“‘The road is straight.’ Okay, then: ‘The road is straight as a string.’ There’s such a profound part of me that feels that ‘the road is straight’ is all you need to say and all you should say.” —Susan Sontag, in a 1978 interview
It’s a new age. Hey, have you ever read Notes to Myself? Hugh Prather, I mean Susan Sontag (we’re understanding one thing in terms of another), what’s the single-cell unit of everything that requires an interpretation? What’s that quiet—tick tick tick—the referent?—that evokes the very thing of which signs speak? How is the rule of metaphor made law again? A hermeneutic calls out one single strand of the interpretive process—it’s a new age—and like the Greek deity Hermes, can interpret, lie, thieve, and trick, while relishing the uneasy essence of the act of messaging.
Paul Cowan refers the referent back to its uncanny origins—the Middle French ferre, “to bear”—in works that harbor their objectives before themselves like a Confucian ode: “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.” The law of entropy is the law of kings: there are a number of ways in which the system can be arranged, but give us the space to play, or give us death.
Words have the power to conceal or reveal, and for Cowan, the language of painting is a self-help cipher. Mixing failure with speculation, representation with procedural law, and the process of painting with the task of the translator, Cowan’s works engage the viewer in acts of speculative duration, with
Sontag’s Prather’s Murphy’s Law in mind: “The road is long.” Even a perfect rubber balloon eventually loses gas to the outside. But what is the sound of one hand—collapsing? Is the house painter really a semiotician? Could you care?
The arrow of time has a more obvious direction—or does it? The golden rule is that there are no golden rules.