The poems in M Kitchell’s Variations on the Sun are the subtle camera movements you’re faintly aware of during a movie that will eventually end—a landscape-subterfuge of disparate black and white photographs (a cliff, a sea vessel, a desolate building, etc.) and during the moment you finally reach out to “verify your continued existence,” Kitchell’s simulacrum will offer you a window and each pane of glass will be painted thick with black. The artist forces you to endure blindness—indefinite discipline—through seeing.
Similar to the way Antonioni’s Red Desert alienates by way of repetitive, contiguous industrial imagery, Kitchell exacts alienation through a series of copies: a nature communicated as architecture and vice versa. For example, the page 12 that contains a photograph of a sun peering through treetops and the page 13 that contains text describing uninhibited hallways—I found many of these pairings impressively harrowing! “The space between the hallway and the body is too distanced.” The mind can build and articulate what is visible (“Truth”) through its construction of language and speech, and Kitchell’s speaker utilizes the theoretical multiplicity behind the understanding of such a relationship to erect an alternative world. The implementation begins with an erasure—a redescription of the body:
“There are no faces on the bodies, no arms, no legs, no genitalia, no hair, no eyes, no fingernails, no fingers, no hands, no toes, no feet, no ears, no nose, no mouth, no eye-brows, no eye-lashes, no eyes, no chest, no armpits, no nipples, no belly-button, no ass-hole, no ass, no crotch, no torso, no hips, there are no bodies.”
Such a significantly dark negation comes very early (fifth) in a chronology of fifty works, yet the reader moves forward through stages like “The Chorus of Voices” and even “The Zone of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility.” This early negation—this Nietzschean “will to nothingness” might be better understood as a will to light. (One should also consider Deleuze’s request for the exploitation of Nietzsche’s “will to nothingness.”) But the artist’s posturing of the sun as well as the designation of the raw light of the sun offers a rather satisfying ambivalence. There are times when the sun can be perceived as violent:
“The fire moves from the center of the frame to the left edge, the photograph bent. The bent photograph equals faces’ point, the face is, the face was one, the sun is a set, the sun has set, another sun is set.”
And there are selections that suggest that bodies sometimes cannot resist the fire. That the fiery light can be tempting:
“But walking through flames held its own allure, whether we were ready to leave or not.”
The first selection appears to signify a reality moving inward—a fold moving into a void. Another “sun is set.” This book—this series of variations—very much reads like a pattern of excruciating folds. In some instances, Kitchell’s sequence of text/photography rids itself completely of familiarity and, instead, builds something Baudrillardian: a “synthesis of combinatory models in a hyperspace without atmosphere.” For instance, in “The White Page,” the artist strips away atmosphere, leaving you with a substance that I’ll only describe as “ghost.” Themes of fakeness and hyperreality are further addressed in “The Park Where The Men Wait,” where reality seemingly dies out. Mentions of “fake trees” and “fake grass” are juxtaposed with a photograph of a leafless tree.
Mere stultification does not appear to be the goal of Variations, nor does it appear to be to render the body useless or to cause prolonged paralysis. I interpret M Kitchell’s quest as a quest for a painless light—and readers will find pleasure in his darkness just as they will surely find it in the light of his sky. This book harnesses a hopeful glow deep inside its creaking floors and its secret passages.
“Once the book has been compiled our task, what we have to do, will be finished. After this we can wander into the forest and start inventing new stories. With the new stories we can create ourselves again.”
Perhaps we must diminish ourselves before we can successfully transform ourselves.
Variations on the Sun is now available for purchase from Love Symbol Press.