Voluptuous Panic and Soft Machines

Work in progress, part-presented in ILINX, 2019

Materials / 2 x moving image, 4k and HD and sound, vinyl, agar, wood, wig, screen print series

Desire is the strange attractor that conjoins Eastern spirituality and Western materialism. In Buddhism, desire is the root of all suffering and must be observed through meditation, and thereby overcome. In self-help literature, desire must be fuelled and nurtured into a “burning obsession” in order to achieve success. Through seduction, desire alters perception and like games of vertigo, described by the sociologist Roger Caillois, it induces a ‘voluptuous panic’.

By tracing a vast archaeology of desire, each element of this composition palpates at the heart of desire, zooming into and out of multiple worlds to imagine desire as a shifting field for this game of catch – from paleontology and the origins of life in the strange soft-bodied organisms of the 650 million year old Ediacara biota; to the seductive perfection of Busby Berkeley’s aesthetics, where women’s bodies are used to steer large scale seduction in the mass machinery of consumerism; the subliminal strategies of advertising and the stock photo catalogue; research into soft robotics for handling fragile objects; the growing commodification of consciousness through the market for mindfulness; and the Indian spiritual traditions where desire is transmuted to spiritual energy through the secret tantric practices of the feminine kundalini force drives the chakra wheels towards ecstasy.

The various elements of this work operate as a shifting collage that imagines the history of American consumerism through the oceanic Tantric aesthetics of India: the question of desire intermeshes this juxtaposition of cultural ideologies.

Each part of the composition experiments with ways of seeing, the logic of the gaze, and the entrainment of the senses, placing the viewer at the centre of this maelstrom of colours, imagery and sounds, to invite awareness or surrender to this endless cycle of desire.

Sound design: Joel Cahen

Ediacara fossil research: with the support of the staff at the Natural History Museum, London

“Believe me, it is the satisfaction of desires that breeds misery. Freedom from desires is bliss.” Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, I Am That

“Desire is a thought impulse! Thought impulses are forms of energy. When you begin with the thought impulse desire to accumulate money, you are drafting into your service the same “stuff” that nature used in creating this earth and every material form in the universe, including the body and brain in which the thought impulses function.” Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich