Review of Eternal Wish Radio, Forest City Gallery
July 8 – September 5th
On a hot afternoon, I checked out the new exhibit at the Forest City Gallery—Eternal Wish Radio by artists Simon Fuh and Kenneth Jeffrey Kwan Kit Lau. Coming from the Farmer’s Market, I carried what felt like a hundred items. I was hot, slightly grumpy, and questioning my decision to run errands at the market before viewing the exhibit.
As soon as I walked into the gallery, I was met with the soothing sounds of several water fountains gushing all at once. I set down my material burdens on a chair with a sigh of relief. I followed the calming noises coming from within the gallery.
The relaxing, tranquil sensation quickly transformed into one of curiosity. The soothing sounds came from homemade fountains made of colourful plastic mixing bowls positioned on compact wooden boards—scattered on the floor throughout the entire space.
I was struck by the cut-out pieces of what appeared to be blue Plexiglas, surrounding each fountain station. The artists had cut each piece to resemble cloudy skies—perhaps a nod to wishing and dreaming, having your head in the clouds.
These fountains are, in actuality, wishing machines made by Fuh and Kwan Kit Lau. Although the artists didn’t mean for the exhibit to be participatory, visitors can toss a coin in and make a wish if inspired.
People have been throwing coins in fountains and making wishes for centuries. Tossing something personal into water—a powerful, natural force more significant than ourselves—symbolizes the desire for a wish to come true.
Anthropologists refer to this as contagious magic—the affirming principle that physical contact between people and objects creates a strong bond. As it lingers on our person, in our wallets or jean pockets, the object (in this case, a coin) becomes an extension of ourselves. Once we let that piece of ourselves go with a wish, who knows what might happen. Hopefully, something magical.
This type of wishful ideology also rings true for the relationship between people and the majesty of water.
Historically, water has been considered a gift from the gods for many cultures. For example, ancient Roman, Celtic, and Nordic people believed sacrificing valuable objects into water would keep the gods happy, thus creating a healthy flow of water and fruitful personal gains. Instead of making dreams come true with magical aquatic powers, Fuh and Kwan Kit Lau have brought inner desires to life in the form of unusual visualizations, manifested by the invisible force of their personal fountains or wishing machines. A reminder that sometimes, desires can often leave us feeling confused, unfulfilled, and even terrified.
As energy radiates from the rushing, bubbling water from the homemade fountains, there are also drawings scattered all over the gallery’s walls. Transient pencil sketches decorate the room’s four walls: unrelated, unfinished, and even childlike, at times. If you look closely, some of the pencils used by the artists lay within the fountain’s containers. Images that appear somewhat unremarkable upon first glance, but after a while, begin to morph into unnerving flashes of eerie familiarity. You’re not entirely sure where you’ve seen the visuals or why they resonate so powerfully. The uncanny.
These drawings are interpretations of a collective gathering of images that have been found by “compulsive browsing” (a term coined by one of the artist’s professors)—scrolling the internet and sinking deep into those Google search rabbit holes we’ve all experienced at one point or another.
As Nic Wilson, in their essay Spooky Action! At a Distance on Eternal Wish Radio says, “the wishes that dot the gallery come from a new place of publicness. . . They are reproduced from an archive; a synthesis of Instagram posts, Wikipedia entries, memes.”
You’ll find a saturation of drawings of anything and everything—including kittens, dragons, faint sketches of people, a motivational slogan that reads, “Drink More Water.” You search for a common thread, but quickly realize that there isn’t one, at least, not on the surface. Most of the drawings are not finished, and many of them appear faded and fleeting.
The Poor Image
Fuh and Kwan Kit Lau were inspired by Hito Steyerl’s concept of the poor image.
Steyerl states that “The poor image is an illicit fifth-generation bastard of an original image. Its genealogy is dubious. Its filenames are deliberately misspelled. It often defies patrimony, national culture, or, indeed, copyright. It is passed on as a lure, a decoy, an index, or a reminder of its former visual self.”
The notion of the poor image reminds me of the countless bathroom door graffiti I’ve seen in bars. Layers upon layers of unrelated drunken desires scratched and drawn with markers all over the stalls. “X WAS HERE,” for example, written a thousand times in a thousand different places. Perhaps with different names, but the intention remains the same: a need for validation, to be granted a brief moment of attention, even anonymously.
Many of the images in the gallery seem to pop out of nowhere, “like a gift from the gods,” writes Nic Wilson. What drew me to walking closer to the drawings was their impermanence. One wall shows a man diving into what is assumed to be a swimming pool, but the figure is actually diving directly into the gallery’s floor. The man’s destiny is stuck between the white wall and the ground, jumping head-first into nowhere.
Another personal favourite was an alien swimming in a small body of water. It looks like the alien figure is doing the breaststroke and waving at us, looking at the audience. As if to say—”Oh hi, we’ve met before, but where? On Reddit? In your dreams? What’s the difference anymore?”
Forest City Gallery Director Teresa Carlesimo told me that because this is the first show since reopening, they wanted something lighter and less political. The exhibit may not be overtly political, but it’s been floating in my mind for days. Why do these images, found on the internet, now transplanted onto the walls of the gallery, make me feel uncomfortable? Do they somehow trigger faded memories I’ve forgotten?
The fleeting trajectory of this random assortment of images symbolizes the nature of desire itself. Has my dependency on social media and the need for instant gratification become so extreme that I’m unable to appreciate the act of desire?
In Jerico Brown’s poem “Pause” from the collection Please, he writes:
“We both wanted to be rid of desire,
How it made even the shower
A rigorous experience.”
Desire can be painful. Wanting something can feel like being stuck inside a waiting room without a clock or anyone to tell you when you’re up. And often, once the desire is finally fulfilled, it’s anticlimactic, and we’re left wanting more. The anticipation is sometimes more thrilling than the materialization of the thing itself.
I suggest visiting Eternal Wish Radio alone. Give yourself some time to absorb each image and to listen. You’ll be surprised at what images—and desires—might emerge as you navigate the space and, maybe, bring a coin or two? You never know.
You can visit the exhibit until September 5, 2020 at the Forest City Gallery and enjoy a live streamed event with the artists on August 8, 2020.
Feature Photo by Meaghan Collins