Darren Bader by Jenny Borland

Bader devises a unique participatory environment which at first, the viewer (or reader) may not even register being a part of.

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An encounter with the work of Darren Bader—whether in a virtual, textual, or physical space—leaves one open for both ambivalence and connections. From his writing to his curatorial ventures and conceptual installations, Bader is never resistant to creating levels of association and possibility, as he devises a unique participatory environment which at first, the viewer (or reader) may not even register being a part of, only to discover that his observation is essential. As would seem most appropriate to Bader’s modus operandi, the following text is the result of our collaborative musings. Prompts are courtesy the Gaokao 2010 – China’s national college entry examination, the grueling equivalent to our SAT.

Beijing: Looking at the stars with your feet on the ground (仰望星空与脚踏>实地) — commenters see this one as asking for an evaluation of idealism versus practicality.

I can’t help but look at the stars. Idealism may be a pathology ultimately, but it’s one of the few boons I readily recognize. Compassionate/empathic and jocular situations are the only other edifiers that come mind. Pragmatism is of course a life-saver for the idealist: it’s the irrepressible parent, if not the superego. “With your feet in the air, and your head on the ground…” that’s a way to semi-ideally confound the ever-confounding pas-de-deux of idealism & practicality. Spiritually you die without one, and spiritually you put yourself at great risk without the other. It just depends on who you are and how you came to best “order” your world. In the end, the proverbial ‘meaning of life’ is about order and control. Nevermind the intractability of idealism, it is every bit as managerial as is pragmatism; pragmatism is every bit as fanciful as idealism. But they bend time and space differently—so speaks the inveterate, incurable idealist.


National (I): “Why chase mice when there are fish to eat? (有鱼吃还捉老鼠?)” — A cartoon showing one cat chasing a mouse while others eat fish has this as a caption.

The answer is: because. I don’t know if your elementary school teachers frowned upon the use of “because” as an autonomous answer… (I’ve never harbored any active resentment towards that interdiction.) But since it’s a fundamentally impertinent answer (as teachers well know), it occasionally comes to mind automatically, knee-jerky. Impertinence is the best-essary sometimes, and perhaps that’s somehow built into the realm of the cat chasing the mouse (a crest/siege/seed/nest/siesta of power). But “because” really is a profound word when left to its solitary devices. The cats are not after the mice due to any specific laws of causality. They are after the mouse/mice: “because.” Or if I understand my Lacan correctly (and it’s dubious I do): objet petit a (not jouissance so much).


Tianjin: The world I live in (我生活的世界) — “The world is like a painter’s dazzling array of colors, the world is a melody dancing about on an instrument; the world advances through innovation and finds warmth through harmony; the world can exist in a marvelous virtual network, and the world is expressed in the real lives of ordinary people; the world may seem large, but it is really very small… .everyone has their own world, but everyone lives in the world. Sum up your experiences and understanding of ‘The world I live in.’”

The world I live in is a world of days and chance hours and inexorable minutes. (Yeah, that’s novel, isn’t it.) The world is always joy, as the search is perpetually for joy (distinct from enjoyment—because joy has an autobiographical/teleological quality). Any dialectic may honor that to a point. And it’s funny to choose the word “point” because a point is always the locus of the imagined joy. Even if it’s joy in malaise, deprivation, or agitation, the point always points to joy—and so the world goes round according to a calendar to manage these points, or direct towards them. The world is also two words that feel entirely empathic. If you say “the world” and mean it as an all encompassing body of similar human beings and other living beings, the world is indeed an incredible dancing melody —warmth radiates from its ubiquitous presence/context. Perhaps that is more apt than the-pursuit-of-joy. But a “dancing melody” seems to necessitate the world with some degree of hindsight; joy is the seeker, the royal “because.”


Shandong: Light and shadow — “‘All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow.’ – Leo Tolstoy.”

Good call, Tolstoy. The classic binary—i.e. a classic binary. The only binaries—the fundamentally indecipherable ones—that I can think of that eclipse light and shadow: here and there; me/us and you/them (this and that as its derivative). Now and then is curious, and almost witty–almost non-temporal. Life and death: that’s impossible sort of. I like light and shadow because they do a good job at highlighting things ;) That makes life nice®.


Jiangxi: Recovering childhood (找回童年) — “Why do we want to recover childhood? Because society is too utilitarian, children have too much pressure, and childhood ends too early. Society needs innocence and requires a return to childhood.”

I don’t know if society, per se, has anything to do with this—at least as far as utilitarian aspects come into play. If we’re pack/herd animals, then society and biology are very likely do-si-do. Childhood is after all a biological, neurological, physiological, endocrinological, etc, state of being. As far as the prelapsarian, return-to-innocence drive: I feel this is very much human biology and human biology alone (contra general mammalian or animal qualities). It’s the fat-brain, self-consciousness element of our biology; the being conscious of the life-cycle element of things (the ideas that Bataille and his sex-and-death dyad tried to encompass to some avail). Society ineluctably needs innocence, or better yet purity. Innocence is simply a fantasy about youth, since knowledge is the rite of adulthood(s). Purity is our consciousness of our mortality and our reproductive drives: it’s about breeding. What repels is impure and thus, since children by-and-large don’t repel physically, they become the avatars, paragons, and ‘society’ of purity-as-innocence, as pre-decay. Puberty is nothing short of monstrous as children’s bodies go through violent alterations. Maybe therein lies the language of innocence: what came before the violence of the life-cycle.

Hubei: Fantasy (>幻想) — “Sun Wukong somersault cloud and Nezha’s Wind Fire Wheels are products of fantasy bearing humanity’s dream to fly through the air. Who would have thought that the Fair of 10,000 Nations in Shanghai’s Lujiazui district, described in the late-Qing fantasy novel New China, and the journey “From the Earth to the Moon” dreamt up by French science fiction novelist Jules Verne would become reality today? Fantasy arises from the human instinct to seek out knowledge and is an expression of humanity’s uncommon imagination. Fantasy motivates reality, fantasy illuminates life, fantasy is the source of happiness…”

Fantasy is like light and shadow: a poison and an elixir both. I can’t live without it; good shit. The goodest, the dangerousest. Fantasy is led/governed by mimetic functions: it engages in notions of “the same,” even if it feels itself against “the same.” But fantasy always trips into reality when one recognizes the presence of one’s own human body as dissimilar from everything else—i.e. ineluctably you as thing that is rumored to suffer, to wish, and to die. Fantasy and wish are different, because wish acknowledges futility; fantasy equips survival until it [fantasy] becomes pathological—then it equips “itself?” (Maybe survival is pathological then too?)


Darren Bader’s solo exhibition at Alex Zachary is currently on view through Saturday, July 3. His work can also be seen in Greater New York 2010 at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, and online in a curatorial project for Nero Magazine.

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