31 July till 10 September 2013


Review Anne van Leeuwen

Vertaling uit het Engels: Hermien Lankhorst

The pineal gland or ‘third eye’ is a small endocrine gland hidden deep within our brain. Anatomically it appears as the only section of our brain that is not half of an(other) entity. Looking at this curious compact nodule, Descartes thought that the pineal gland held the key to our modern enlightened soul. Its central wholesomeness made it the perfect ‘arena’ for our bodily experience – in particular our visual sense – to meet the intellect. The pineal gland, in other words, was thought to put our vision into proper perspective and Descartes envisioned it as the principal seat of our rational soul.

At SYB Shana Moulton just showed us that it is not.

Entrance. When Moulton arrived at SYB, her first moment of interaction was with a locked door. She had to contact one of SYB’s key persons, a member of the Houseclub, to let her in. The moment she was confined within its space – including its particular surroundings – the Kunsthuis became a collaborative meeting ground for ideas: a place where she could pick up the threads of unfinished projects, as well as work on new ones. Within the homely setting of SYB, Moulton attempted to decalcify her pineal gland in synergy. This particular gland secretes a hormone that regulates wake/sleep, seasonal and sexual patterns in response to changes in light intensity. Another more controversial hypothesis associates this cerebral photoreceptor with the production of DMT and certain near-death experiences, while in many Eastern philosophies it is thought to seat the third eye. This pineal gland often gets constipated by calcium phosphate crystals or ‘brain sand’ in the heads of particularly Western people. By attempting to decalcify her gland, Moulton hopes to encourage visions and creativity at SYB.

The first to visit her at SYB was Nick Hallet, a composer with whom Moulton had conducted an opera. They worked together on a new opera, being interested in the interaction between sound and vision, and brainstormed about ways to sustain themselves as artists in the future. Shortly afterwards Andrew Kerton arrived at SYB. Within 24 hours, the three of them had created a short film that embodied an intense concoction of floral elements, dancing geometrical figures and a deep trembling voice soundtrack. Its first frame pronounced that “sometimes lacking foresight keeps you in the present moment.” In a final decalcifying triptych, Hallet, Kerton and Moulton climbed the stage of SYB and initiated a midnight theatre, where they danced in front a screen swarming with spiralling marbles and a magically floating towel. Over the last few weeks some pretty far out stuff happened at Beetsterzwaag.

Meanwhile, Moulton was working with ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) videos. ASMR is often triggered by slow repetitive gestures such as whispering and effects an experience-range from hypnotic sleepiness to stimulating euphoria. Within the ASMR subculture, a space of interest to Moulton, people are posting stimulant and relaxing – sometimes almost Bob Ross reminiscent – videos on the Internet. Moulton edited one of them at SYB. This video shows a four-window harassment of expensive handbags. Feminine hands touch the handbags within their pink frames in repetitive sensual gestures. Moulton’s video stimulates wittingly with a sweet overdose of object fetishism, New Age health doctrine and a rather abject taste for mass consumption. Here Moulton’s decalcification project draws nearer to a very different perspective on the pineal eye: that of Georges Bataille.[1] He wrote how this particular sensitive eye can suddenly burst through the skull like an erection, while letting out vibrating screams – here in the form of sweet narcotic whispers – and leaving behind an irresistible stench.

After Hallet and Kerton had left, Lucy Stein arrived at SYB. With Stein, Moulton edited some footage shot about five months ago, in which Stein and Moulton explore rocky cliffs as well as Barbara Hepworth sculptures in cathartic aerobic-like exercises. Now starring within Stein’s story, Moulton was unable to perform as her alter ego Cynthia. By pushing her out of her comfort zone, Stein already made a worthy contribution to the greater good of Moulton’s decalcification project. After Stein departed, Moulton had a few days on her own, to think about animation while visiting the thrift shop in Drachten and the Kruidvat next-door. Fascinated by the aesthetics of Kleenex boxes, she created a small installation with objects from the neighbourhood, ranging from furniture pieces, to Buddha-like sculptures, medication dispensers and brightly coloured pills. She continued to work on a short stop motion animation with an ASMR soundtrack, in the process kleenexing Buddha from his bottom up to his third eye.

Escape. Coming full circle, Moulton met Noa Giniger, who had introduced her to SYB in the first place, towards the end of her residency. Giniger helped to shoot the footage for a last work that incorporated Moulton dancing leglessly through different landscape settings in the locality of SYB. While fluttering through the picturesque settings in a blue screen suit, Moulton’s missing legs turn into a DNA helix in the blink of an eye. Here our current genetic state becomes apparent. Now blessed with a big brain, we can hardly deny that we have lost – over the course of evolution – our third eye. What remained with us was only the gland: a vestigial eye that cannot see. This blind eye can now only be used in the attempt to escape from our short-sightedness through a form of ecstasy. In the end Moulton showed us that the true decalcified gland is quite bodiless: it does not progressively connect the body and intellect, but engrosses in a state of elation fuelled by different synergies. Bataille already observed that a decalcified pineal eye may take away one’s head, symbol of reason and spirituality, by explosion. After such liberation “man has escaped from his head just as the condemned man has escaped from prison.” The character that then arises turns out to be “more than me: his stomach is the labyrinth in which he has lost himself, loses me with him, and in which I discover myself as him, in other words as a monster.” [2] Luckily the Minotaur of Beetsterzwaag turned out to be a completely harmless cow in a neighbouring field, with whom Moulton could share her dinner conversation in a last symbiosis. At this point Moulton had managed to truly escape from her residency’s window perspective, no longer bothered by any brain sand, she could fully submerge herself in the surrounding peat.

[1] Georges Bataille. ‘The Pineal Eye.’ Visions of Excess: Selected Writings 1927-1939. Manchester University Press, 1985.
[2] Georges Bataille in Martin Jay. Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought. Berkeley/London/Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993: p. 229.