Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Wild Thing: Charles Fréger's Wilder Mann at Chelsea's Yossi Milo Gallery, April 11 - May 18

May I have the attention of Western civilization for just a moment? Kay, thanks.

Much to the chagrin of our communal elitism, and despite the automatic New York Times updates beamed directly to our iShits, we are not actually civilized. Well, not if Charles Fréger has anything to say about it. Wilder Mann, an exhibit of Fréger’s photography is set to open at New York’s Yossi Milo Gallery, April 11 and will run through May 18.

The show, which is comprised of photos of people looking “wild”—wearing anything from ceremonial garb to throwbacks to ancient folktales—essentializes the idea that no matter how many mobile, wi-fi-enabled devices we carry, or how “civilized” we consider ourselves, humankind is still much wilder than any of us would comfortably admit.

“Wilder Mann,” which translates to “Wild Man” from German, is a photographic series that explores the ancient celebrations and mythology of the primeval “wild men” that lived across Europe. The exhibit explores, among other things, totemic figures and the way they can help us understand humanity’s ancient nature—and how it may—or may not—teach us about the present.

According to the people that study this kind of stuff, the exhibit explores “Neolithic Shamanism.” That’s fancy talk to describe the people who celebrate ancient rites and celebrations of equinoxes, fertility, life, and death, symbolizing the complicated relationship between mankind and nature. It’s pre-religion; it’s part of being a human, the genetic fingerprint that, some argue, predisposes us to tend toward spirituality in its many forms.

Is this our history? It’s still happening…
Charles Fréger From the series Wilder Mann
Wilder Mann 77,  2010-2011 Inkjet Print
© Charles Fréger, Courtesy
…And this is our fashion sense.
Charles Fréger From the series Wilder Mann Boes, Ottana,
Sardinia, Italy, 2010-2011 Inkjet Print
© Charles Fréger, Courtesy
Don’t lie – you’ve seen this look on the street, you’ve seen it in a Ke$ha video or you know someone with that jacket or those shoes (or you’ve spent time with me in the West Village).

It’s reductive to think that we’ve somehow escaped this part of our humanity. Ten thousand years and a myriad of televisions, iPhones, iPads, cellphones, or “illuminated light boxes,” (as one of my ivy-league educated hippie friends is inclined to call them), haven’t made us any more civilized than we might be. These so-called wild things who dress in bear heads and bells and behave like beasts don’t exist in a vacuum or some long-lost hinter-region of a kingdom in Game of Thrones. They’re people - people with various portable Google machines - who are actively participating in primordial expression to this very day. This is the concept that Fréger is most interested in exploring.

“For a few nights you can behave like a goat, drink a lot and forget about being civilized. You can be a wild animal for three days and then you go back to controlling your wildness.” - Charles Fréger

Fréger’s colorful series, which is poignant in its simplicity, challenges us to accept our “wild side” as an essential part of our humanness. Neither category, our civility nor our wildness, can exist without the other. (And before you go getting crazy on me, my friends in cultural studies have already reminded me that terms like “civilized” and “wild” are both dirty words—so don’t think I’m getting colonialist or  epistemologically violent. I know I’m essentializing—this isn’t a dissertation.)
Wait a minute, didn’t I just see this guy on the lineup for Coachella?
Charles Fréger From the series Wilder Mann Laufr (Jumper), 
Třebič, Czech Republic, 2010-2011 Inkjet Print 
© Charles Fréger, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York
It’s when we acknowledge this intrinsic wildness, which Fréger confronts head on, that we can begin to take this whole 21st century iLiving situation less seriously. Exhibits such as this can be windows to gain a deeper understanding of how crazy modernity can be. Ironically, it’s done by confronting us with present-day images of the past. You think the goat-man looks crazy? Imagine how ridiculous you look walking around staring into a magic plastic box talking to your friends who aren’t really there. Horns and furry boots be damned, you’d still look like the crazier person. Face it. We, as members of modern western civilization, are wild and crazy kids. We’re meant to accept this reality—iPhones, invisible tweets, electromagnetic check-ins, and some lady named Siri who lives in our phone—and sometimes, it’s important to remind ourselves not to take it too seriously. Oftentimes it takes artists like Charles Fréger to remind us. Or, ya know, the poet laureate of our generation (I’m only half joking): Ke$ha.

Ke$ha has never taken herself too seriously. There’s a dollar sign in her name for Christ’s sake. But that’s the joy of Ke$ha—while she dances with men in bunny suits, she invites you to take yourself with a grain of salt. Or a pound. Whatever it takes.

I dare you to listen to her new album, Warrior, which includes a track with Iggy Pop entitled “Dirty Love.” (Yes, that EDAS Favorite Iggy Pop. Remember him? The Godfather of punk rock that went on globetrotting drug binges with Bowie for years at a time and requested that Bob Hope lookalikes tell jokes in The Stooges’ dressing room? Yeah. That happened.) You might think Ke$ha is an unkempt poppy hot mess whose music is skillfully marketed toward teenage girls and bacchanalia-loving 20-somethings who spend “Sunday Fundays” drunkenly performing karaoke with their gay best friends. And, well, you’d be right. But she’s much more than that.

Not only has Ke$ha released some of the biggest hits in recent memory (whether or not her songs may contain the words “Show me where your dick’s at” is incidental), she’s written for major industry heavyweights, and even penned Britney Spears’s “Till the World Ends.” (And somehow she still finds the time to engage in enthusiastic beard connoisseurship.)

Ke$ha’s aesthetic is exemplified by an almost bipolar vacillation between salty and sweet; sticky and greasy. She’s a living, breathing oxymoron (most likely equal parts ‘oxy’ and ‘moron’). She can evoke bombastic and explosive visions of feral sexual tension, while at the same time exposing a nerve to sing about raw, vulnerable human emotion. Oh, and she’s doing it while Harley Davidson exhaust fumes billow around her sparkle-filled flaxen hair. But those heartfelt lyrics about loss and living life to the fullest are sandwiched between grandiose proclamations about cocktails and all-night dance parties.

She’s probably out riding a unicorn right now, holding a kitten in one hand and a stiff drink in the other, rocking out to the beat of her own 808 drums, dreaming of ancient and fantastical stories about shimmering narwhals that she can post on Twitter. So take a page from Ke$ha’s playbook. Accept your wild human nature. Engage in your own primordial expression: see the Charles Fréger exhibition at Yossi Milo Gallery.
Whether it’s Fréger or Ke$ha, the lesson is this: We are the crazy people. All of us. The sooner we accept that, the better off we’ll be.

I think.

Stormy Manz
Ke$ha - Crazy Kids

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