Then there will be a slow rising

October 15th, 2013, 5pm

Saw the Robert Montgomery solo exhibition at C24 in Chelsea. It’s tough to face “here comes the boom and end of your civilisation” and not be struck by its timeliness given everything in Washington. The show ends this week, and so does the Montgomery exhibition.

The work, in a word: haunting. Poetry in the form of billboards, lighted signs, letters cut from wood; installations in empty plazas and empty stadiums and empty swimming pools, as though sent back through the tunnel from post-apocalypse. An unironic Ozymandias—no, more like the seer in rags who tries to warn the king of his follies. There are castles and churches and there are no people in them. The high towers echo with voices. The poems seem anonymous, as though erected by a committee or scrawled in graffiti over a smiling face on a billboard for low-fat yogurt. They are both of this time and divorced from it.

Montgomery’s work is about an insidious oppression, as pervasive as the air around us, grown—growing—ever more toxic, responsible for “the slow disappearance of meaning and truth.” It’s “the cabriolet edition of capitalism.” It’s “the traditional names of objects repeated by television presenters.” It’s “things you keep to scaffold your narrative identity, so you never relax into the embarrassing capture of happiness.” We as individuals are inseparable from it, are ourselves both completely responsible and not responsible at all: “It turned out this way cos you dreamed it this way, cos all you could dream is what you saw in magazines, and this is how it feels to win, and have everything, all the luxury and power you ever wanted and still feel disgusted.”

Oof. My magazines tell me I need a drink.

For all its reproach and seeming resignation, Montgomery’s work is tender with the hope of fallow urbanity. Of resettlement, elsewhere: “There are wooden houses on land in faraway places, that don’t cost much money, and strings of lights that make paths to them gently and do not turn off the stars … There will be a quick sickness, the kind that kills the body before the mind knows, then there will be a slow rising.”

But there is, beneath the seeming resignation, also some new shape of rebellion. When oppression has metastasized, rebellion must also shift forms, adopt new tactics. And perhaps those best equipped to fight on these fronts are the poets, like Montgomery, whose weapons are the right words, in the right place and light, at the right time.

Cassie, Abhishek, Chris, Rian and 4 others said thanks.

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Jack Cheng

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