On Ryan Spahr’s Post-Paranoia

[This is a brief commentary I wrote for Ryan Spahr’s painting series, Post-Paranoia, displayed starting 18 Jan 2013 at Little Amps Coffee in Harrisburg, PA.  For a look at the paintings, based on the opening credit sequence of The X-Files, go here.]

Now that all the bad things have happened, are we post-paranoid?  “Government denies knowledge,” we read, but then that is what they always do.  Nevertheless, we know: 20,000 drones are marauding through cities at home and abroad, 95% of the Greenland ice sheet has melted, 1 out of every 6 Americans is out of work and armed to the teeth, and 77% of all statistics are made up on the Internet.  No wonder nobody talks anymore about alien abduction or satanic ritual abuse.  The devils are here, the aliens are us, and the epistemology of the present is so dazzled by bad news moving at 24 tweets per second that pre-millennial tension and its protagonists—the zealous, boyish heart-throb who wants to believe and his consummately professional partner with her brain on fire and her heart on ice—seem as quaint as the 1950s, as quaint, if you will, as a television set.  It is fitting, then, that Ryan Spahr’s series Post-Paranoia—a name that suggests an emergent avant-garde movement—treats the most iconic set of paranoid televisual images as objects of nostalgia, down to the vertical black bars framing the TV picture and the middle-school-notebook heart haloing the quintessential heroine of the late 20th century.  Because the present is blindingly and irreducibly complex, the truth is always elsewhere—either out there or back when.  The measure of Spahr’s radicalism is his willingness to confront the impasse of the present: we are so impoverished that we no longer even have anything to fear.  Now we’re all walking dead, but when did we ever live?  The drones know: X marks the spot.

—John Pistelli