IMN #26 — Drift
It's Monday Night #26
Let’s share thoughts about @DrifterShoots’s work. Nietzsche said: "When you stare into the abyss the abyss stares back at you." Drift's photographs are an attempt to sustain the gaze of the abyss & document the vertigo that comes with it.
How can a photograph of a pair of Vans on top of a skyscraper be culturally relevant?
At first glance, Drift's shots did not catch my attention: I only recognized a sensationalist aesthetic that produces a cheap scare and a fascination similar to any Hollywood superhero movie.
But it was a superficial and quick read, which many people will have.
The problem with these photographs is that they seem too easy to interpret and that this apparent ease of interpretation conceals a deeper meaning.
In my opinion, @DrifterShoots's work has a remarkable understanding of the urban architecture of large metropolitan areas.
More specifically, he captures the way in which the metamorphosis of modern cities during the twentieth century has transformed human subjectivity, its affects, its self-awareness and even its capacity to dream.
You can't understand @DrifterShoots's work if you don't have in mind the concept of "congestion culture" that architect Reem Koolhaas invented to describe the genesis of Manhattan "Delirious New-York".
"Congestion culture" refers to the fact that the great American city tries to combine maximum diversity with maximum density.
This is why it revolutionizes the old European architectural principles: it aims to generate the most interaction in the least amount of space.
The result is a city which is overcrowded and characterized above all by the bigness of its forms and the chaos of its organisation. : the skyscraper - the vertical city within the city - is perhaps the most obvious and aberrant symptom.
The skyscraper is a symbol of exponential growth without identity, based on the destruction of previous uses, traditions and habitats: a monster that is a purely disproportionate envelope, enclosing a void open to any activity.
As with the conquest of space in the 1960s, the skyscraper moves the boundary to the sky - and the invention of the mythological figure of the American skyline.
The anarchic urban development produces a separation between an earthly city - crowded, labyrinthine, blurred - and a sky city - built high up, close to the clouds.
The skyscraper is both what produces a narrowing of perspectives - from the ground - and an unfolding of the view - from the top.
It contains the downfall and salvation of the spirit that tries to make sense of its metropolitan environment.
Below, hell: the all-too-human desert of the city - aggressive chaos of diverse and random sensations; above: divine perception which brings order not against but within the chaos, like the eye of a god.
By choosing verticality, the big city has become chaotic (there are too many people in too small a place) but, from this chaos, it has given rise to points that escape the chaos, at very high altitude.
Through his photographic work, @DrifterShoots perfectly captures this dialectic of chaos and vertical rectitude of the urban bigness.
Each photograph is a performance - which includes, of course, the risk of getting caught, injured or worse, stuck, and so on.
But that's not what makes this performance remarkable - otherwise it would be a simple feat, without any artistic value.
What is culturally significant is to manage to translate plastically the essence of metropolitan life: the sum of disasters that almost happen every second and that - sometimes - do happen.
Each photo in @DrifterShoots is an attempt to stand as close to danger as possible - which has the double characteristic of being the point of greatest height, the point of greatest proximity to the void.
The artistic practice of @DrifterShoots contains a radical, disproportionate statement: equating human and divine perspective.
From this perch, the city becomes a purely aesthetic space, a landscape that is closer to a natural reality (eternal, immobile, independent of human activities, etc.) than a cultural fact.
The adrenaline of the shot and the delirious solitude that accompanies it also transforms the city into a desert empty of any human soul - except that of the one who looks at and re-evaluates this hallucinating product of history that is a metropolis.
That's why I consider @DrifterShoots's photographs not only as works of art but also as spiritual exercises - involving self-mastery and self-knowledge, inner peace, but also an art of contemplation.
He plays with the hypothesis of suicide in order to refute it radically; what he stages is a face-to-face encounter with death and the triumph of the life drive.
But, paradoxically, the realization of this practical wisdom touches on madness.
It confronts the human subject with an irrational peril and, from this ordeal, only a simulacrum remains - the spectacular trace of the photographer's confrontation with the search for a new cosmology when the world below has become uninhabitable.
The hope of restoring order to the city (which, from the ground, looks like a shattered anthill) turns into its opposite: a pure vertigo, that is to say, a representation without an object, the ground that slips away and the vibration of bottomless depths.
The height, which should make it possible to gather the world in a single perspective, gives to space a coherence (by symmetry, contrast or perceptible similarities) and makes us unable, under the effect of vertigo, to understand it as such.
In addition, the trend towards gigantism (bridges, skyscrapers, shopping malls, etc.) in the center of large cities multiplies the points of height to infinity and destroys any attempt to homogenize the urban space within a single framework.
@DrifterShoots is an ode to the irreducible multiplicity of the metropolitan monster.
Hence the pair of Vans which, from one photo to another, constitutes the signature, the common denominator and the wink which, from the earth to the sky, from one sky to another, trivializes extreme and at the same time, by contrast, underlines all its radicality.
A pair of Vans: shoes that connote, in the collective imaginary, a quiet and uneventful lifestyle, vaguely skateboarder - this is not Nike and its Just do it or Adidas and its Impossible is nothing. It's Vans, simply Off the wall, casual, offbeat, etc.
The shoes also decentralize the gaze from the photographer's point of view to a sign present in the field: these shoes, both anecdotal and inescapable, which give a landmark and above all an anchor at the moment of the greatest suspension in the void.
After having been skeptical, I now think that @DrifterShoots' work marks a turning point in the photographic approach to the post-modern megalopolis and that it shows, through its assumed artificiality, its character as both phantasmagorical and deeply material.