The Place of Dead Roads (2013)

Joachim Koester

Video, color, sound, 33’30”

An exploratory starting point is the video work The Place of Dead Roads. Referencing a western novel of the same name by William S. Burroughs, four androgynous cowboys inhabit a space not unlike the one in which the spectator finds themselves. A series of twitches, shudders, full body spasms, gestures both rapid and slow, pulsate through all four figures. Almost as if involved in a classic shoot-out with an invisible opponent, the cowboys draw their guns, go through motions and stances of posturing as if in the middle of both attacking and defending, yet these actions are not driven by a definable narrative. Rather they seem to correspond to something that lies deep within the body, guiding and determining each moment.

Finding inspiration in the idea of Wilhelm Reich that “every muscular contraction contains the history and meaning of its origin”—from which the exhibition takes its title—Koester creates a universe in which each movement tells the story of its past through its present. This implicit ability for our actions to create and maintain their own narrative, embedded under the skin, buried in our tissue, creates a juxtaposition between the hidden and the visible. This division between the hidden traces of the past and what visibly appears in the present is the focus of much of Koester’s work. The nature of the installation gives the spectator a sense of this division, as they act as both viewer and participant, breaking the boundaries between the passive and active in an attempt to investigate that which cannot be seen.

Just as with The Place of Dead Roads, each of the spectator’s movements remain within the context what has come to pass, each movement becoming, in turn, a historical act in itself, invisibly creating the foundation for which each subsequent movement comes from. Echoing this idea of an obscured history, wooden structures and boarded up installations become places of isolated secrecy. They confine and limit, both from the inside and out, allowing those masked acts to remain so.

carrie emberlyn