I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection. —Sigmund Freud
So much iconic American literature portrays, often humorously, neglected or badly treated boys doggedly tracking down adventure (Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, Nick Adams). For these protagonists, play is not a luxury but a lifeline.
Matt Zacharias’ episodic, mixed-media exhibition Childhood, Boyhood, Sonic Youth is just such a journey. The show starts off with a search for dad, or at least for things solid and male, but winds up somewhere else.
Zacharias explores television, toys, the military and music with a kineticism that rivals the wanderings of Huck, Tom and Nick across the rivers, forests and fields of the American wilderness. The show’s title recalls Tolstoy’s coming-of-age collection, Childhood, Boyhood, Youth, which contrasts the young narrator’s innocence with his development of social consciousness, articulating a mixture of naive emotions as well as a growing, gnawing awareness of class difference. Tolstoy referred to the work as “an awkward mixture” but, as with much youthful expression, its ungainliness is its charm. The writing communicates an authentic vulnerability.
In a blend of autobiography and fabrication, Zacharias offers up a nimble mix of yearning, action and confusion through various stages of a young male’s formative years. The show taps into thorny, youthful discomfort in ways that are raw, funny and sad.
Throughout three of the four works (all 2012) is a silhouette of a running, trench-coated man named Conscientious Objector. The figure is a reference to the artist’s experience in the Navy, which he left after fulfilling three years of a six-year contract. In his own mind he left as a Conscientious Objector, but not according to the Navy, which discharged him as “Other Than Honorable.”
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