Reviewed by Akina Cox
In 1977, NASA attached to the Voyager space shuttle a golden record. with Assembled by a team led by Carl Sagan, the record collected music, pictures, and sounds, a message from to the cosmos. Photographs of Jane Goodall, a supermarket, the Sydney Opera House, and an elephant mixed in with Sagan’s sonic selections of a Brandenburg concerto, gamelan music, and Louis Armstrong playing the “Melancholy Blues,” as well as sounds of thunder and a blacksmith in his forge. There are diagrams printed on the cover of the golden record, loosely resemblng other plaques previously sent to space. Instructions on how to operate the record player are printed in binary code.
I wonder what would happen if aliens ever came across the Voyager. Creeping over to the probe downed onto the surface of their rare habitable planet, circling around it and contemplating its meaning, fuzzy tentacles wrapping over the record’s etched instructions and golden grooves, trying to solve what fell from the sky. They will either a) be able to understand the records or b) experience them with senses similar to ours. Well, that is if they’ll even be able to play them.
I have a feeling though that if another life form happens across our golden records, it will spend time and energy trying to understand it. I’m guessing that at the very least, the deliberate markings and composition of the golden records will communicate a basic message—that there are others out there who desire to make contact.
I have seen Paul’s work many times over the past several years, and it still feels foreign. Each time I feel as though I have found a golden record, and I am the alien with furry tentacles that hasn’t broken the code. The mystery of his work has cast a spell on me, and I am content to contemplate without any answers.
What perplexes me is his sense of timing. He makes dozens of luscious, visually arresting photographs for each project. Seduced by his use of colors, his elaborate sets, I want to be allowed to spend time with the images, to appreciate them. Paul seems to anticipate this, and ensure that it won’t happen.
He often rotates the photos during the duration of the opening, or edits them into a stop-motion video. The only time I’ve been able to be in control of the time I spend with his work is when he makes a book. But even then, I glimpse the book at some opening and flip through it. Jostled by others and not wanting to be a hog, I usually just give it a cursory glance.
The hidden logic behind his work and its visual generosity pull at me like antipodal forces, and I float, perfectly balanced, between both extremes. Paul’s desire to control the relationship between his audience and his images undercuts their seductive qualities. Instead of narrowing the discussion, though, he cracks it open.
Over the years, I have come to understand that Paul’s work is about familiarity, memory, and relationships. His work feels like dispatches from another lonely planet, recognizable yet unfamiliar. It is ultimately straightforward, but to accommodate it we need to be open to unanticipated possibilities.
His new books “3,4,5”, “&8” are extensions of this conversation. Diary-like entries punctuate a series of photos, each dated so the two correspond no year though, just the month and day. Although the written entries mostly consist of dissections of relationships, no proper names are mentioned. “He” could be anyone from a family member, boyfriend, or pet. The reveal without specificity mirrors the photos of “3,4,5” “&8.” The images are often collaged, the recognizable is distorted, and then the artist’s hand enters the frame to point at… something. The elucidating gesture is performative, stymieing any easy read.
These images are familiar enough to be almost a memory, if not of your life than an old school Sesame Street episode you watched before you knew how to write. The images are just comfortable and inviting enough to bring you through the writing, which is so personal and raw I felt myself moving away from the book as I read. I tried to experience the text as a stranger, not as a familiar, but I couldn’t.
Right now, the Voyager is making its way through the heliosphere, the edge of our solar system. Running on as much energy as a refrigerator light bulb, the probe sends back to us information that is transforming our theories about the construction of our solar system, our place in the universe. Paul’s work, his photos of ceramic seals and post-it wallpaper and unvarnished chronicles, also sends us information about ourselves, information that pins us down with cosmic possibilities.
Paul Pescador, “3,4,5”, “&8”, (artist book, 2012)
Images: Cover and interior images from “3,4,5”, “&8”, courtesy of the artist.