Dragging the Unspeakable Up From the Subconscious

by Rachel Creager Ireland

I was at Knox College in the late 80s and there was an art show that I loved, by an alum whose name eludes me now. He sometimes went by the name Tao Jones, but other people are using that name these days. I remember the tagline, “Drop the bomb, we can’t stand the suspense!” and 6-foot tall pieces of glass (probably salvaged windows) spray-painted with fluorescent images of x-ray skeletons. No one piece stands out, but the message so struck me that I regretted for years that I hadn’t bought one, any one, to display in my home, wherever it would be, to show the world that this is the reality of my existence: it could end at any moment. End it already, please, can’t we just get on with it?

I was particularly chagrined when a couple stoner dudes ended up with one of those pieces as a “coffee” table in their dorm room. I heard they’d bought it for $5 when the show closed. I’d hang out in their black-lit room with my friends, drinking beer and feeling jealous of their table.

I’m not sure that artist was particularly well respected among the art department. The show was kind of gimmicky and probably thrown together in a hurry. It didn’t demonstrate any particular skill at painting, or even spray painting, for that matter. But a recent conversation about apocalyptic thinking has reminded me of that show. I am grateful to have seen it. It has stuck with me all these years, because of the urgency of its shocking message: let us out of this limbo, by any way possible.

I’m not an art critic, so probably no one wants to read my thoughts about art and politics and postmodernity in the 1980s. Just let me say: Some truths are unspeakable, and it is the job of artists of every medium to speak them. Some thoughts are unthinkable, and it is our job to drag those up from the basement of the subconscious, so we can see them, examine them rationally, and choose to believe or not, and how and if we will act in their presence. The shaman does not visit the underworld for the party; s/he goes there to bring back gifts and tools for the people, for their healing and survival. Artists, if you delve into the deep unconscious netherworld, do come back, we need you and your messages. A people without artist/shaman/healers is in big trouble.

We did not get our nuclear apocalypse. We lived to see the disintegration of the Soviet Union. We lived through Y2K. We lived through 2012. Bring your fears to light, and see the apocalyptic fetish for the sickness that it is. The president is not trying to incite a race war. The UN is not trying to depopulate the world by making everyone sick. We may be in the throes of environmental apocalypse as I write, but the outcome is yet to be determined. It is not time to beg for a merciful end. It is time to be, and stay, connected to everyone and the earth. Time to live out, and live into, oneness with all, peace, and gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving, folks.

Here’s an old, apocalyptic Flaming Lips song. I used to listen to it on my Walkman.