Joshua Deaner’s a town without pigeons. confronts the capitalist, linear escapism that the Western psyche cultivates. Deaner claims to look for moments when landscapes reflect the inner working of the psyche. “ He does exactly that with this series, now showing at AS220 in Providence. Using the signification of walls, windows and roads, the subject of looking and moving forward is combined with dead ends. The viewer’s gaze is endlessly seduced and obstructed in a frustrating, illusive cat-and-mouse game between light and shadow - opportunity and acceptance.
Deaner states that he tends to focus on “the struggle of identities and anxieties.” These pieces do not disappoint. The mood is horrifying. An immense frustration with the 1950’s dialectic and emptiness of a town’s portrait creates a severely antsy environment. The photos lead us through this town, peering up ominous hallways and into empty windows - always containing light but no human presence. We are brought to the edge of roads, able to gaze at the freeway from afar - but are continually met with walls.
One human is included in the series. He is staring at his own shadow against a huge brick wall. Next to him is a boarded up window. He cannot break through or climb into the window. At the end of this longing-perpetuating journey, we are stuck with our own shadow, alone, unable to seek or pursue.
This frustrating process speaks to Americans and capitalists about arbitrary incentive structures. The series shows us that in the end, we are only chasing our own shadow. One imagines hopeful youths whispering to each other inside those windows “We’ve got to get out of this town”, and dreaming about the Big Apple, or Europe. Then Deaner crushes our hopes by reminding the human spirit that in the end, one still winds up facing their own reflection. Running towards or away from anything lands us in the same place - face to face with ourselves.
All of these ideas could easily be read as traumatizing. Deaner has tried our American dreams of escape, and rendered them hollow. But the next step from this realization - this exposure to the concept that we need to face ourselves versus distract, is a deeply spiritual and quite Buddhist task. The man staring at his own shadow against a brick wall must try to pursue happiness and peace right there - since he can’t escape.
"A town without pigeons." is on view insert date at AS220 main gallery, located at 115 Empire St., Providence, RI.
All images are courtesy of the artist and AS220.