Is thinking a specifically singular activity? Is existence utterly isolated? Is “to think and be” a thing to do alone? Is it at all possible that there be a “we” in this thinking, we as a collective of “I”s? Can we think of ourselves as a “we”, truly together, or do we just go along, watching the stupidity of each other and try to get away with what we can? Can we think – and be – together?
We certainly have a notion of a “we” in cities, laws, families and music. It is in the interplay between right and wrong, sense and chaos, lyrics and rhythm. Retribution Gospel Choir – on stage this week with Wilco’s Nels Cline at Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory – offered a number of connecting moments, long and straining, the guitars back and forth, Alan Sparhawk singing: Nobody put up a fight. Everyone out on the ice. You and I don’t lie. It is moments like these that there seems to be some sense to “we”, the intertwining sounds, like we’re going somewhere, wonder and excitement at every turn. Ragnar Kjartansson’s work The Visitors – at Luhring Augustine until March – develops this feeling of joy and unity as well. The communication between musicians, each alone in his/her own space, joined only by headphones, the music, flowing through crescendos and silence, until coming together, exiting the house into the wide misty expanse of what might come next. Hope looms. The same cannot be said of Andy Kaufman.Kaufman’s work – celebrated this week at the Maccorone Gallery in Greenwich – centered on the characterization of idiosyncratic individuals who didn’t fit in with the everyone else. Wide-eyed, smiling, Kaufman looked back like he wanted to be understood, waffling between child-like wonder and childish behavior, pushing us to reject him, which we inevitably did. “You could never like me. I always knew that.” That’s how he wanted it; if you weren’t in on the gag, so what?
As much of a cornerstone as the “I” might be in the work of Kjartansson and Retribution Gospel Choir, there is the invitation, a query as to what might be thought of next – not just the those on view – but the “we” in all of us “I”s too.