Personal Identity

By Jim Zimmerman

The LabyrinthNudity has rarely looked so naked, yet none of the figures in the recent work of Terry Rodgers is fully unclothed. The exposed flesh is like a knife slashing the pricey fabrics of these plush interiors as Rodgers interrogates the moment when affluent young people cross the unforgiving frontier of adulthood. In their sexuality, susceptibilities, and perishable ripening,these figures are a collective metaphor for each of us in our continuously re-invented worlds. We are troubled and dangerous, delicate and brutal, uncertain but determined.

Descartes gave us a pair of dimensions and a simple formula for personal identity, and you would think by now we could say with certainty who we are. In fact, we are profoundly unsure of almost everything except what to wear and how to manipulate dozens of codes that allow us to enter virtual realities and "secure" places. Rodgers explores the perennial dilemma of uncertainty in a titillating realist mode, exploiting a storied tradition and documenting a hyperactive present. His metaphor of post-adolescent sexuality measures in a glance the limitations of our highly-civilized compromises. The old order is helpless in Cartesian Coordinates, where young breasts intrude like rebel flags among the accouterments of established propriety, suggesting creatures struggling for social and spiritual bearings, adjusting to new axes or inventing them.

The Labyrinth's Ariadne, uneasy in the realm of her father's complicated culture, occupies a labyrinth all her own, the incomprehensible maze of her new self, adrift in herfather's world. Her fragile body is seen against the fiery skies that amplify the oppressive nature of his creation. The Labyrinth is also about the subversive artist at work: Theseus is Ariadne's way out of her own cage, as artists who matter always point us toward liberation. But-just as Ariadne does-we must decide to risk ourselves.

Rodgers' world is uneasy in its apparent poise. Beaujolais Nouveau features the newest, which will be so "last year" so soon. Each season, fresh adults emerge, full of inchoate desire to make the world theirs.The riddles they confront in the 21st century are no less potent and dangerous than thoseof millennia ago. These aliens must find their way or perish, and-given the delicate equilibrium, sustained by the compromise that is civilization in general, and American culture in particular-their way is transgressive.

The Uncertainty Principle reveals the delicacy and strength of these beautiful creatures negotiating cultural pressures on personal identity, deciding what to make of themselves.The multi-vectored architecture of the painting mirrors the complexity of their experience. They will replace the jerry-rigged fantasy of the existing world with a fantasy of their own-theirown traps, mazes, and prisons.

Rodgers paints with incendiary brushstrokes and electric lines, balancing painterly flamboyance and a documentary realism rooted in brilliant drawing. He shows us stop-action moments in the complex and ever-revolutionary dance of desire, the inevitably renewed moment in which everything is once again up for grabs.

Jim Zimmerman is a writer who lives in the Shenandoah Valley.
2002

 

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