An Ideological Critique of Robert Gober’s ‘Untitled’ Exhibition

We live in an intangible reality. We live in a reality of media, capital, and ideology. The things we depend on are completely superficial. 

But our lives feel real.

It is easy to understand that money isn’t real and the economy is something that we have concocted in our minds. In spite of this, the ideology of this world has become overwhelmingly real. We protect our money with our lives and feel fear when we receive the news of our ‘failing economy’. 

But it is still just an illusion of reality.

Recently, I had the privilege of visiting the Glenstone Art Museum in Potomac, Maryland with a friend. There were a myriad of unique exhibits and pieces. But the ‘Untitled’ presentation by Robert Gober left me dumbfounded. I have never experienced such a realistic representation of our encapsulating world ideology and authority of mass media.

The exhibit is somewhat hidden in this spacious art museum. Upon entering, I heard the sound of water rushing. I was confronted with a dark entrance, and a light illuminating from a different room. There were a plethora of newspapers surrounding me. 

Then I walked into the room, and was surprised at the view in front of me. There were several sinks, all running continuously. Newspapers and arsenic occupied the floor, and prison windows served as light illuminating the painted forest mural, as seen in the pictures here. 

The exhibition made me feel like I was walking through my ideological reality. It was surreal. 

The ruse of the ‘rushing water’ coupled with the forest mural made me feel like I should be in the tangible reality of nature, but I only walked into a room full of sinks and painted trees.

The ruse of reality.

Our intangible reality is a hallucination with false links to true reality.

Furthermore, the newspapers on the floor show the foundation of our false lives. Mass media: constantly pouring useless information, constantly feeding into this ideology. 

How much do you know about the trees in your backyard? Or the forestry near you, or the biosystems that support life in your community? 

Probably nothing.

But we know of events, and people that have no real attachment to our lives. We have stopped experiencing our reality, but live through the reality set forth by the propaganda in front of us. 

And just like the never ending water coming from the sinks in the exhibit, there is a never ending cycle of news and ideology. We need it to survive—to participate in this false idea of a reality. The red rat bait next to the sinks emphasizes the threatening nature of media, literally taking away the life around us.

© Robert Gober

Slavoj Zizek, an eminent philosopher quotes,

I already am eating from the trash can all the time. The name of this trash can is ideology. The material force of ideology makes me not see what I am effectively eating.

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (2012) 

This trash can of ideology, these over-filling sinks, the rat bait boxes, all direct us to the unfortunate reality.

The fact that our reality does not exist. 

Our emotions, our ideas, our lives depend on this constant flow of information: we survive by the ideology we were born into.

Robert Gobers Untitled piece gave me a glimpse of this ideology stripped down to its core. A prison with painted trees. A reality of newspapers. A room full of sinks. 

Where is genuine thought? Or genuine reality?

Robert Gober himself quotes,

You grow up trying to interpret., worshipping, visual symbols. It’s a body-soaked imagery that you’re looking at.

Robert Gober

Upon leaving the gallery, I felt lost in this concept of ideology and media. I began to wonder which parts of my identity, which parts of my reality are original, and raw. What hasn’t been spoiled yet?

And it was the walk back to my car from the gallery which made me feel grounded in reality.

Simply by talking to someone near me. Simply by breathing the real air around me. And just existing in that moment.

Fortunately not all is lost.

There is a small escape from this over-flow of ideology in our lives.

We have small escapes through the emotions we feel through our close inter-personal relationships. We escape through bonding with nature. Through self-education and pure thought.

Though it will be impossible to leave this room of sinks, take a moment and evaluate the tangible, the real aspects of your existence.

And, perhaps, invest your time into those facets of your life: instead of the never ceasing faucets of ideology. 

TREMG news

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