Everythingness (Unfeeling) (2001)

Everythingness (Unfeeling) Installation view, Intar Gallery, NY, 2001

Everythingness (Unfeeling) Installation view, Intar Gallery, NY, 2001

Everythingness (Unfeeling)is an installation based on research related to the culture of the drug ecstasy.  The central installation consisted of 1500 multiples made of plaster, that were a hybrid between an ecstasy pill and a volcano. On the wall, the 1500 names of all the volcanoes in the world where projected. The installation was a reflection on both natural and artificial ecstasy, and the paradoxical relationship with time that the experience of ecstasy brings with itself (in the words of an ecstasy user: “ I have nostalgia for the moment I am living”). A sand writtend text welcomed the audience into the environment, with a quote by XVIIth century Spanish poet Francisco de Quevedo: “Ephemeral, yet permanent and lasting” (“Lo fugitivo permanece y dura”).  A Van Der Graaf Generator in the end of the installation provided a soundtrack that pretty much replicated the feeling of a techno dance club, a common haven for ecstasy culture.

catalogue text by Franklin Sirmans (below)



Ephemeral (2001), sand

Ephemeral (2001), sand

Pablo Helguera

Everythingness (Unfeeling)

“My soul was a burden, bruised and bleeding. It was tired of the man who

carried it, but I found no place to set it down to rest. It found no peace

in song or laughter, none in the company of friends at table or in the

pleasures of love, none even in books or poetry…. Where could I go, yet

leave myself behind?

-St. Augustine

“Let’s get high…,” Dr. Dre intones on his recent Grammy award-winning album

as countless other performers have bellowed before him. Pink Floyd likened a

similar effect to the sensation of being “comfortably numb.” While prayer

and comportment may lead to spiritual relief and even abundant contentment,

the quest to attain bliss comes in many secular forms-aside from a day at

the spa-legal and illegal. St. Augustine may have been looking for a natural

spiritual high but, since the beginning of time, people have looked to

mind-altering substances for soulful enlightenment.

In his compelling new installation “Everythingness (Unfeeling) Pablo

Helguera likens the paths of getting high (Everythingness) and experiencing

blissful numbness (Unfeeling) to the physical capability for eruption in

volcanoes. Metaphorical orgasms aside, this atomization of natural, physical

and mental sensation is made visible by text, object and image displayed as

a cohesive whole in the darkened space of the gallery. Rather than marijuana

or heroin, Helguera has selected ecstasy for its unique name that unlike

most other drugs implies euphoria in its linguistic designation. Ecstasy,

the feel good drug that makes you comfortable, friendly, and happy also

connotes the bodily sensation of ecstatic physicality, conjuring an extended

space in time for the orgasmic moment of sex. The extended moment captured

by the drug represents the place where everything is attainable, or at least

the feeling that everything is attainable. The fact that Helguera’s title

implies the ambiguity of such a thing is the point. To have everything may

be to feel nothing.

Helguera, like Fred Wilson, has long pursued an institutional critique by

employing varied elements of display-cabinets of curiosity, live performance

and music-akin to natural history museums and theater. In the process he has

found ideal media to explore social and cultural issues often through

biographical narratives weaving fact and fiction and mixing up art and

artifact. As much as Helguera’s art is about art historical precedents and

the institutional structures of museums, his art is about people, or the

all-encompassing “humanity,” in a cultural epoch where it all feels

manufactured to dull our belief systems in anything. Inspired by a

philosophical inquiry into the nature of human behavior, Helguera began the

ongoing Everythingness series last year presenting a fictional corporation

that commodified time for sale. The style and form of high-production

advertising was coopted to challenge the insipid banality of corporate

imagery. This second part, Everythingness (Unfeeling) is about capturing and

controlling the human spirit. Bombarded by artificial stimuli, such as the

violence of video gaming, unabashed sex selling everything from beer to

toasters, and the universal standby, drugs, Helguera’s work highlighs our

attempts to harness and utilize these potentially powerful experiences to

control our level of happiness.

As in past works, Everythingness (Unfeeling) comes from a strategy of

investigation that places emphasis on an archive of narratives both lived

and invented, given synergy by their placement together as a new whole. Yet,

unlike those past text-driven works, for the first time, Helguera has placed

his faith first and foremost in the value of the images to direct the story.

1,500 plaster casts cut from Jello molds represent the amount of existing

volcanoes in the world, displayed on hanging platforms with a registry of

the volcanoes projected onto the wall. “Ephemeral, yet permanent and

lasting,” the words of the Spanish 17th century poet Francisco de Quevedo,

reads the powdered text on a pedestal nearby, reminding us of the Sisyphean

commitment to getting high, which maintains that more, and more is a

necessary tenet. A testimonial of experiences with ecstasy and other drugs

is drawn out with small capsules resembling the drug: “I had nostalgia for

the moment I was living. I experienced a kind of wordless glory. This was

the best I’d ever felt in my life. The static passing of a Saturday

afternoon had been broken.” If this sounds formally tame, there’s an eerie,

reddish video image of burning oxen and a techno music soundtrack further

emphasizing the contested space between the real and the emotionally

supernatural realm of euphoria. Sometimes we forget that the world of the

plastic visual arts is as much a place of wonder and fantasy-suspended

belief- as that of contemporary film, music and television. It is not

forgotten here. The cacophony of sound, text and image provide the

atmosphere to recall or at least challenge tropes of happiness and their

relation to everythingness.

As a performance artist, visual artist and scriptwriter, Helguera is keenly

attuned to the displacement of value in cultural production. His

installation evokes the myriad ways in which installation art has mutated

from Kurt Schwitter’s 1923 house installation to the social critique of

Alfredo Jaar, to Cecilia Vicuna’s displacement of nature in the gallery, to

Barbara Kruger’s textual interventions and the most recent hypermedia-wired

atmospherics of more recent installation art. Within these formal confines,

he has visualized “Everythingness (Unfeeling)” successfully leaving us with

more questions than answers. How do we visualize ‘everything’? What is a

state of ‘everythingness’ or having it all? For Pablo Helguera,

‘everythingness’ is a critical fiction-a politics of the imagination-and

like the quest for Spiritual Enlightenment, ‘everythingness’ is a radically

contested subjective space where we are looking for more of something we

feel we don’t have-to control the uncontrollable in a world where paradox


Franklin Sirmans

Tags: , , ,