Galerie Fons Welters - Amsterdam

You, Too, Know That You Live

The operating procedure here has tangled together people and things in shining moments of intimacy that contain, in turns; admiration, indifference, reciprocity, love, aspiration, yearning, humiliation. This list is incomplete and should be read as brief stops on a cycling current rather than as points on a map. Speaking on the phone with Em several times and hearing her title, You, too, know that you live, I was reminded of Walt Whitman with his body electric, or rather Leslie Jamison’s summation of Walt Whitman’s poetic process in her introduction to Specimen Days.

“Whitman’s attempt to document all of the objects that become part of him across the course of one stretching cycle. In these fragments, he is perpetually fascinated by the possibility of absorbing the world and being absorbed by it.  Describing the Jersey shoreline — trying to do justice to that horizon where ocean meets sky — he writes that he would be “quite satisfied” if I could indirectly show that we have met and fused, even if only once, but enough — that we have really absorb’d each other and understand each other.”[1]

Em creates two copies of a piece of jewelry. One is gifted to the beloved, the other becomes part of her sculpture. It’s certainly true that gifts are as much about the giver as they are about the receiver but these works contain a generosity that overflows both potential baskets. At a certain stop one must concede that generosity was likely never quite the point. In Lewis Hyde’s book The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property there is also, coincidentally, a long chapter on Whitman. In it Hyde describes Whitman’s abundant position as one of being “gifted”. “Gift exchange is an erotic commerce, joining self and other, so the gifted state is an erotic state: in it we are sensible of and participate in, the underlying unity of things.” [2]

The gift erotics in Whitman via Hyde are imagined as a kind of pool or nebula that we can dip into and once inside enter into a state of being. I’ve heard pursuits around consciousness described in similar terms and indeed Whitman’s erotic descriptions of the natural world tend towards cosmic intensity and whatever comes next, maybe transcendence, maybe obliteration, maybe the sublime. Probably they are three in the same?

In Em’s shining, there are no white whites, the clays tend towards the scatological, necklaces are better described as chains. The image of a trap or cage sticks in my mind next to the number of love hours sewn into a quilt. In this kind of erotics, I see a mainline to what Audre Lorde directs us toward in The Uses of The Erotic, The Erotic as Power when she says, “The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings.”[3] Chaos is a very different kind of descriptor. It doesn’t recede but is rather full of active sparks, charged variously. Look at the technique of adhesion in securing flower petal to vein.

Em is a photographer first and so the image is always in question even though it seems difficult to locate. Are you ever embarrassed I wonder? Offffffff coursssseee. Imagine everything that has happened, everything that was said in advance of Charley Chaplin showing up with this song and dance and large format camera. The students look toward the photographer with the socratic urns around their necks. All of these energetic exchanges coalesce into an atmosphere that articulate themselves not as image at all or as chunk or chunks of matter but rather as a circuit articulated by surface frictions. A cosmology and rambling geology of becomings that produce a hum which, when slowed down, we can make out in language.; You, too, know that you live.

[Nancy Lupo]

[1]  Walt Whitman (introduction by Leslie Jamison), Specimen Days and Collect (Brooklyn and London: Melville House Press, 2014), xvi.
[2] Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, (New York: Random House, Inc., 1983), 163.
[3] Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider (New York: Crossing Press, 1984)

About the artist:
You, too, know that you live is Em Rooney’s (1983) first solo exhibition in Europe. After studying in Philadelphia and at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Rooney combines her practice between New York and rural Great Barrington, where she also teaches at Bard College. Em Rooney’s work was among others part of the exhibition Being. New Photography in 2018 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. She also showed her work at Simone Subal, NY; Bodega, NY; CreveCoeur, Paris and Foxy Productions, NY among others. Her work was published in magazines and newspapers such as Art in America, The New York Times, Artnews, Artsy and Frieze.