Note: This post is about the photography series called The Bosco Project. Please visit the gallery so you have an idea of what this post is about. Thank you.
Prelude: The Artist Would Rather Not Discuss It
Oh, how I hate it, when directors are supposed to explain their films.
Paul Thomas Anderson
Artists are not necessarily the best interpreters of their own work. And many artists are reluctant to say anything about their own work, preferring to let the work speak for itself: after all, the more that it has to be explained, the less it seems to need to speak for itself. The artist may not even think about what his work means as he dives into the creative process — indeed, thinking about meaning may hinder hearing what the muses whisper to his ear.
Another qualm is that analysis, though it can obviously aid understanding, threatens to sully an honest and pure relationship to the work, which is now coloured by someone's viewpoint that adheres to it, especially if analysis precedes active engagement with the work itself. It's only after an active engagement with the work, in which one has explored one's reactions to it and drawn one's own conclusions, that analysis should be pursued because it's then that it can deepen one's understanding and appreciation.
In a relationship, do you want to feel love, or would you rather examine and justify its nuances — or, worse yet, justify its merits or truthfulness? Would you rather laugh at a joke, or have it explained to you? Some of us creative types are grateful for the New Criticism popular in the last century that sought to examine the merits of the work in itself, eschewing the author's "authority" in interpreting their own works, claiming that it's not any more inherently meaningful than any other interpretation.
So with this in mind, why am I bothering to post my own thoughts on The Bosco Project when I am reluctant to do so? Well, the corollary to the above is that I have as much right to my own interpretation as anyone else, so why not share it?
The truth is I hadn't really thought very much about what The Bosco Project is about. Such a question seems to me besides the point. The series began as a technical exercise and has since evolved into something where I apply my technique to create a parallel world that reflects our own in a kind of existentialist aesthetic. But I don't think about what it means. The inspirations for the photographs arise from an aesthetic impulse: wouldn't Bosco washing his hands make a great picture! I then compose the shot and mise-en-scene to achieve the desired effect. I won't even know if the result is worthwhile until I "develop" the image later.
None of this was an issue for me until, while exhibiting at a recent show, someone asked me point blank "So who is Bosco?" And that's when I realized I hadn't given it much thought, if indeed any at all. I was caught short, so my reply to the question was notable more for its form than its content: lots of stammering in a futile attempt to mask that I was making it up as I went. None of the "Bosco is us" claptrap coming out of my mouth sounded convincing to either of us. The man walked away obviously unsatisfied, most likely with a less than flattering opinion about the artist and his work.
It had honestly never occured to me that I would need to "explain" The Bosco Project. Though I gave an interview about Bosco, there was no point-blank question about what Bosco means. I mean, I understand the guy's point of view: how could the artist not know his subject well enough to talk about it? How is it that the creator didn't have an "elevator" spiel? As if the artist needed yet more evidence about how much he so painfully sucks at marketing and promoting himself. (Because isn't that what artists are supposed to do to make a living at it? Convert Treat their art like a product?)
And yet, it must be said, I was annoyed at the question, inevitable as it was. Frankly, my attitude is that if you don't get Bosco right away, you'll never get it. It's not like Bosco is a superhero with a story arc, is it? I've discovered that Bosco is kind of a litmus test: a lot of people don't get it, and that's totally ok. (Or, even more interesting is when the reaction indicates they get it, but are repelled by it: they'll say "Oh, that's creepy!" with genuine discomfort, missing the humour and the point. Did I just say The Point? Isn't that what this post is about? But, as with a joke, if it needs to be explained, it loses its potency.) Though there are many exceptions, the majority of these people fall into a category the Church of the Subgenius refers to as Pinks.
But some are powerfully affected by Bosco and immediately grok where he's coming from, often with a delighted laugh; and these are, without exception, interesting people worth knowing.
It's like the work of Francis Bacon: if one doesn't understand his work immediately upon seeing it, one will never understand it at a visceral level, no matter how clearly it's explained to them. (That's not a judgement, by the way: heaven forfend that I suggest in these times of zealous identity politics that I suggest something is a disability (or whatever the inoffensive (or less-than-offensive) term du jour is) when it isn't: we all of us have cognitive blinders to call our own, don't we? Like me, for instance: I just don't understand how anyone can like little barky dogs.)
The man who sought to have Bosco explained to him asked it in the manner of a consumer asking a salesperson about a product: he seemed to want an answer in the form of an easily digestible tweet that would let him know how Bosco fits into the constellation of copyrighted characters that colonize his media-saturated mind. I felt at a loss for how to help him, with the result that both of us were unsatisfied by our encounter.
Well, I don't want that to happen again. So this post is the artist's attempt to figure out what his own Bosco Project is about; it is hoped that the culmination of this brief exploratory journey will be an easy-to-digest elevator summary that will help anybody understand what Bosco is about, at least from one person's perspective who may not be up to the task. Given that I haven't given much active thought to Who Bosco Is, or What The Bosco Project means, I'm just going to throw down my thoughts as a handful of pick-up sticks to play with.
Thus I encourage the reader to ignore the following; or, better yet, not even bother to read what follows if s/he wishes to keep the experience of Bosco unsullied by the blitherings of its creator, who may be quite mistaken about it all. If Bosco communicates to you, then the artist is pleased and we can leave it at that. For it must be confessed that what began as a purely technical exercise has evolved, in the artist's viewpoint, to a kind of Rorshach for our times, and it is hardly the place of the maker of an inkblot to provide a canonical interpretation of it.
So if you, dear reader, decide to read on, know that your thoughts are more important than mine: take what you wish and discard the rest like yesterday's fingernail clippings.
Bosco is the embodiment of the modern subject living his quotidian life as best he can in a beautiful world impregnated with catastrophe. But the catastrophe cannot be identified because, though it imbues time and space like a cosmic cocoon, it's under the radar of our awareness, like, say, violet noise that soon falls below the level of conscious awareness after several minutes. So we just carry on in a state of subtle anxiety as best we can because we still need to clean the dishes, wash our hands, and brush our teeth.
There's an allegorical quality to The Bosco Project, as if Bosco exists in a realm of meaning where even the most commonplace events take on a special signifcance. If every day follows the same routine is life being lived, or inhabited? Repeating the same everyday tasks takes on the semblance of ritual. Is the function of ritual to replace authentic experience? Or does ritual give meaning to authentic experience? If every act becomes a ritual are those acts denuded of meaning, or given meaning? Or does just going through the motions inure one to the pain of living?
And that the world should lie open to us is the real and concrete meaning of freedom to which we aspire. For what is the depressing sense of unfreedom that steals over us at times but the feeling that the world has closed in upon us, that we are in a prison all the doors of which have been locked, and that we are trapped in a routine that never opens out upon any fresh possibilities?
George Tooker explores this existential notion of space in his sociological paintings wherein a brilliantly metaphorical and aggressively Cartesian space depicts the alienation of its denizens in a world defined by the logic of consumerism and bureaucracy. They feel their atomization, and are hollowed out by it. They are all too aware of their existential condition of inhabiting a life rather than living one, where community is replaced by a sense of loss, a world where the possibility of genuine inter-personal connection is no longer possible, especially when under the gaze of anonymous bureaucratic forces.