What Feels Most True: A Dream Hypnosis for Radical Awakeness

Laura Sullivan Cassidy
with found + collected family slides and digital images + audio
by Erin Sullivan

December 29, 2016

This exhibit is located outside on the corner of Bellevue and Pine Street on Capitol Hill. We will stand gazing into the windows of what once was the beautiful furniture store known as Area 51.

“When I was 10 a man calling himself a magician showed up in my hometown and took to the stage, pulling rabbits out of hats and “hypnotizing” citizens who then quacked like ducks and tasted vinegar when they were given plain water. Upon the backwards count of three, they remembered exactly none of it in accordance with his bellowed instructions.

From the 1800s to the ’80s, performative hypnosis was a mostly harmless hustle; in this current reality it’s a sort of assisted self-help. Just dial up a sleep induction on YouTube or download a podcast to stop smoking. Or drinking. Or eating. Or needing.

What Feels Most True is somewhere between performance and persuasion. Under a black no-moon sky, outside an urban ghost town at the dead-end of the year, images like strobe lights and words like wands are meant to rearrange natives, immigrants, and passersby alike. The quasi-narrative, two-channel, glass-enclosed slideshow will reimagine the villagers; remember them, forget them, and return them … back to where they were when they started so long ago: Pure and whole, tough and tender. Home. Alive.

And I’ll be there with them—making those return/transformations, too. Because I need to shift out of this bad dream just as we all do, and because like the magician and the hustler, there’s something I have to prove, not only to an audience but to myself.

All sickness is homesickness.
All hypnosis is self-hypnosis.”

—Laura Cassidy

Frontiers: Embodied Space & Bodily Intelligibility

Essay by Anisa Jackson | Photographic Stills from Mel Carter’s When the Caustic Cools

I told Mel that I would write her a love letter. This is certainly not a love letter in any traditional sense, but it is impossible for me to engage with her work without acknowledging our closeness. Through our friendship and shared inquiry, I have often cherished how we care for each other. In the weeks following the election, I noticed how our friendship (or more broadly, how love and care) cannot necessarily eliminate mourning or grief, but there is certainly something about care that makes these events feel more bearable.

Post-election, I question if I have fully mourned, or what it would look like to put limitations on such mourning. I think within that process is accepting the loss as one that changes you. We know this loss is really not a loss at all, but an affirmation of the extent to which white supremacy contorts itself as commonsensical at the expense of those who exceed the normative categories of race, gender, class, etc. and ultimately individualizes our pain and grief. Throughout the violent processes we endure as womxn & femmes of colour, validating, caring about, and caring for each other is a radical and political act. It is an insistence that honors the way that we are relational beings. It is a form of care that exists in resistance to neoliberal tendencies which seek to depoliticize and decontextualize our experiences and emotions. And that is what makes the spaces that womxn & femmes of colour carve out for ourselves in this city even more meaningful.

I’m reminded of Johanna Hedva’s wisdom,

I used to think that the most anti-capitalist gestures left had to do with love, particularly love poetry: to write a love poem and give it to the one you desired, seemed to me a radical resistance. But now I see I was wrong.

The most anti-capitalist protest is to care for another and to care for yourself. To take on the historically feminized and therefore invisible practice of nursing, nurturing, caring. To take seriously each other’s vulnerability and fragility and precarity, and to support it, honor it, empower it. To protect each other, to enact and practice community. A radical kinship, an interdependent sociality, a politics of care.

Mel started the piece on a trip to Joshua Tree while witnessing repeated negligence and violence to the natural environment by the desert’s visitors. She described how visitors would break branches off the Joshua Trees to ornament their photoshoots, or to construct their imaginary of a “pristine landscape” (paradoxically, free of human traces). Furthermore, as a protected site this violence was even more incontestable. Joshua Tree, among other national parks are surrounded by the rhetoric of safe spaces, yet these environments are anything but “untouched,” “pristine,” or other descriptors of natural environments through a romanticized settler-colonialism. Rather, these sites bear quite violent histories of displacing indigenous peoples in order to build large-scale playgrounds for the white elite. We are continuing to see the various ways that a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy perpetuates the genocidal colonization of indigenous peoples and environments, most discernibly through the construction of the Dakota Access and Kinder-Morgan pipelines. Moreover, the management and valuation of national parks rely on similar attitudes of environmental domination and distribution, and are in fact, yet another institution of colonization. We should question who has access to conservation areas and why, which bodies are read as environmentalists, and where caring about the environment includes and excludes caring for all human life.

The first of Mel’s two projections came out of the second-floor window of El Capitan. The series of text Mel wrote atop of blurred movement is affective, reactionary, confrontational. In gray text Mel poses:

      It could be hard to hear anything above the racket that has become your guilt and loneliness.

I am not sure if it is simply the delineations of bodies that renders the pain of others illegible.  I suspect this unintelligibility is furthered by the myth that pain can simply exist on one’s own, that pain can exist autonomously and has nothing to do with mutuality.  Snapping off branches of yucca, watching them splinter, “you yelp and pull yourself away quickly, examining only your own injuries while simultaneously sucking your thumb” as Mel describes in her brilliant essay accompanying the videos.  Insofar as egoism obstructs us of understanding the pain of others (even as the perpetrators of such pain), it refuses to consider a new ontology of the body in relation to the bodies of others.

These affective positions are communicated as the camera spins, blurring the background, first quite rapidly, then slowing down.  While the text is certainly reflexive, its ability to draw you in is furthered by this dizzying presentation- my view is constricted and I’m forced to look inwards.  The text transgresses the divide between the self and its situation, behaving as both the voice of an interrogative narrator and setting, by virtue of pulling you in so you can sit with it intimately.  The conveyance of such ambiguities and tensions both symbolically and literally bears some resemblance (and admittedly, somewhat facetiously) to the widely circulated Mr. Krabs meme. The image of the commodity fetishist bewildered and isolated by a blurred vignette situates and confronts the viewer with its self.  My association with Mr. Krabs and this particular presentation of the text, while perhaps guided by a phenomenological approach to my nearsightedness, stems also from both the subjective crisis and violence that results from notions of the clearly demarcated, autonomous neoliberal subject.


The transition to Mel’s second video, projected onto the face of the apartment complex behind El Capitan, is intuitive.  Its transgressions live in-between the boundaries of violence and care. Here, Mel is seen throughout Joshua Tree embracing, caressing, and caring for the desert dwellers.  Even as she lays on boulders, it is done with a softness and attentiveness that questions any form of dominance. The projected images of Mel circling the the yuccas leads her head through the windows of the building’s inhabitants, a radical softness demanding consideration.  The task of caring is gendered, racialized, and associated with a subjugated people. While this socialization (and thus its devaluation) is oppressive, the task of caring is nonetheless essential to the fabric of our social and ecological well-being. Well-being, not as a capitalist construct referring to value-production, but rather a configuration in resistance, one which necessitates the reciprocity of care and ontologizes the subject through the social for a shared embodied existence.

A feminist ethic of care refers to approaches based in the centrality of caring for the self and others.  Opposing presumptions of ahistorical, apolitical, and individualized subjects, a feminist ethic of care relies on mutuality and interdependency, contextualizes the caring and the cared for as essential within the basic composition of wellbeing, and offers a relational approach to ethical questions and issues.  This conception of care contextualizes moral relations as interdependent, and within that interdependence, there is an economic, social, political, and personal responsibility to care for others, by virtue of being beyond the immediate self. An environmental ethics may push us into considering caring for the needs of both human and nonhuman life, as our ecology certainly relies on a similar form of interdependency.


Combined, Mel’s two projections call into question the boundaries of violence and care.  As Judith Butler notes, “violence is surely a touch of the worst order, a way [vulnerability] is exposed in its most terrifying way, a way in which we are given over, without control, to the will of another, a way in which life itself can be expunged by the willful action of another.”  When we consider subjectivity as radically open, challenge individualized formulations of self and recognizes the ways in which we are constituted by one another, for one another, that which delineates our relationality, certainly reveals sites risked to violence. It can also be argued that care necessitates such vulnerability.  Accompanying a relational social ontology are the political implications of acknowledging responsibility, accountability, and concern to live for another. Solidarity is built on risk. Community is built on risk. Though the boundaries of the body expose us to violence, they also expose us to care.

Recommended Readings:


Ahmed, Sarah.  Cultural Politics of Emotion. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Butler, Judith. Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. London: Verso, 2004.

Gordon, Elyse. “Radical Vulnerability: Towards Stronger Alliances.” Relational Poverty Network, May 12, 2014.

Hedva, Johanna. “Sick Woman Theory.”  Mask, 2015.

Lawson, Victoria.  “Geographies of Care and Responsibility.” Annals of the Association of American Geography, March 13, 2007.

Luna, Caleb. “Romantic Love is Killing Us: Who Takes Care of Us When We Are Single?” The Body is Not an Apology, November 30, 2016.

Lopez, Patricia J., and Kathryn Gillespie. “A Love Story: For ‘Buddy System’ Research in the Academy.” Gender, Place & Culture, November 09, 2016.

Max Cleary: Breaking The Spectacle

Interview by Jon Feinstein | Photographs by Max Cleary

Max Cleary fuses photography, sculpture, and even video to break down how we see and experience contemporary industrial development. While he studied “Photo Media” at the University of Washington, he’s broadened his process to something murky and unclassifiable. His recent Vignettes exhibition Crushing Sensation, for example, included photographic prints hung near concrete slabs and plastic grids dangling in the center of this exhibition space. Standing among them, there is a sense of uncertainty –new construction settles into raw materials revealing a behind the scenes view into what Cleary describes as a disingenuous “spectacle.” I caught up with him following his recent exhibition to learn more about what’s driving his work.

Jon Feinstein: Are you a photographer? An artist who uses photography? “Who cares?”

Max Cleary: I guess that depends on what I’m working on, but the best answer I can give is that I think like a photographer, or at least how I think a photographer would.  I’m sure a lot of other people do this, but a lot of my thoughts come in the form of images and scenes.  So even though photography isn’t always the medium I work in (sometimes it’s not involved at all), it’s always a major piece of the foundation for my mental and physical process.  I’m a child of television and the internet, so outside of the fact that my formal education is in photography and image culture, I think that connection is just wired into me.

JF: “Image Culture” — can you elaborate?

MC: I’m referencing the importance and presence of images, and all media really, within our lives.  How we value images, how we fear them, adjust ourselves in regards to or in preparation for them, the information they give to us, the information they hide, the conceptual and physical foundations behind them, I try to mine through that presence in my practice.

JF: You were born right around the time that Photoshop launched. Do you think being a Photoshop (or internet) native impacts on how you see?

MC: I think the Internet has a big impact on how I see, not so much Photoshop.  I mean ever since I started following my interest in art I’ve had easy access to see what’s out there from a computer screen.  It made it easy to build an understanding of what I like and what I don’t. I know that it influences my humor too and my sense of humor really impacts how I perceive things.  It’s so easy to share things now and I often feel the urge to do so. It’s similar to photographer brain, where everywhere you are and everything you experience is a potential thing to shoot or put out into the world and that’s something I’m trying to separate from a bit.  Like to not let the concern with documenting or publicizing my experiences override the experiences themselves.

JF: Last I heard, you were sharing a studio with Joe Rudko. What impact, if any, has this had on your work? Do you guys collaborate at all?

MC: Joe actually recently moved into a bigger studio a few feet down the hall from me.  It’s a big boy space.  There’s a couch in there and everything.  You can do some pretty big dance moves in there.
So now I’m actually sharing the studio with Colleen RJC Bratton and the three of us have our cool little corner of the building we rent at. I haven’t actually collaborated with either Colleen or Joe yet, but being in close quarters as all of us work has been totally impactful.  I always enjoy observing someone who’s good at their craft and learning by watching.  We all work in really different ways with vastly different materials, but really that’s the perfect environment to be in.  I think that no matter what, you pick up pieces of your peers’ workflow and sensitivities when you’re around each other enough.

JF: What drives your specific selection of non-photo materials? Concrete versus plastic, versus other materials?

MC: Odds are if it looks cool I’ll probably want to use it, but it’s never that easy.  I factor in cost, accessibility, relevance to the idea I’m working with, conceptual importance, but a lot of it stems from basic innate interest.

JF: There’s not much writing on your website. No artist statement, etc, leaves reading your work wide open. Give me a haiku describing your work.

MC: You wish to know more.  I wonder where I should start.  Whoops, no more words left.
Just kidding, here are two:

Everything held up

flat like plywood-backed cut outs

I inspect the bones 

An image is made

and rather than let it be

I force it to fight

JF: In exhibition form, you engage deeply with the exhibition space — prints are not only on the wall, but displayed as hanging sculptures, pieces on the floor, etc. Why is this important to your work?

MC: I really like being entertained by art.  Regardless of whether it does more than be a piece of art, if there’s something inherently entertaining about a work that I’m experiencing, I have a good time.  If you can arrive at that entertainment point within the first few seconds of seeing something, I think that’s a huge success, so I try to include that sentiment in a lot of my work and exhibitions.  I think when you form a photograph into an object or take it off the wall and show it outside of its established home, it turns into a character.  It becomes an object that gets to occupy the same space as the viewer.  They have to deal with it in their space and change their field of view to get to it.  It’s a way of pushing viewers to interact more with the work, to be more conscious of themselves in the space, and also to create an environment that’s more dynamic and interesting to be in. I also use exhibition space to reinforce repetition and incompleteness, which are two of the main themes that drive my work.  I try to create a rhythm between the installation pieces and my images that forces them to compete with each other, where neither side is obviously more important than the other.  So in a sense every thing that I include in an exhibition is only part of a whole; while the pieces can visually stand alone, everything is complementary and you need to take it all into account equally to fully piece together what’s going on.

JF: You mention having a “long standing fascination with the built world.” Where do you fit into this personally?

MC: Well we spend most of our lives within it, surrounded by it, and dealing with it.
It’s vast and awe inspiring.  It’s simultaneously understandable and shrouded in mystery, a problem starter as well as the place we gather to fix that problem, physically astounding, almost unbelievable, but created by hands and hard work.
There’s just a lot to unpack about the structures and spaces around us and while it’s always been of interest to me, lately the built world has fueled so much of my work. I worked for about a year as a real estate photographer and recently my freelance work has granted access to a bunch of mid construction towers, apartments, and commercial buildings.  So I’ve been able to experience and observe a lot of what goes into development and the selling of spaces and that’s really what interests me. Everything from home staging to the marketing vocabulary to the presentation of the images I was taking, it’s all part of a giant production and the work I’m making is my way of mining through it all and figuring out what it means.

JF: In the text for your recent exhibition Crushing Sensation, you mention the “Spectacle.” I pretty obviously jump to Guy Debord. Are you a fan?

MC: Yeah absolutely.  Society of the Spectacle and Jean Baudrillard’s Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared have been immensely influential to my thinking about art, images, photography, and representation in general. I’m really grateful to have had friends pass those texts along to me.  We could get really into it, but I’ll sum it up by saying that between the two texts the ideas that we no longer have real experiences, that we live for and through representations, and that digital means overtake the importance of the original they reference have had major influences on my work and life.

JF: What’s behind the title “Crushing Sensation”?

MC: I was reading about phantom limb sensations and in one account a person noted that they occasionally felt a crushing sensation where their amputated limb used to be.   The title connects that phantom sensation with the experience of witnessing demolitions and new developments occur within residential neighborhoods.  When the familiar structure is taken away there’s a visual and emotional afterimage that remains in the vacant plot of land.  When a new structure goes up, it asserts itself and begins to overtake what remains of the previous inhabitant.  I feel like the crushing sensation is both the body learning to deal with losing a part of itself as well as the ghost of that limb fighting to stay.  The neighborhood is the body, a home is the limb. What we feel when one leaves is our crushing sensation.

JF: What or who (art or otherwise) has had the biggest influence on your practice?

MC: Anyone who works hard, is loving, and cares for themselves and others is an inspiration to me.  My friends, family, and the communities I find myself in are for sure the biggest influence on me.  Shoutout to my friends and family.  You my rock, my heart, my cinnamon apple(s).

JF: Who are you listening to right now? What’s your “making work” playlist look like?

MC: Usually anything I can bop my head to, I can’t work to mellow music.  It changes a lot, but my go to’s no matter what I’m doing are: The Exquisites, Culture Abuse, Young Guv, Shlohmo, J Cole, Isaiah Rashad, Angel Du$t, Dude York, Fucked Up, and
the occasional Drake.  I just figured out the power of making playlists in Spotify, so lately it’s all over the place.  Some new ones I’m jamming on are Mick Jenkins, Lock, Super Unison, Mannequin Pussy.  It’s everywhere.

JF: The dreaded “What’s next” question: do you have any exhibitions coming up that you’d like to plug?

MC: Yeah!  In February I’ll be in a show at AXIS in Pioneer Square with Sofya Belinskaya and Alex Boeschenstein who are both really talented artists and awesome people.  Then in April, Alex, myself, and Jackson Baker Ryan will showing work at 4Culture as our collective which is called CACHÉ.

Unfolding: Giving Shape to a Poignant Time

 Gala Bent Interviews Erin Elyse Burns | Images by Erin Elyse Burns

On a clear and windy night, at the dead end of a street in Seattle’s bustling Capitol Hill neighborhood, an apartment building overlooks Highway 5. Cars in countless lanes going multiple directions are persistent and loud, and the city’s skyscrapers across the highway glitter and wink. Two large windows in the apartment building, three floors up, have become temporary capsules for very vulnerable human images, projected as if part of the building’s own consciousness. One film shows a nervous nail biter—then the bottom of the feet of a person who is kneeling—then closed, lightly fluttering eyes. The other cycles between fists beating in a ritual-like pattern (angry but focused), a closed mouth refusing water being poured over it, and open arms down which rivulets of water flow. This is “Unfolding,” a one night, site-specific, multiple channel video installation by Erin Elyse Burns.

The images projected high above the parking lot where viewers stand have a stilling and meditative effect. The magic of seeing human details projected this large in an unexpected place puts me in mind of drive-in movies, where, when seen from a distance, epic faces in close-up silently entreat one another against the black of night. But Burns’ images are more closely related in form to Ann Hamilton videos or seminal video artist Bill Viola’s. These artists’ videos, like Burns’, tend to be slow and essential. They use the moving image as a contemplative tool.

On the night that “Unfolding” is screened, the country has very recently received the news of the election of Trump to the presidency. Seattle has already been flooded with protests and the mood of the city is raw and open. Friends who see one another at this event embrace with a greater tenderness, buoyed up to be with one another, and to be witnessing a work that so elegantly describes the complex psychology of the struggle for peace and stillness.

Below, I ask Erin a few questions about this work:

It strikes me that the imagery you have included circles around nervousness, self-soothing and ritual. Can you speak to these themes? Am I missing other elements? Or misreading?

The way you’ve described the work rings true with how I characterize it. I also think of the imagery in Unfolding in terms of grief and sorrow – where these emotions exist within the body and how physical gestures become a vessel to release them. How open are we to this as a possibility? When and where do we honor grief and sorrow in our daily lives? What practices ease our anxiety, good and bad? There is such complexity and strength to be found in considering the power of physical gestures. The imagery depicts both willful and unseen responses. In meditation and sleep, our eyelids flutter beyond our control. I’m told with deeper experience in meditation, that my eyelids may quiet down… I’ve come to associate active eyelids with state of mind. At the beginning of a meditation session, which was the context in which that footage was filmed, my mind is quite anxious, thoughts rapid, and my eyes, while closed, seem to reflect this invisible mental state. There’s a reciprocity there that fascinates me, and extends to other imagery throughout the work.  To meditate in front of a camera is also an odd thing…

Unfolding might not offer this content to all viewers, but I believe a sense of surrender comes across as well. The imagery cycles through contrasts – dichotomies of stillness and anxiety. Quietude butted up against implied violence. Seductively slow imagery that is at once sensuous and disturbing. I think of these moments as complementary pairs, which is heightened by the diptych display of the work at Vignettes.


It is safe to say that the results of the election that occurred a couple days before your one-night exhibition had a profound effect on the viewers’ read of “Unfolding.” Did the piece change for you when placed unwittingly into this political context?

Agreed – that reading was very palpable the night of the exhibition. I don’t think the work changed for me because of the election, but I think the mood of our arts community because of collective sorrow, grief, and anguish might have allowed people to connect more fully, more openly, with imagery that in optimistic times could’ve been more alarming or harder to connect with. It seemed like people were relieved to witness this imagery because it expressed things a lot of folks were feeling. I also think the anonymity of Vignettes Marquee openings allows viewers more space to process, and less social pressure. We’re standing outside with open air, and you can easily interact or not, without the mood of a typical gallery. This invites people in differently.

While editing footage of the nail biting, I couldn’t help but see how grotesque this habit is – it’s both anxiety inducing and relieving – and I heard that it was disgusting from viewers, but I was also told it was a comfort to see that footage – that is was a natural response to horrific times. This surprised me. It’s also true that there are political impulses behind the work that became louder on Nov. 9th. The footage you described as “angry but focused” pounding of fists surfaced from the deep despair and anger I often feel in response to current events. Mass shootings, police brutality against people of color, our corrupt political system, climate change, women’s rights, you name it… I started to think of that hopelessness that creeps in and the language that describes associated physical gestures. To throw up one’s hands. To be up in arms. Hands up. I can’t breathe… Aspects of the work came from a need to consider where we place our anger, anger of the body and the mind.

How does the temporary nature of a one-night exhibition change the way you prepare, or the way you approach the work?

I’m not sure it changed much in the way I worked! I tend to be methodical and at times quite obsessive in my work. And whether a show is up for a night or a month didn’t seem to change those habits. That the work was site specific and designed with private imagery to be viewable in a public way was considered more than how long the work was viewable. The ephemeral nature of the event might have led me to be bolder and more direct, but I also see this as a response to what compelled me to work with Vignettes Marquee. We are so curious of others, and I know I always stare into the illuminated windows of houses as I walk by. It’s this momentary, almost illicit impulse, an invitation to briefly invade someone’s privacy in this harmless way. For me this usually happens in these fleeting instants – walking my neighborhood at night or gazing out while stopped waiting for a traffic light to change. This is what Marquee offers up as a construct, and I really wanted to tap into the potential of that. It gives you permission to intently gaze into bedroom windows in the name of art, and people seemed transfixed. To respond to this impulse, this need, I felt it had to be poignant, vulnerable imagery, that is jarring to look at, yet humanizing and relatable. The work asked the viewer to peer into the body of this apartment building. While the limbs depicted are my own, I loved your description of it feeling like the building’s consciousness, because I had hoped that would come across.