I JUST WORK HERE
`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
(Lewis Carroll’s ‘Jabberwocky’)
Stepping into Archive Space early on the opening night of Jack Stahel’s 'I Just Work Here' was akin to being dropped into the opening scene of an action sci-fi picture. We enter to find a shambolic office scene littered with sketches, papers and maps, an overflowing paper bin, strange instruments and unidentifiable rock-like specimens – all totally inscrutable, an explosion of impenetrable data.
The Hieroglyphic-like language used in the documents is not of Earth, nor is the anatomy, places or natural phenomena it seems to describe. It’s as though a mad scientist or hermit professor had abandoned the scene in a hurry, perhaps kidnapped for uncovering a secret alien world or lost deep in a jungle somewhere in search of a codex that will unlock these mysterious texts.
Having stumbled into this scene, we are made complicit. We’ve all seen the movies and look around for a hapless hero who must decode the texts/rescue the professor/save the planet. How she might go about doing that is the crux of the show, and of Stahel’s broader body of work. How is it that we make sense of the world around us? How do we read the objects we encounter?
In his exhibition text, Stahel purports that the office is that of the ‘Department of Introspection’. If this is true perhaps our search for understanding will be less Indiana Jones and more Sun Ra. Still, whether looking inwards or out for meaning (if these are in fact distinct) one must develop a methodology – a starting point. From these impenetrable texts and objects our hero must rend sense.
It’s a process we enact continuously in our day-to-day lives. Whether it is the play of light and forms via our eyes, dialogue with others via speech and hearing, or some sign or symbol universally understood, we constantly negotiate a deluge of data, attempting to train it into comprehension. This sensation is acutely apparent stepping for the first time into a foreign airport, for example.
In his early work The Logic of Sense, Gilles Deleuze utilises the work of Lewis Carroll to articulate the rift between sense, the coherence of our lived experience and our ability to comprehend it, and logic, systems purportedly designed to lead us to truth. It could be (and oft has been) assumed that what is logical makes sense and vice versa. Yet Carroll suggests this is not always the case.
Take for example his Jabberwocky. In form and rhythm it gives the impression of intelligibility; although they have no meaning the words are mellifluous and strangely familiar. It attends to the logic of poetry and language, but populates it with nonsense. Yet in spite of this we can discern some system at work; we can create speculative meaning.
A kindred spirit is shared between Carroll’s Jabberwocky and Stahel’s 'I Just Work Here'; a beguiling innocence. Both charm with their imagined and invented worlds and their cleverness. Both are cognisant of the power of perception, our ability to intuit the internal logic of language and things. Both use fictions and nonsense to reveal something very true about the way we experience the world.
Surveying the room, our adventurer finds that, although nonsensical, the documents and objects in front of her cohere to give the impression of a complete world, replete with a logic all of its own. Likewise, although she knows it is illogical to believe such a world exists, to our hero it begins to make a sort of sense, as it does to Alice to have believed six impossible things before breakfast.
And so her journey begins.