I n t r o d u c t i o n
By Frank Gohlke
When I was young I had a recurrent dream. I'm not sure now -- I may not have known at the time -- whether these were waking dreams or dreams that woke me, nor how many times I went through it, nor if it was the same each time. I am sure that when it came I didn't like it and couldn't control its course once begun, that I couldn't will it, and that I hoped it would happen again. It went like this: a part of my body, usually my fingers, would start to feel puffy, fuzzy at the edges, and I realized that my fingers could feel one another without touching. Gradually this sensation would spread until it encompassed my whole body. I was inflating like a balloon, but I wasn't any larger really. It was as if the sensing function of my skin had become detached from the boundary function. I'm not certain which could be said to be expanding, but it doesn't matter. The feeling that overrode all others was uncomplicated: I was TOO BIG, but in a most peculiar way. I couldn't bring my fingers together properly -- something was preventing my arms from dropping to my sides, the inner sides of my legs were pressed tight against one another all the way to my feet. Nothing about me felt familiar or right. And then I really began to grow. Now I was racing through the atmosphere, toward the moon and past it, out toward the stars. I was filling the void. It was awful, terrifying, seemingly irreversible. But even as I approached infinitude, the bloated state of my hands continued to preoccupy me. I thought if I could only feel my fingers again, thin and bony, squeezed together in a fist, I would be back to normal. And yet -- and yet there was something deliciously pleasurable about my pillowy greatness. And so suspended there somewhere between panic and luxuriate passivity I came back to myself, in a sweat and heart pounding.
If I have the period of these dreams correct, 10-11 years old, they constitute a laughably explicit enactment of awakening from Freud's hypothesized sexual latency, an explosion of polymorphous perversity in preparation for the distillation of mighty Eros in the genitals. As satisfying as it is to find a fit between experience and theory, it's the specifics of the dream that have kept it vivid and compelling for almost 50 years. Likewise with Surrogate. As useful as the Freudian notion of the unheimlich -- literally unhome-like -- is to the understanding of these photographs made at home, it's the completeness and credibility of the transformation of domestic incidents into irruptions of weirdness that make them stick to the mind. All successful works of art are a reiteration and a critique of what has come before; we can see in Surrogate glosses on the work of artists as divergent as Francis Bacon, Josef Sudek, and Edward Weston. But I am reminded of the opinion of a friend of mine, whose opinions are always worth considering, that Weston's "Pepper #30" is one of funniest pictures in the history of art. Amy Kubes has obviously seen the same thing.
Paranoia for shut-ins, the vengeance of the repressed, an Ikea catalog for the deranged, nesting with The Blob, at home with Franz, a virgin's nightmares -- many alternate titles suggest themselves for this volume. But Amy Kubes has wisely allowed the burlesque edge of her world to emerge on its own, as it did in the development of her work. Whatever else it does, and it surely does many things, the final section, "Little Worries," has a bit of fun with the portentousness and hysteria of some of the pictures in the earlier sections. In doing so she reminds us of what she has no need to remind herself: the penumbra of disgust and fear that shadows the photographs in the first two sections of the book originates in the eye that sees rather than the fruit that secretes. What is most impressive about Surrogate is that Amy Kubes never loses her grip; she keeps her head even as the narrator of this tale teeters on the verge of losing hers. She provides a map to a Fun House/ House of Horrors, not the ride itself. The tone she establishes allows real terror to coexist with real jokes, "Help!" and "Oops!" to come out of the same mouth at the same time. The world turns strange on us all the time; the adaptive response is to ignore it, but the cost of this turning away is the impoverishment of ordinary experience, the vast preponderance of our waking lives. Amy Kubes gives us, in addition to the pleasure we take from any object as beautiful, rich, and well-made as Surrogate, a model for restoring to the everyday a portion of the fascination, terror, and hilarity that infuse it. Openness, vision, talent, courage, will, and an acute appreciation for the absurd are all that are required.Frank Gohlke
Southborough, Mass. 2001
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