I hope I’m not destroying it for you as I speak…tearing it down or building it up? Which is worse?
That’s a very fitting line from the narration of Andy Graydon’s The Findings now playing in a giant black box in the middle of the Frye’s back gallery as the fourth installment of their Frye Salon series. It’s fitting because similar thoughts must run through the mind of anyone who attempts to write about The Findings.
At the bare minimum, I recommend entering the back gallery and losing yourself in the paintings for a while. When you hear a burst of wild chiming, that’s the best time to enter the black box and grab a bench, as it occurs at the very end of the short film and near the beginning. Entering in medias res is not entirely problematic; the film is a meditative, meandering walk in the woods with a gruff but sympathetic narrator speaking in a thick accent. If, for instance, you enter following the chimes near the beginning, you’ll miss the opening litany of feared things, increasingly absurd and eventually humorous, ranging from ghosts to government agents and anarchists.
There is no plot to spoil, but the more you read, the more you may know and be unfairly conditioned to the delightful ponderings of the narrator, as the audience is guided on a woodland hike. This is intercut with even more abstract moments and beautifully paired with a shimmering and sinister soundtrack by Kenneth Kirschner. When the narrator speaks, the lack of a clear path—on screen and in one’s mind—keeps it all surprising, and perhaps stilted. The speech and ideas are tortuous, but justifiably so as the real question at the heart of The Findings is about the philosophy of mind, of knowing, the limits of our knowledge and experience and language.
All exploration treated with intellectual rigor borders on existential inquiry. The narrator is seeking something he has seen before, something extraordinary and uncanny as he tries to explain it, but cannot. As the film progresses, it becomes more and more apparent that even if he were perfectly direct and lucid, the narrator could not truly convey what he experienced. (So I, too, am off the hook about giving too much away in this article.)
Words work by failing…better and better, but always failing.
The narrator speaks of the failures of language and communication, and his broken, sometimes desultory utterances seem to be crafted to prove just that, eo ipso. Indeed, he fails to describe the phenomenon or place he seeks (and also to guide one there), but through his cadence and language, he leads one into deeper contemplation, toward an aesthetic mystery in oneself. Regardless of whether he can find the place again or describe it accurately, the narrator cannot induce the same moment of clarity and presence that he experienced with this mysterious place and its “artifacts.” This was a peculiar point in time, a convergence of many things, and to find it again or recreate it is impossible. Words fail, knowledge fails because experience fails, time fails—it all fails to account for itself.
Instead, one is left with replicas and rubbings, things which frustrate and amuse the narrator in his search for the genuine article. As he ponders the artifacts he saw at the mysterious site, he admits that they might have been ritual objects or simply theatrical replicas. Joke’s on me, right? he admits, in a cynical yet humorous moment that also admits to the bliss of ignorance. This moment is shortly followed by a reflection on the hubris of conjecture, no matter how well-informed, “the crushing arrogance of knowledge,” and “the box that gets folded up around the cosmos.” The narrator is not nihilistic, does not explicitly oppose any positive concept of epistemology, and even language is not treated with contempt so much as pity. Rather, the aesthetic, immediate experience is treated as the only valid one and it is that alone which we pursue.
In the end, this sort of meditation has an aesthetic value of its own: a moment of panic, embarrassment, dread as we are lost in the woods with phantasms of significance (ghosts, government agents, et al), giving way to a resignation and peace, a contemplation of what it means to explore and experience at all, to create and replicate. In the black box of the Frye’s Salon, one has indeed a box folded up around the cosmos…and fortunately one can easily step out once again.
The Findings plays in the Frye’s back gallery through Sunday, March 2.