I’m not sure if it’s legal. In fact, I’m pretty sure it won’t be. It’s definitely disturbing and highly problematic—beyond sketchy at the same time that it stands out as the most incredibly soul-shaking and thrillingly provocative art proposition I can remember. Or, I should say, that I can’t remember because memory itself (in the actual neurological, chemical sense, not some vague loosey-goosey thematic) is the medium with which this art boldly fucks.
I’m talking about Meghan Shalimar’s instantly notorious though uniquely secret show, “Negative Spaces,” at an annex of New York’s Morgan Library where viewers are first stalled by the artist before entering the gallery in order to sign a waiver and take a pill. In art, as in life, one proceeds at one’s own risk. Unnamed, the pill is purportedly “natural” and derived from “essential plant-based and mineral oils.” Once ingested, the drug’s effect is short-lived and extreme, catastrophic even: temporarily but completely disabling the brain’s short-term memory function to effectively wipe out the subsequent ten to fifteen minutes of experience from the person’s consciousness. Only after taking the pill are viewers allowed inside to see Shalimar’s paintings and then only for the duration of the drug’s ten minute potency, at the end of which they are ushered out of the room before the impairment wears off, leaving them impossibly blank, baffled, and unaware of what they had seen. Emotions linger—ones I could only call "heightened"—but they are untethered and jumbled, incommunicable to the self nearly as much as to others.
Neither I nor anyone other than the artist could tell you what we saw. Not that it was necessarily earth-shattering stuff but, thankfully, I’ll never know. As absent and foggy and aporetic as the cognitive lapse remains, the point emerged crystal clear: this art is only viewed in the present, now. It is not to be remembered. It is not to be reflected upon other than as a thing that is woefully and ecstatically missing, which is as good a reflection as any and better than most. It is about an experience of viewing art, which is almost exactly like not viewing art while getting ten minutes older. It is about the trauma of not knowing and the Pandora’s box of possibility unknowing unleashes. It’s about, as Bruce Hainley once phrased another rupture, date-raping art. Or Frederick Seidel’s inspired line, “I want to date-rape life.” Or about art date-raping mind and misapplying the right tools to do it. And, being about the frisson between consent and non-consent, Shalimar is also about minimalism—let’s call it mental minimalism—taken to such numbingly absurd and invasive extremes that what you see is most certainly not what you get. You get nothing, which everyone knows is a lot to deal with.
I scribbled these words in the aftershock of my Shalimarian black out: Art slips past the threshold of awareness like a bandit. Who knows where or when or in what form its booty may resurface. You’re invisible, you’ve got too many secrets—Bob Dylan said that or something like that. I’ll let you be in my dream if you let me be in yours. A butterfly bats its wings. A hint of Shalimar bats you in the head. I don’t think that true love leaves no traces.
(Image on top right: Promotional image for Meghan Shalimar's "Negative Spaces" at the annex of New York's Morgan Library; Courtesy the artist)