daled (1930-2020) described in his 2011 interview with Selina Ting for InitiArt Magazine (archived):

    HD: There is another aspect on which I would like to insist, i.e. the difference between the French words “collectionner” [to collect with a specific intention] and “collecter” [to gather]. As I explained before, “collectionner” comes with the idea of building a collection, of searching for the precise pieces and of keeping a harmonious group of objects, whereas collecter” means to gather together objects while taking a walk. In church, one collects donations by walking amongst the assembly with a small container. In the countryside, in the past, one used to collect milk-churns. Hence, the word “collecter” implies a wandering. When you go for a walk, you collect a bunch of flowers. Naturally, this bunch of flowers gives trace of the places where you have been. The flowers you gathered from a walk in the wood would be different from those you gathered from a walk along the river. Therefore, “collecter” is to gather what one comes across during these wanderings. That’s why I insist on the fact that what I have done is not a collection but putting together what I came across during the years.

    ST: In the 19th Century literature, we have the image of the flâneur who, guided by sheer chance and curiosity, collects the impressions offered by a modern metropolis. Is there any similarity between flâner and collecter?

    HD: It’s more or less the same idea.

  5. Archived.
  6. The email wasn’t complicated:

    Hi Jorden,

    I just saw your “I Must Be Streaming” exhibit in Kelowna and I’m wondering if you have a commercial space? I’m very interested in acquiring some of your work. “i feel u” particularly caught my eye, as did a few others on your website. I’m based in Edmonton but I travel to BC every month or two.

    Very much looking forward to hearing from you.
    Best Regards,
    Peter

  7. Not that Jorden’s work is underpriced as such but commercial representation really adds that much to the final cost — 100% mark-up is fairly standard.
  8. While Mah Jong designer Hans Hopfer passed away a number of years ago in 2009 at the age of 78, the designer of the colourful corduroy fabrics for my particular example was alive and well until just a few months ago when he passed away at the age of 81 from COVID. RIP Kenzo Takada.
  9. Very much like investing in that sense. Is it any wonder that many of the world’s greatest investors (eg. Steve Cohen, J. Tomilson Hill, Kenneth Griffin, etc.) are amongst the most notable and prolific collectors?
  10. I’m a big fan of Serra all the way up until he philosophises that “art has no function” and “that’s what makes it art.” He subscribes to a particularly narrow and utilitarian understanding of “function” that isn’t quite to my taste or understanding. Maybe I’m not qualified to disagree with him since he seems to have Frank Gehry on his side, but I have Proust, Nietzsche, and Heidegger on my side so there’s that.
  11. To quote the good rabbi Zohar Atkins from his superb threadapalooza on Heiddeger:

    “Where the danger is, there grows a saving power also” (Hoelderlin). This line is core to Heidegger’s thought and represents his non dual ethics, whereby good things can come from seemingly bad things and vice versa. Danger is good precisely because it unlocks discovery; safety is bad because it shuts it down. For Heidegger, the absence of existential risk is ‘worse’ than a venture that fails–if there is a virtue or call to action in Heidegger it is, “dare to live a singular life.”

    Iain Thomson from Stanford continues:

    Heidegger thus elaborates his philosophical vision of how the temple [at Paestum] worked for a time to unify a coherent and meaningful historical world around itself (by inconspicuously focusing and illuminating its people’s sense of what is and what matters) in order to suggest that a non-aesthetic encounter with art might yet do the same thing once again: A work of art might yet help to gather a new historical world around itself by focusing and illuminating an understanding of being that does not reduce entities either to modern objects to be controlled or to late-modern resources to be optimized.

  12. Our history is important to recall (and recall and recall) no matter how seemingly trivial the details of our past, because all history is present or it’s nothing at all, at least in the Benjaminian sense. As Rabbi Zohar Atkins recounts: 

    [Walter Benjamin] was anti-historicist (he didn’t believe the best way to understand the present was through a mechanistic model of causality of past events). Instead, despite being a scholar, he had a belief that the past is perspectival and can only be known through the prism of how it speaks now. Yerushalmi calls this idea “memory” (Zachor); skeptics who bemoan its post truthiness call it “revisionism”;

    Memory matters! Indeed, there’s a reason why there are over 1`000 biographies on Sir Winston Churchill and we haven’t seen the last one yet. And that’s just one man’s life!

  13. It probably goes without saying but value of “i feel u” isn’t strictly monetary. At the very least, when moving houses, the mural stays behind! So what’s the value, other than some letters I can rearrange into “fui eel“? Like “I was” (in Spanish) “an eel” (in English)? Iain Thomson from Stanford sheds some light:

    We have seen that because aesthetics tries to describe artworks as objects that express and intensify human subjects’ experiences of life, the aesthetic approach begins “always already” too late. Modern aesthetics presupposes the perspective of a subject confronting an external object and thereby misses the way art works inconspicuously in the background of human existence to shape and transform our sense of what is and what matters.

    The value of “i feel u” is that it represents the world of the possible. From cold-calling artists to inviting them into your home to living side-by-wide with powerfully multi-layered works of art. These things are now proven possible! Now what else can we prove possible? What else can we extract from behind the vitrines of preciousness?

  14. Rabbi Zohar Atkins elucidates the important differences between judgement and mercy in his article “From Philosopher to Poet“:

    One fundamental difference between them may be the philosophical tradition’s over-emphasis on judgment, on a truth that doesn’t care about our lived reality. Mercy takes the harsh truth of philosophy (for better and for worse) into account. It is less rigorous, and yet more actionable, motivating, attentive to human nature. Judgment tells us how we’re wrong. Mercy tells us how we can improve. Good judgment is for the few judges who manage to achieve excellence. Mercy is for everyone, regardless of merit.

    How easy it is to be a critic. How hard it is to do the hard work that needs to be done.

  15. To quote from the new book “Hollywood Arensberg: Avant-Garde Collecting in Midcentury L.A.” published by Getty Research Institute:

    Many years after Walter [Arensberg]‘s death, when questionned by Pierre Cabanne about his friend’s [cryptographic] Baconian project, Duchamp responded in a characteristically double-edged manner:

    Duchamp: [Walter's] system was to find, in the text, in every three lines, allusions to all sorts of things; it was a game for him, like chess, which he enjoyed immensely.

    Cabanne: Was his research really scientifically valuable?

    Duchamp: I don’t believe so. I think it was mostly the conviction of a man at play.