The sculptures in Christopher Wise’s exhibition Affliction reveal the power in the infinitesimal. Microscopic specimens: spores, bacteria, viruses are recreated on a grand scale. The prosaic materials, common to Thailand, hint at the dark roots of materialism, industry and policy whose banality make us ill. Yet the bold primary colors have a simple beauty that echoes the seductive qualities of the “entertainments and devices” we are addicted to, things we know are unhealthy but can’t put away. Reminiscent of enlarged toys, the specimens symbolize an immature curiosity that never learns. Objects are multiplied to be come a new object, as cells divide and grow to become organisms. With the addition of other surfaces or other objects, they evolve to become more beautiful, addictive and irresistible.
In Le desert, Albert Camus speaks of a “repugnant materialism” where everything we do and pursue in a capitalist age ravages our very existence — where we voluntarily swap dead ideas for living realities, another type of contagion. The Plague of Camus’ novel, the critic John Cruikshank insists, is also a reflection on “man’s metaphysical dereliction in the world.” We are powerless to resist, no vaccines or antibodies can stop us spreading the affliction. We “share” and “like” our phantasmagoria across the world.
The pieces are named in Latin, referring to a resemblance to events and things occurring during our own time of affliction.
“O what has come over us? Where arethe violent fates pushing us back to? I see passing by, in headlong flight,time which makes the world a fleeting place. There seems to be no defense andno understanding of the cause of the afflictions. Was it the operation of theheavenly bodies or of our own iniquitous doings, being sent down upon mankindfor our correction by the wrath of an almighty power? Our distraction byentertainments and devices, ignorant of seeing the almighty in theinfinitesimal. We are absorbed in pleasure with song and revel, sparing tosatisfy no appetite, and to laugh and mock at no event. A plague of ecstaticdespair echoes throughout the East and West, persons are distraught and almostwithout feeling. Little by little, from town to town, from village to village,from house to house, and finally from person to person the connective tissue ofthe affliction-ridden society has come undone and in its place a cruel, surrealrapport. The afflictions have made us more avaricious and grasping, even thoughwe have far greater possessions. More covetous and disturbed by each other morefrequently with suits, brawls, disputes, and pleas.
As we recognize our own afflictions,not to speak of many others of a similar or even graver complexion, diverseapprehensions and imaginations we view each other with harsh resolution, toshun and abhor all contact with the sick thinking, thereby to make our ownhealth secure. Sound judgment, perhaps, as it affirmed that there was nomedicine for the affliction superior or equal in efficacy to flight. But towhere? Our need to have the freedom sufficient to satisfy our appetites not asrecluses, but free to enviously regard those things particularly to our tasteor liking.
Lamenting our misery, we fear toremain, yet dare not flee.”