Bernard Chadwick’s Synesthesia reviewed in Artvoices Magazine 12.20.12

Synesthesia by Bernard Chadwick shakes my subjectivity all up. It reminds me of the poem “Voyelles” by Arthur Rimbaud, who might have been a synesthete; certainly he was a laudanum-drunk, a gunslinger, and all round deranger of the senses. Rimbaud saw vowels in colors — a feat of estranging one’s subjectivity, remarkable if self-taught. They say some children have trouble discerning their senses: touch-hearing, smell-seeing, or taste-believing. Jacques Rancière , that political deranger, would call this a “redistribution of the sensible,” against which he would point with his hearing to the police that marshal our subjectivity. These baton-wielding bruisers (i.e. history, money, technology) tell us how to see, how to hear, how to taste, etc., which means our feelings aren’t really our own. We’re stuck in a loop: sense, desire, purchase, pleasure, repeat — a familiar formula that has been training our subjectivity ever since the dawn of marketing, that event horizon in our collective psyche.


Installation shot, 2012, mixed media

Chadwick’s debut solo show at Gallery KM reminds me — nay, reveals to me — that my senses are my own. That if I want to hear the sound of foam just by looking at it being squeezed, then I’m allowed, nay, supposed to. Likewise the drumming noise that desert rocks seem to emit are there, only if we choose to hear them. This show, perhaps a little too directly titled Synesthesia, does exactly that — it cross-wires my vision with my hearing. Now what makes this different from ayahuasca is that the reorganization of sensation is willful, not chemical. It takes effort on behalf of the viewer to access a certain headspace that goes against the grain of our market-trained subjectivity (those curt parcels of pre-empted sense). Chadwick, like a shaman, guides us down a path, ever so gently into a realm where we can look at a giant yellow painting of a kick-drum’s patina and feel the vibratory thud of a noise we all know. Only this drum is larger than life-size, so the viewer becomes the pedal that makes the thud. And suddenly together with Chadwick we are making music.In the second room the more complicated audio/visual sculptures don’t quite sing as clearly as the inanimate objects, or rather they sing too clearly since sound and image are already collapsed in the video medium. This leaves less space for the viewer’s imagination, so the works become more like instruction manuals rather than a call to riff.

That said, the subtle invitation to duet with the artist is mostly consistent throughout, and quite a pleasure to experience: The world (or a microcosm of the world) seems to unravel as the distinction of my senses morph with the show. The political power of unlearning predetermined modes of sense-reception is a powerful weapon. It might even be the only weapon we have against a world full of police — the sensible police that is, and not our good brothers in blue (which incidentally is the color Rimbaud would see every time he read the letter O).


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