November 2011

A joint exhibition with Jess Copsey exploring the discovery and manifestation of pure and wonderful joy. Work exhibited in Christopher Melgram's Refound pop up shop and gallery with an introduction by Sam Bellacosa.

Totems of Joy
The Library of Joy
Interesting facts about joy (collage, ink and pencil)
& exhibition poster

Joy from afar

An Introduction by Sam Bellacosa

“O! Joy!” – Stimpson J. Cat

How to write on the subject of joy? As is the wont of inferior critics and intellectual dilettantes, I began searching the great cache of literary quotations for wisdoms of the ages. I needed a snappy epigram, one which would write this essay for me.

Yet something happened somewhere along the way—something which I've always felt to be the case; that the actual experience cannot be captured in any kind of exacting representation whatsoever. All the great writers of the West could only point toward that which lies in joy's wake. This harsh disjunction between residual memory and juddering reality might best be described by our generation as the comedown.

The long-forgotten poet Alan Seeger was born in New York in 1888. He graduated from Harvard University in 1910, moving back to New York to become a bohemian in Greenwich Village. He then relocated to Paris' Latin Quarter, the underbelly of Parisian culture in the années folles. To get completely fucked in this time and place was ritual, a Holy Communion for the hedonist. Dark-haired and dashing, the young poet was no doubt familiar with the metaphysical preponderance of the hangover.

In An Ode to Antares, through the aureate language of poets past, with more than a nod to Baudelaire, the vulgar blooms of perfumed flowers fold into reminisces of the beds he's shared. FOOTNOTE(((Typically, the French have a name for the post-orgasmic comedown—the petit mort.)))FOOTNOTE Here Seeger bears aloft a debatable point—the capacity for joyous moments is proportionately diminished by the advancement of adulthood. The last two lines read:

At Earth's great market where joy is trafficked in
Buy while thy purse yet swells with golden youth!

Seeger died young, in 1914 at the age of 26, as an officer in the French Foreign Legion along the Belgian front, far away from the Rive Gauche. Drenched in blood, he exhorted his fellow men to rush the fox hole from whence the machine gun's fire came. He had prefigured his death in this way—to die in his sexy prime.

He'd bought the manifold pleasures incumbent on the young, experiencing both joy and joy's departure in as many weekends as possible. But Seeger's last lines also introduce another point—youth compounds joy into commodity, a fact not lost on a host of marketing ‘experts.’ While surely they too share in joy's multiplicity, they rarely capture the authenticity of youthful experience. Through the precise crap-ness of planned obsolescence and the cant of fashion, manufactured joy is fleeting in the modern marketplace.

By the example of Seeger's death I do not declare that we must die in a blaze of jejune glory, for joy is not relegated to the realm of youth. We are not so tragically hip as our young hero. Yet it goes without saying that as we age, the increasing severity of our hangovers often outweighs the drunken revelry of the night past. Instead we turn to less brain-addling pleasures. Some take up sport; for example long-distance cycling and its attendant hosiery.

To age gracefully brings joy upon reflection. But for those vain beasts who stalk youth in search of joy rather than finding it within themselves, we have the figurehead of Silvio Berlusconi, the triumphant symbol of a perverse internal struggle. The hangover is no longer at the lothario's own expense, but rather at the expense of more nubile figures. They in turn search not for joy but the trappings of wealth and power, the fool's gold of joy. The ‘silver fox’–moreoften a randy, rich old goat—is the deformed character Seeger avoided becoming by welcoming twenty rounds to his breast.

All this aside, I would like to return to individual and collective experiences of joy and the macroscopic possibilities wherein the joy of which I write makes itself manifest.

Our not-so-distant forebears, raving 'til dawn in the expansive fields of the English countryside, borrowed a synonymous term to describe the chemical effects of methylenedioxymethamphetamine, a synthetic stimulant producing heightened states of euphoria and a general feeling of well-being and camaraderie. They called it Ecstasy, from the Greek ekstasis, or, “standing outside oneself.”

The French have a characterization for the universe of petit vices to which Ecstasy belongs—the condensé de joie, or ‘condensed joy.’ In tablet form Ecstasy is the Eucharist of late-20th century clubbing subculture, your communion for a few quid. In Christian theology, this tenet—that the bread wafer constitutes the symbolic body of Christ—is known as Transubstantiation; we are brought closer to the Holy Spirit through consumption. When we consume Ecstasy, or cheap lager or copious triple-vodkas for that matter, we are both spiritually and physically altered. This is called being “off one's face,” and in some major way we lose the material sense of self–our face in the mirror—and join a collective identity of the truly fucked, a frenzied body of pure, condensed joy.

The heyday of clubbing, house music, and Ecstasy usage has waned; laws were passed banning such raves and the drug's use was strictly regulated. Wordsworth writes in The Fountain: “And often, glad no more/We wear a face of joy, because/We have been glad of yore.” We need only to navigate to the YouTube links of countless, classic house music anthems to witness for ourselves the bittersweet nature of joy. Here, scattered amongst the user comments, we find the physical space of memory—the backseats of Ford compacts, cassette tracks ripped from pirate radio, halcyon nights somewhere on the outskirts of Birmingham, “CHUUUUUNNNNE!” writ large on the consciousness of the multitude.

The two young heroines of this special exhibition offer you a ‘Compendium of Joy’. These delightful mademoiselles do not purport to have written a cyclopedia on the subject, for joy is invisible, wholly subjective, and sensuously individual. The works displayed are not vessels for joy; they are, perhaps, more so the props for a certain kind of stage, upon which you—dear exhibition-goer—are one of the players tonight. There will not be any freely distributed Ecstasy, but there should be some free drinks. It is our hope that here you will find joy for yourself, within this subculture of your own construction, and we hope you will give yourself to those around you, for joy is best shared with others.

Sam Bellacosa is one of the brightest minds of his generation, and we are extremely proud to have him introduce A Compendium of Joy. While we do not know of his exact plans for the future, we hope that he will become a leading intellectual on radio 4, and/or in charge of MTV.