About Century Overload

 A new series of paintings by Ron Richter
I remember the phrase ‘sensory overload’ being used to describe the sensation of the brain being bombarded by so many sights, sounds and other sensory stimuli that the brain would become very confused and enter into an alternate reality. This effect could also be attained with the use of drugs that distorted the sensory messages and brought about hallucinations. Artists and filmmakers used sensory overload to create scenarios with many layers of meaning. The double entendre expanded exponentially – words, phrases and images now had multiple meanings. Incongruent objects and words were thrown together and suddenly achieved a new metaphorical connection. While the Dadaists began this practice to point out the illogical and arguably insane state of post-World War One European society, it soon became apparent that these nonsensical juxtapositions often held profound truths of their own. What started out as a rebellious act to defy rational thought soon began to elevate human thought. Just as scientists tried to map the atomic world only discover the subatomic world that lay hidden within it, the Dadaists, and later the Surrealists found that by tearing apart language and art that an entire universe of subliminal meaning existed beneath the surface.
The notion that we as a society are simplifying life by streamlining our existence is only a thin veneer created by the computer age. The workings of nanotechnology have performed an incredible disappearing act, hiding an unthinkable web of complexity in a small range of hand-held devices. Now our telephone, our computer, our camera, our stereo, our datebook, our thermometer, our mailbox, our dictionary, a whole library in fact, fit in the palm of our hand. As more of our lives are converted to data streams, our privacy becomes easier to invade. As many people my age quibble about the annoyances and potential dangers of this new age of technology, I remember that when I was a child I couldn’t wait to be launched into the science fiction world of TV and comic books. Here we are walking around in the world of Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick and Gene Roddenberry, we might as well enjoy it! Survival of the fittest in the modern world means communicating and gathering information at lightning speed. The slower animals will be eaten alive. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
I see minimalism as nostalgia, a harkening back to the ways that used to be. Life was only simple when we were confined to a crib. Once we learned to crawl, the world exploded in all directions, inspiring us to rise to our feet and explore the world even faster. From there it was a short walk to the classroom and the library to experience the world that wasn’t within walking distance. I grew up at the beginning of the TV age. I would ask my parents why some TV shows would state they were ‘in color’ when obviously they were black and white. Eventually, my parents bought a color TV and the mystery was solved. This is when the sensory overload began – the TV gave us non-stop action and adventure interrupted by short commercial messages, which were also action-packed. While the problems posed by books took hours and even days or even weeks to be resolved, TV problems were often resolved in 30 seconds – dandruff? Shampoo! Stomach ache? Antacid! Lonely? Mouthwash! Uncool? Cigarettes! Why didn’t our parents understand that the trials of life were so easily rectified? This is why the TV is known as the “Idiot Box.” One day you wake up and you’re 34 years old and you realize you’ve been brainwashed. You ask yourself, “How did life get so complicated?”
Life is very complicated, so complicated in fact, that you have to be a bit of a masochist in order to face all the fucked up shit that is going in the course of one day. We humans find various ways to anesthetize ourselves from the mind-boggling traffic jam of mental bells and whistles that populate our waking hours. Much of it is reshuffled and put to rest in our dreams, but that’s only if we can sleep at night. People go insane every day, it’s a fact of life. I think it’s partly because they are overwhelmed by their own senses. The narcotic devices we procure to keep real life at bay are imperfect to say the least. Other people just act insane because they are bored. I think this is the category I belong in, although I can never be sure – truly insane people are convinced that they are sane and if you’re questioning your own sanity you’re probably fine, or at least that’s what Joseph Heller implies in “Catch 22.” I’ve turned this premise into a strategy to keep my sanity. I’ve met some truly insane people in my life and I’ve noticed that they put a lot of thought into ‘being normal.’ They often become very well educated and work in impressive fields, rise to positions of power and become wealthy. Then one screw comes loose and they completely fall apart. It’s like one of those heist movies where the criminals have devised the perfect crime only to fall victim to one seemingly inconsequential detail. So my strategy involves engaging in strange behavior – what better way to prove I’m sane! Or maybe I am just utilizing my insanity in a socially acceptable manner – either way, it’s preferable to being a maniac masquerading as a sane person.
So I channel all the madness of daily life into a composition and from this nonsense meaning surfaces, not only for me but for others as well. It will be a great stride forward for humanity when we resign ourselves to this fact – that none of us are ‘playing with a full deck.’ We are surrounded by people who hold other cards than we are privy to. Our perception of the world is incomplete. Some messages are only clear to us by looking at them in a mirror. Our fellow humans often act as mirrors in which we see ourselves and they often see the truths in our paintings that are hidden to our eyes. Spewing out nonsense is a shot in the dark but it does occasionally hit the mark. Ignorance is darkness. These paintings are lit matches – some may not discover anything before they fizzle out but I’ve always been a persistent explorer. So I keep lighting matches and try to avoid burning my fingers by holding it too long. Trial and error will relieve the terror. Those who are afraid of taking all the mystery out of life are fooling themselves. Life has an endless supply of card tricks and you will never figure out how they all work. I embrace complexity!
I am astonished at how many hairs I find in the sink trap after I take a shower. How can there be so many lost every day and yet I never go completely bald? One hundred hairs broken and lost and yet there are thousands that remain! Think of life that way – one hundred disasters today and yet we still have the fortitude to carry on – it’s amazing! My human endeavors are not pointless. They will provide hours of entertainment to our robot overlords. They will not be so fascinated with minimalism as human beings are. They will be born with zero bytes of data and will only come to ‘life’ when the uploading and downloading begins. Human babies already have corrupted files and software glitches when they are born – that’s what makes them human! Minimalism desires to back in the womb. Maximalism aspires to a higher state of evolution! We must keep the robots entertained or we will be left to fend for ourselves in the toxic wasteland outside the megacities.


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