Review by Gretchen Holmes
You might not care about Lacan or Zizek, but you totally feel Cheap Trick when they say "I Want You to Want Me." That's Objet Petit A in a nutshell. And this Friday I want you to want to be at Spoke, when an array of artist-designed piñatas curated by Dayton Castleman and Matthew Dupont is auctioned off and destroyed by the highest bidders. Piñatas by Michael Jones McKean, Abby Christensen, Ben Fain, Jose Lerma & Cristina Tufino, Tomas Moreno, Harriet Salmon, Astri Swendsrud, and Emily Vanhoff range from austere to whimsical. At 9pm, a Piñata Smashing Spectacle will expose
each piñata's mysterious innards.
The show's title (Objet Petit A ) comes from post-Freudian theorist Jacques Lacan, and the public piñata smashing neatly illustrates Lacan's concept of desire: our insatiable need to be loved projects itself as an insatiable need to love something, anything (like a piñata). This love object must remain unattainable and, therefore, perpetually available to receive our love and reciprocate it in an ambiguous, unfinished way (kind of like an art object). Our desire is like a jigsaw puzzle, and we just keep waiting for our love object to hand over the final piece--that's objet petit a, that unknowable Something that will make us whole again, inconveniently buried inside our love object for the time being. (Is it candy? Is it dirty underwear?) We start to get impatient. (Pick up the baseball bat...) Unable to bear the suspense, we tear into our love object, search and destroy. Sometimes we find what we're looking for; sometimes we don't.
In the spirit of Freud and his progeny, a case study: Last month, Renee Zellweger appeared on Letterman and was persuaded to smash a piñata. What would she recover by destroying this object? The dignity she lost doing New in Town?
Clearly, she was expecting this:
Poor Renee. She thought tearing apart her love object would fulfill her true desire (to be desired); instead, she got covered in guacamole.
Like Lacan's objet petit a, Castelman and Dupont's Objet Petit A functions as both a performance and a proposition. While viewers enact the misshapen love triangle connecting the self, the love object, and objet petit a, the anticipated smashing ceremony measures the value of the piñatas as art objects against their value as art experiences. Which is more satisfying: admiring these fine hanging sculptures or participating in a hip, inspired display of aggression? Are the piñata's hidden contents more desirable than the intact sculpture? This is the dilemma of objet petit a: a Catch 22 that promises either to destroy us with guilt or plague us with regret.
Conceptually, Objet Petit A might come across as esoteric, rarified, and didactic. Sure, the show's title references theory; sure, the cognoscenti will appreciate a certain richness in the relationship between the piñata and Lacan's object of desire; but the beauty of a project that transforms dense theoretical concepts into creative experiences is that it dislodges an idea from its strict epistemological context, encouraging imaginative interpretations, inspired misunderstandings, and play. Before you dismiss it as all head/no heart, consider this: they're piñatas, they're full of god-knows-what, and someone--maybe even you--will get to smash the hell out of them. None of this comes with required reading.
Petit Objet A promises to fulfill an array of desires: Arcane conceptualism? Check! Well-crafted sculpture? Audience participation? Suspense? Violence? Check, double-check! In their curatorial statement, Castleman and Dupont modestly state that "the piñata's teleological climax may very well be phenomenologically anti-climatic." Phenomenological climax is overrated. Piñata Smashing Spectacle: You had me at hello.