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Patrick McElnea

In a dream that reoccurred over many years, I am a toddler, knee high, chasing an adult woman between rooms, trying to climb under her dress against her will. Once there, I would press my cheeks against her groin and into a crevasse I had never seen. She is laughing nervously, bumping into furniture. My legs can barely keep up as I plunge arms forward like a cartoon pervert. Although my goal is never reached, the many pleasures anticipating my arrival drive the pursuit. I miss what could have been had she stood still, had she actually lived.

Awake and at home, I stood beside my mother while she prepared to write thank-you notes. She sat down at the kitchen desk as if returning to a ceremony. Her pencil took to paper after her face turned to the page. I had yet to grow this promiscuous limb and could learn something of hers; it claimed territory as a glowing orange staff. Old enough to stand, I was spent by illiteracy. Without pause, she set down tiny contours in a line: An F and an M were recognizable from school, but here made no pattern in their repetition, and were only animated in the instant they were etched. Her sentences looked like elaborate cracks and spoke in typo. She was thanking in pieces, led by lead. The pencil seemed to tell her what to follow. It scraped the sky trying to get vertical. Her hand held it gently at the base, in fingers like a letter. The pencil was already fluent in her, so diction simply gurgled out. In accordance with its use and value, words formed rectangular edges, like veins profiling their muscle. The grey hieroglyphics clearly meant someone worth thanking; the pencil's black barb and the hole of her pupil were in sync.

There was less of a connection between her utensil's top and bottom. Locked together by a stick, their only correlation was physics. While the pencil head delivered phrases, the soft end behaved without cause, aware of its context in an unworldly way. The bottom point explained itself, described its actions, while its far nipple quivered without resolve, like the last joint of a ring finger. When the bottom wrote up the top went back, not down; as the words wrote right the erasure moved east. While the shaven bottom spoke, the fleshy, sore nub visibly trembled not to be heard. Unsaid and unseen, they shook as family adversaries whenever the footing shuffled. Dual heads had a body to separate their reverse duel. From kernel to crest the stages upward pointed to a phantom sentence, in the thinnest air, like a leg she couldn't fully move. Between these points, her vertical pencil made a monster. Both ends were locked in a rod of bureaucracy. None of this had to do with giving thanks.

An erasure was there for safety, in case something went wrong. It comes alive with disagreement when the whittled head speaks too soon, but bending in a blur, it keeps grasping to its salmon crow's nest. Incoherent stories shook off the '#2' branded to the pencil's side. The air was fingered like a puddle, as if an erratic palsy could respond to its illness with a performance. I imagined the pictures it drew in spite of the page: The crown of her erasure meant an ascent to the bottom; a totem ladder ungrounded, a high-rise elevator paper-boying for the penthouse haze; phrases lie their way out of a thankless chimney; the smoke spells its many selves from a single point, where an incinerator rubs out its call. Could the reader know what the erasure wrote?

It was not a benevolent signal. I caught it in the act of rewriting words it had earlier erased. Before me shook a miniature memorial attached to the very victims it birthed below. Perhaps my newfound illiteracy could manifest its loss anew, even witness what's been unread. All of the air-written-words, erased as they were made, could be regained, not imagined. No longer did the erasure have to shoulder such erosion. This pink headsman carried the absence that has yet to reside. It might be an unknown way to learn language, to hear my mother; I could become literate in what was lost.

Later, with my art materials, I was sure that the movements I memorized from her erasure could produce a zombie letter of new meaning. I recreated the scenario as closely as possible with page, pencil, left to right pulses, long and short marks evenly uneven. My eyes remained affixed to the rosy tip, which made a flickering shadow on the page, in a secret speech ripe for translation. The more I wrote the more I waved. Peculiar lines mirrored the swaying solid head; my inability to see syntax put the pencil first, as a thing, and drew the entropy of its expression from top to bottom.

The result was too much mine, the reproduction too varied. A litany of bulky scribbles appeared in large lines, evidence of a child's insecure graphite. What looked like the movement of her voice marked the paper as opaque drool; the words became dashes raised from the crypt. I carried it around the house already knowing the page didn't work. My unexpected artwork was a mimic of meaning. There was nothing to understand.

The loss I was after was made in my image; everyone saw something different. My regime of wiggling lines resembled a music score, graffiti scratches, and a self-made exercise. Like any of my other penciled productions I could only read it as a benign memory, when it was awkwardly made, fast, slow and in character. There were different versions that followed, and with every attempt to decipher the pencil's point of deletion I created another drawing. The top only spoke to the bottom in irreparable code. The movement of the erasure existed as a series of events, never the same, homeless to surfaces. Loss was made and only actual as a fiction, a utopia drafted from scratch, exorcised by a fun-house mirror. I missed the images in the erasure that finally became written.

The next day at the YMCA we prepared to swim. I had to accompany my mother into the woman's locker room while she undressed, so I roamed under stall doors. Every changing room meant a discovery; a new body unaware of it's contact with the floor. The lower half seemed more relevant than the startled face further upward. At eye level were irregular kneecaps. I could smell sweat, menstrual blood, and warm chlorine. Tungsten lit legs were stepping into socks and shaving off bathing suits. I enjoyed disrupting their privacy by playing the deviant and the boy. Water dripped onto my head, traces of hair and elastic stuck to my shins. An ongoing name from my mother bounced off the tile ground, as if from a disabled narrator, too familiar to notice. The echo connected her voice to the walls, but said something else by the time it got there, and then something else to me. I was making women laugh, grown women. It violated their safety, not because I was threatening but because I would eventually grow up to become threatening and perhaps continue doing this.

Between the door and the floor I stuck my head. In the stalls I bragged a quick "hello" and retained any visual information that requited my desires, research for dreams. The floor was merely a starting point. The legs represented a vertical climb; 'from below I go higher and rising I disappear.' Everything changes in stages. The toes are seen to the ankle, calf to knee, thigh, upper thigh, upper upper thigh. The width, texture, and smell adjust on upward until my face could sink, could stink- could link my head to the floor. The fantasy was not to dissolve or consummate. It was about degenerative absorption of my body, by hers; an inverted abortion of my parts. This cooperative interplay meant that my body was no longer distinct or finished. There would be no clear achievement made, only creative rearrangement, and active dying. There was no returning to the womb in this workshop-locker-room because every person is different since leaving. My body is traced by its itch for loss, and these broken curiosities make the project.

I followed a random woman into the pool and held onto her foot while it kicked. She pounded me into the foggy water. Left to right her coral-pencil-peg-leg swung as she swam, righting itself in opposing directions. In the frothy aqua I could see blood leaving the leg's top end like an open thermometer, manufacturing its escape. A trail of pale crimson met me swinging, and together we waded. If the bottom testified its thanks, the top redeemed nothing. My face was struck a few times. After a few long seconds she stopped. Someone else lunged me out, onto the cold concrete where other children sat waiting. It's impossible to know individuals as the embodiment of groups. From afar her thuggish heel made sense as it made laps and my senses were red.

Shamed and trembling wet, at an enormous full-length mirror, while my mom redressed, I looked over myself. Despite what the mirror promised, my body was not seen whole. I started from the top down. My eyes scanned the glass and stopped at parts that are named. The reflection writes my alphabet, like a dummy made up of sentences made up of words.

Pat McElnea resides in New York and exhibits his work internationally. He grew up in Southern California, received his BFA from Cooper Union and MFA from Yale University. Former residences in LA, Berlin, Buffalo, New Haven, and Brooklyn have been primary characters in his videos. Painting, short fiction, and criticism also encompass his art practice. Currently he teaches video and theory at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York.

McElnea's videos are concerned with passage between image and language, where abstraction pictures the social and somatic. Collage and montage are central to his practice. His work is fragmentary, but made of chosen fragments they describe distinct spaces in careful proximity to their subjects. McElnea uses available spaces and studio activity interchangeably, as arcades to examine hygiene and its symptoms. Influenced by former employer Mike Kelley and the satirically auto-biographhical work of Lee Lozano, his interests continue toward the connections between cleanliness and legibility. McElnea's interests in text, picture, music, and voice manifest in the studio while working with materials, and in non-illustrative ways. Their fusion imagines an inner life of foreign and familiar selves. His vaguely narrative montages are incursions into subject formation as a subject; in each video he re-stages familiar scenes in new, visually palpable ways, as if to ask the same question in a spectrum of ways. Some of his ancillary resources include theorists Luce Irigaray, Leo Bersani, Jean-Luc Marion, and Joan Copjec. Writers Michel Leiris, Clarice Lispector, John Hawkes, and Samuel Delany are also inspirations.

Taught Dot Dot (2012-13) is a music video collaboration of McElnea and children's musician Eli Bolin, about the advantages of being inarticulate. It is a parody of picturing loss. Instead of using the lead pencil-head to spell out his scribbling clearly, our hero focuses his learning on the quivering erasure, "...Erasing the air." Between litter and literacy, sanitation and annotation, we follow a character with multiple ambitions. Each image the erasure begins to draw informs the next like an interruption. He stays neither clean nor dirty. He tries to learn how to write, learn how to draw, and succumbs to what his imagination can no longer organize; the glamour of shit, the glimmer of dismemberment, to the rhythm of a pop melody. "I'm dotted and you can't remember. But that's ok, we're spotted together." In his own words our author over-enunciates his predicament by drawing unlikely connections, and with a dotted line.

In The Centrist (2010) a narrator is caught in the imagination of two former lovers; the sound his, the image hers. He traces the breakup of a couple that only exist as a pair separated; that which caused the couple's split is also their only channel for correspondence. A third body, sometimes human, is both the chasm causing their separation and the chain of historical associations linking the two. Rooms of a house exist as relics of their relationship. The chimney is one variation of this conflicting third party, as a vertical site connecting multiple floors. The ass, corner, and microphone are also examples. These divisions represent a conduit from top to bottom, partner to partner. The stages between these two pointed pairs remember the couple.

Living Room (2008) explores how an artwork's internal life changes once it is purchased and fully domesticated. Any effort to speak to this dilemma is also interiorized and made positive. Many selves with the same face attempt to reorganize the artist ego between studio and apartment. Aspects of a world 'out there' are unique possessions that come to represent the internal life of an artist buyer hybrid. The ambiguity of inanimate surfaces beckons these characters to become the wall; embodying the cubicles of taste fences off actual contact. The arbitrariness of painting and video against architectural design vernaculars is deployed as comedic interplay. Living Room is a conglomerate made of artwork, collector, furniture, home, neighborhood, and magazine; where displaced desires follow the logic of culture making through connoisseurship. In it, artworks have nowhere to live.

Mr. McElnea is pleased to exhibit his work with Clonlea Studios, among a range of exciting artists, performers, and writers.

www.pmpmpm.net/

Image: Taught Dot Dot (2012-13), video still

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  We would like to acknowledge the generous support of Monster Truck Gallery and Studios, Temple Bar Gallery and Studios and Fire Station Artists' Studios.