Eoin Nash and Douglas Fitch, Organs of Emotion, Soft Skull Press -- Reviewed
by Maria Garcia Tabor
"Prohibitions contain their own transgressions," says author Richard Nash to Douglas Fitch when discussing the representation of God made manifest through art. Which reminds me of a saying by the Hebrew prophet Isaiah which I'll paraphrase: "why would I create an image of god and then bow down to it? It would be like bowing down to myself." True enough. Organs of Emotion is an iconoclastic celebration of the self, rendered artistically in all of its beauty-both ethereal and excremental.
This artists' manifesto is very soigné with its pink parchment cover and stunning artwork. In it the authors attempt to define what our emotions look like through interviews, essays, quotes, paintings, sketches, sculpture and conversations-between the authors and the unlikely bedfellows of love and jealousy; hope and fear; quietude and anxiety; and ecstasy and despair. In this way they usher in a new way of seeing that can sometimes only be articulated through the artwork of Douglas Fitch, since words are often inadequate signifiers for what we feel.
The authors smash the Neoplatonic division between the body and soul. The "throbbing lumps of gristle" we call a heart can also be broken because we say so. In Organs of Emotion the soul is not privileged over the body; they are interdependent. Art can be physically constructed, but it's our brains that tell the sculptor where to chip away even while the body warms the chisel.
But this is not a book that takes itself seriously, it is in fact in the very act of silliness that the authors are the most profound. Since I brought Plato into the conversation, one of my favorite passages in the book concerns ideals of beauty:
Plastic surgery has evolved to the point whereby people not only augment lips and breasts and reduce waists and buttocks but cauterize nerves so that the blushing action can be arrested. (A side effect of this surgery is that one can no longer sweat from the waist up; the body compensates by generating extremely sweaty nether regions).
Plastic surgery taken to its absurd extreme: the ability to externally suppress one's emotions. The picture accompanying shows two women, one who looks like a gargoyle and the other your typical Romanesque beauty, the latter a shadow body of the former. We of the Botox generation already see visible proof of attempt at a youthful ideal, no more are the eyes the windows of the soul where one reads expressions of joy, consternation or disapproval-- with Botox there's one reaction for all of our emotions: skin as expressive as an ice sculpture.
But these are the emotions the book extracts from me: in this instance, indignation, which is indicative of the interactivity inherent in the playful nature of the text and artwork. The self-consciousness of body as form represented by Fitch's artwork is sensual and slightly disturbing. His work strikes right through to a kinesthetic level which one immediately feels before the mind can process the image. One such drawing is of an overstuffed armchair composed of breasts and testicles that strikes me immediately as sexual and only secondarily as nurturing.
The examination of these distinctions between what we perceive and how we articulate it are at the heart of Organs of Emotion. The authors begin to help readers to landscape their own emotions singular to each reading. The book seems to say that all interpretations hang from a framework of our own design, and for Nash and Fitch at least, heaven, hell, pleasure, pain, are not dichotomies insomuch as binary stars contained within the constellation of each individual. Humans and their attendant emotions are robots, abstract sculptures, machines-that lead readers to celebrate the absurdity inherent in human nature.