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Love Letter to Bean Gilsdorf

Variable West
10/20/20

A veritable pile of wrists! Or else a sunken tripod. Fabric caricatures of political figures with enough slump, bulge, and dip to render them under-recognizable. Leggy indexes of history (illegitimate), where “history meets spin” and everything that is in and of earth animates from within.

Bean Gilsdorf’s work is animation’s “squash and stretch” principle embodied: raising the dead by infusing life, translating fleshliness into motion. Except, in Gilsdorf’s case, the freedom from formal or accurate representation infuses the materials with a savvy, strategic stiffness. Making visible the irony of infusing a symbol as such, Gilsdorf assails principles of representation—a mockery of the gravitas that would ordinarily accompany US history.

Indexicality begins with graphic representation, or a visual allegory in lieu of the real thing. Records of natural movement—consider footprints—index/trace motion as a graphic representation. Cartoons, on the contrary, allegorize by design. Consider the gag: cartoons punish their protagonists for their commitment to rational thought and realism. 

Gilsdorf’s business of gags defamiliarizes and recontextualizes images, but not merely to resuscitate them as such. Gilsdorf reminds us of the infinite capacity images have for resuscitation. In the words of Johanna Burton, who expands on this notion of defamiliarization: “If there was or is critical promise inherent in destabilization, it is most usually understood as always already counterbalanced, capable of serving or producing subtle ‘cynical reason’ or overtly catering to capitalism.” Gilsdorf literalizes the always-already counterbalanced; what better way to commemorate than with floppy satire?