Cupid, Subject to_Change, review by Andy Field
My dreams are not often very dreamlike. They do not feel soft-focus or unreal or particularly whimsical. In the moment of dreaming I experience them as something vivid and hallucinatory, full of the same kind of raw experience as real life. As every writer of terrible endings knows, it’s not until we wake up that we realise it’s all been a dream. All that experiencing was actually only thoughts firing off in our heads. As Freud says, dreaming is a way of thinking by doing.
The experience of Subject to_Change’s Cupid is undoubtedly a sort of dreaming. As we move through the sequence of rooms that the piece occupies, the lights are always dark and warm. Everything is wrapped in a blanket of twinkling soundscapes and dusty old pop songs. Curious and safe, here and not here, we sink into a woozy parade of tasks, volunteers on some curious expedition. As we wander further through the piece images begin to dissolve into each other; blankets of stars, plaster hearts and quivers of arrows stitched together by a logic that feels at once deeply strange and perfectly sensible. Metaphors woven so thickly they become actual solid things you can touch and hold. We are deep in a world of our own creation, a universe populated by ideas and images so familiar they have became almost cliché, almost invisible.
And yet here they are again, all these old romantic touchstones, the hearts, the arrows, the stars, and they feel so close and so present. We can quite literally grasp them and in doing so remind ourselves of things we had perhaps forgotten about them. I hold the bow in my hand and I can feel the weight of it. I pull back the string and the tension runs right up my arm. I release it and I feel the force of the movement as something visceral and dangerous and immediate. I hear the sound of the arrow ripping through plaster with a dull thud and the tiniest explosion of dust, and for the first time I really feel the capricious violence buried in this way of talking about love. The doing of the action becomes a way of thinking about the image. This is a dream landscape in which we can renegotiate our relationship to the exhausted language of love.
In this Cupid reminds me of the Magnetic Fields preposterously ambitious triple-album 69 Love Songs. Whilst Steven Merrit’s title might unashamedly give away the idea of the project (it is, as you might predict, a collection of 69 different love songs) it is also slyly misleading because, like Cupid, it is less about love itself and more about about our endless, agonising, embarrassing, angry, heartbroken and often outrageously beautiful attempts to describe and express it. Love is there, undoubtedly, but we’re not looking at it; instead we are consumed by the ocean of words and declarations and stories and images that people have produced in their attempts to grasp what love is and why it feels so important. Cupid is not a love story; it is the story of love itself, how we think and talk about it, and as such if the piece it about anything it is about us. At the huge, beating heart of Cupid is a generous and joyous fascination with people.