Michael Schaefer's Chasing my Tail
by Mary-Jean Richardson
Come on in, have a seat, the gallery is cosy, familiar. The squeak of a screen door welcomes me into Michael Schaefer’s hospitable, yet unnerving exhibition Chasing My Tail: Nietzsche's Eternal Recurrence at Floating Goose Gallery. Through combining an array of slightly off-kilter lounge furniture, objets d’art, religious paraphernalia, TV screens and a cacophony of rhythmic sounds, Schaefer has successfully created an environment that lulls the visitor into a space that creeps and jolts around some very dark places. These places are found through further observation and examination of what is on the screens and how you negotiate the objects placed around.
Looking at a wall of screens depicting many dogs chasing their tails, slowly shifts from thinking how funny, how cute, to how obsessive, demented and finally sad. I protest, please stop. What remote control can I use, why are there are so many of them? More televisions depict other continuous acts, such as a loop of someone jumping on a pogo stick; they fall off but get straight back on. These works use banality and repeated action to question the very nature of a conforming existence. What do we need and what do we want? Can perseverance and persistence accommodate desire? Do I have the free will to get off, get out and be truly nonconforming?
Philosophically these ideas fall broadly to the Existentialists. Mark Stephens thoughtful catalogue essay Chasing One’s Tail - Action, Recurrence and Meaning that accompanies the exhibition outlines key existentialist concepts. Most significantly these words reflect upon the power of acting in the present and to lovingly embrace one’s own (tragic) fate. He also considers a requirement of art-making to hold ethical, aesthetic and conceptual concerns in balance. Michael Schaefer’s strange, entertaining ‘lounge of futility’ gives all it’s got to achieve this balance, including laughing at it’s own demise by offering limited edition merchandise as a takeaway souvenir.
Thinking about this exhibition through the filter of protest makes for a curious position. Schaefer claims it presents a protest against a normative life - a personal rebellion against getting stuck in a routine, doomed to repeat the same actions over and over again. By stating this within the context of Chasing my Tail, he sets up a paradox like the floral couch I sit in to view his performative videos. I hate the fabric pattern and it's old-fashioned shape, but goodness it is comfortable. I might just stay a little longer. Can anyone truly rail against the repetitive grind of existence? Nietzsche asks if by being told it is our destiny to repeat our lives over and over again would this be liberating or a burden too hard to bear? I believe Schaefer has created a space where both feelings exist. This is an ambivalent space where a brutal self-aware state of protest exists with the warmth of loving social acceptance.