Meditations on the Multiple
excerpt from catalogue essay by Maggie Wright
Michelle Levy’s work revolves around a performance, much like a slide lecture, which reveals her consuming desire to find Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), the missing FBI detective from David Lynch’s early 1990s television series “Twin Peaks.” Levy’s presentation reverberates with melancholy, punctuated by the show’s moody soundtrack. Audience members recognize the humor in her performance, but simultaneously identify with the heartbreaking futility of her search. Her fixation on Agent Cooper, a decidedly fictional character, exposes the fragility of our cultural obsessions. Hasn’t everyone found themselves longing for an unattainable figure, real or invented, that exists in the collective imagination? Agent Cooper’s own character parallels the desire in his convoluted search for the murderer of Laura Palmer. His final destiny and whereabouts unknown, he descends, and is ultimately entrapped, in his own psyche. Like a prince in a fairy tale, Levy seeks to rescue him from his demise (both hypothetically and more palpably, by resituating the character of a twenty-year-old show). Her work speaks to the nature of infatuation, yet her optimism that Agent Cooper is “near” also exemplifies the drive of hope in the human mind. In Levy’s image of his “appearance” at the Occupy Wall Street rally in Zuccotti Park, Agent Cooper holds a stenciled sign: “I have no idea where this will lead us. But I have a definite feeling it will be both wonderful and strange.”
Viewers familiar with “Twin Peaks” immediately recognize Agent Cooper’s character, so thoroughly is it infused in the posture and gaze of Levy’s images. In this way, Levy also comments on cultural nostalgia, and a shared identification with stories, television shows, movies and news-worthy events (especially those tinted with scandal or sensationalism). She supports her performance with related ephemera and “evidence” of Agent Cooper’s reemergence. His face materializes in a digital-and-silkscreen series of silhouetted, leafless trees. Silkscreened posters—“Have you seen this man?”—are printed in various stages of detail (as if implying the shadowy domain of a missing person). Digitally enlarged photographic prints offer proof of Agent Cooper “sightings” around Gowanus, Brooklyn. With silkscreen and digital photography, Levy employs techniques identified with the media (“missing person” photos, police sketches of “wanted” men, and tabloid or celebrity photography), thus associating her imagery with that familiar to the national consciousness. Searching for Agent Cooper on Google, Levy also “locates” him on the internet. On a digital print of her findings, she marks those images that are “false” and those that are truly him, commenting on larger questions about image-making, and the constructed “authority” of certain images over others (she seems to comment as well on the web’s ability to fuel the fire of obsession, so to speak). Levy’s project is based partly on the trust in her audience’s suspension of disbelief, but in this “suspension” she explores the nature of obsessive longing and the propulsion of our cultural fascinations.
Meditations on the Multiple was on view at Gowanus Studio Space from December 9 - January 14, 2012.