Peppermint Park was an educational home video series produced in the 1980s by a group of investors seeking to profit off the narrative models that Sesame Street invented for educational children’s entertainment. The show features a cast of puppet characters who teach children various educational lessons, ranging from letters, numbers, colours, animals, and more. Growing up, a family friend had several copies of the VHS tapes and I remember being terrified of an unexplained dance sequence by a breakaway puppet dressed to look like a scarecrow. A few years ago, clips from the show resurfaced online, and my relationship with the dancing scarecrow has shifted from horror to obsession.
In 2010 the physicist Aaron O’Connell and his colleagues proved that a strip of metal, visible to the naked human eye, can both oscillate and not oscillate at the same time. Essentially this means that objects, whatever their size, can be in two places at once. From here it starts to seem like existing means being inconsistent, while dying means becoming consistent. Or that classical logic – where things are either A or B, but never A and B at the same time – is being replaced by a quantum logic which says that all future possibilities exist in the present.
Any good theoretical physicist knows that their models of reality describe an aesthetic conceptual space in which matter is just information. In the words of O’Connell, “people have models of reality, and those models are descriptions, but they don’t get you any closer to the truth.”1 So the way things appear through physical causality takes place amongst a theatre of objects. This isn’t to say that there are screenwriters for our lives, just that every seeing, every measurement, is also an adjustment, a parody, a translation, an interpretation. And who could say that they never resort to narratives to make sense of things?
An entity moving towards death in quantum logic could be said to parallel the narrative convention of moving towards closure in cinema and literature. The frequency and duration of the action on the screen (plot) synchronises ever more tightly with the action in the chronological sequence of events (story). Let’s consider James Cameron’s science fiction actionthriller Terminator. In the year 1984, the Terminator arrives from the year 2029 to assassinate the film’s protagonist Sarah Connor. The entire movie consists of this pursuit, and ends when Sarah destroys the Terminator in a hydraulic press. Plot and story arrive at a 1:1 ratio – a consistency – and the viewers leave the theatre hypnotized by an amorous distance.
Resolution, transformation, development – the screens of cinema and television demand expressions of novelty. What this content emerges from and reproduces is a loop form – an aimless infinity of commercial product cycles concealed behind fresh faces and fashions. But in the exhibition space, the infinite causal loop becomes a narrative technique that can thrive on the surface. It is looping before anyone arrives and after everyone leaves. The loop of the narrative becomes a literal object.
I’m not trying to say I feel particularly liberated as an artist. And I’ve thought about buying a boat and learning how to fish so that I could eat the sea and drink the rain, free from the obligations that a rental apartment and an occupation require. But perhaps that red herring fishing lure I keep to serve as a reminder of this potential has me fooled, as a red herring would in a movie, to think that I would actually feel more free. Perhaps I should invest in a future and start saving and owning, instead of sleeping in living rooms and unfamiliar beds, all just to make things that no one can use.
Is a refrigerator a MacGuffin, a technique people use to orient narratives of economic growth, technological progress, and family values? A product to repeatedly fill with more products? If I had kids, would the fridge be the reason they stuck around? And when they didn’t need me anymore, would they love me in the same way? Would they fantasise about my death and receiving their inheritance? Never mind that, I am not that person right now. And either way I’m a straw man – a fallacy, a contradiction – just trying to get through this dog dick of a day. Perhaps there are many more days… even if it were entirely up to me I wouldn’t be so sure. I start to imagine the infinity of death and panic. I tremble from within this closed loop of thought, but feel connected to everyone else who has ever existed because of it. Being a person means being paranoid that I might be a puppet, and being an artist means making things that you want to see exist, to defy that paranoia, by communicating past anything you could rationally explain away.
1 Aaron O’Connell, “Struggling with Quantum Logic: Q&A with Aaron O’Connell” www.blog.ted.com, 2011 (accessed 19 Aug. 2016)