In This Was Your Life, Dash Snow uses the sensational story of cannibal and self-style messiah Daniel Rakowitz as an inspiration for his installation. Drug den accoutrements of cheap leather sofa, potted plant, satanic medallion, and snake skin boots are compiled in shrine-like effigy, rendering a portrait of a monster as a sad, pathetic, ridiculous cliché. Piled in the well-worn seat of pot-head immobility, these relics of evil are transformed to impotent and empty mementos. Accompanied by a newspaper clipping detailing bizarre court revelations, Snow’s installation examines the fine line between banality, insanity, and sheer terror.
Dash Snow, New York Artist, was born on July 27th, 1981 and committed suicide on July 13th, 2009, just fourteen days shy of his 28th birthday; thus ensuring in his own mind at least, that he would join the 27 club. He was an enfant-terrible collage and installation artist of the Bowery School, a collection of angsty, debauched, and significantly well-bankrolled twentysomethings in the Lower East Side. His particular specialty was gritty, exposing Polaroids capturing his own wild nights, along with collages composed of headlines from the New York Post.
It turns out he shot just a smidge too much heroin; ah yes, heroin, crutch of such illustrious sages as Kurt Cobain, William S. Burroughs, and Mark Renton. How apropos that was, an artist of such brilliant and Bohemian comportment as he to go out in a blaze of intravenous glory in a roach-infested, Madison avenue, um $325 dollar-a-night hotel room with an, uh, antique marble hearth?? Wtf???
Dash Snow, it turns out, died much the same way he lived; copious amounts of new-world angst and rebellion mixed with the largesse and exposure only old-world money can buy.
The obligatory biographical shit.
"Adopting all the attitude of hip hop posturing, Dash Snow’s Fuck the Police presents a prized collection of newspaper headlines emblazoned with instances cop corruption. Each salacious story is splattered with cum and framed and mounted as a trophy. Wittily combining protest with hard-core bravado, Snow’s installation draws upon fictional connotations to conjure sociopathic images of gangsta persona. In his ballsy statement of counter-culture vehemence, Snow merges Warhol reference with Tarantino sensationalism in humorously pathological display."
Alright. First of all, anyone named "Dash Snow" is bound to be notable in some way; there are no "Dash Snows" working night shift at Ridgewood Consolidated Particleboard Works, unless they are doing it to bankroll a new wall of Marshall amps. Dash Snow is also among that rarefied group who can be legitimately called a "scion", meaning offspring of rich, powerful people.
The rich, powerful people in question here are the de Menil clan, who were originally French aristocrats who became heir to oil and textiles riches and built one of the America's most impressive art collections. His aunt is Uma Thurman, his father is Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman, and his maternal grandmother was set and costume designer Christophe de Menil, who also apparently bankrolled Dash through his years of nihilistic, debauched youth. Dash, already surrounded by the trappings of success and competency, clearly needed to rebel.
Dash, born Dashiel Snow, by all accounts had a troubled, rebellious youth, being sent to the Hidden Lake Academy in Lumpkin county, Georgia for treatment of "Oppositional Defiant Disorder". *coughbullshit*. Many media profiles of Dash describe it as "juvenile detention". However, one of the Born-Again Protestant clergymen who run the place described it as,
"A last-chance boarding academy that offers objectively defined teenagers an alternative to prison."
Now, I'm quite the last person to take a Georgian fundamentalist preacher at his word; these types of places are often cesspools of sexual assault and mental torture in the worst way. However, further research into Hidden Lake Academy reveals a class-action lawsuit filed, not because of in-school abuses, but because of spurious billing claims coupled with questionable student admittees . All in all, not the kind of claims that make 60 Minutes.
Irrepressible Dash apparently spent two years there, between the ages of thirteen and fifteen, and upon graduation hit the mean streets of New York, helping form the Irak graffiti crew with the tag name of "Sace", and over the next five years spread his name around lower Manhattan at the rate of one tag per night; Ryan McGinley's photo of Dash spraying graffiti on a building forty floors above Manhattan has become one of the iconic images of the artist. He apparently lived on his own, although with a generous monthly stipend from his grandmother, and became embroiled in the New York party scene; the candid Polaroids featuring hard drugs and naughty sex for which he's become famous allegedly started as a way for him to remember where he'd been and what he'd done the night before, after waking up each morning with total memory loss.
Growing up in such a rarefied air of artistic splendor must have had an impact on young Dash, who started forming collages in his spare time (which was copious, given that he was unemployed). After meeting artistic friends Ryan Mcginley and Dan Colen, who often accompanied him on his noctural adventures, they encouraged Dash to cultivate his artistic side, which he did; his first solo exhibition was in 2005 in the Lower East Side, and he gained international prominence after being featured in Charles Saatchi's 2006 exhibition at London's Royal Academy.
His personal life was as convoluted as you might imagine from such a person. He married the Corsican artist Agathe Aparru, five years his senior, when he was 18 and divorced six years later. He later had a daughter, Secret Magic Nico Snow, with his partner Jade Berreau (whom he featured in a series of candid Polaroids while she was pregnant). With a name like Secret Magic Nico Snow, the sky's the limit, really. In his later years, he became notoriously paranoid, being inaccessible by phone, email, or doorbell, which he jammed a screwdriver into. He also started using heroin, having checked into rehab twice in the last year of his life. McGinley claimed that it was an outgrowth of the paranoia that
"...comes from graffiti culture – like, you want everybody to know who you are and you're going to write your name all over the city, but you can't let anyone know who you really are. It's, like, this idea of being notorious."
Fair enough, I suppose I can understand that. But this is one of the critical junctures which split opinions towards Dash: namely, was he a reclusive, paranoid, indulgent artist who burned out at the glorious age of twenty-seven? Or was he merely trying to appear as though he was a reclusive, paranoid artist who burned out at the age of twenty-seven? How much were his actions governed by legitimate impulse, and how much were governed by an informed desire for legitimate impulse?
Art and Legacy: A perfect microcosm of the times?
Documenting his life through a lens, Snow’s photographs explore personal existence as a periphery to globalised culture. Presenting an unabridged account of his marginalised lifestyle, Snow’s often uncomfortable images paint an intimate portrait where topical issues such as sex, drugs, poverty, and anti-social behaviour are confronted from a frank position of personal participation. Translated through the generic quality of his medium, Snow’s photos convey the disoriented fragments of memory as voyeuristic observation, conceiving the experience of ‘self’ as a bi-product of mass media dissociation.
This description of Snow's work, from the Saatchi gallery of London, perhaps best summarizes the multiple ways of viewing his pieces, in particular his Polaroids. Let's start by taking a look at this photo: http://steveaoki.dimmak.com/blog/files/2009/07/dash_3.jpg.
Here he shows us the logical conclusion to a lifetime of being bombarded by sexually suggestive ads. Two naked women, one man; one woman is presumably kissing the subject, the other is simultaneously giving him a hand job and smoking a cigarette. These nameless people seamlessly merge the two major mainstream taboos - don't smoke, and don't fuck - and flaunt it in the faces of the sex-and-nicotine-craving general public, people who are living the repressed dreams of millions of people. This culture also implores us to push our boundaries, "explore" oneself, and own your sexuality - and here it is, the grimy unnerving reality of that imperative. Is this really what you wanted?
Or is she? I, like many of my compatriots born since 1980, are a part of the Responsible Generation; namely, we drink, smoke, fuck and do drugs; but we also take care to get excellent grades, graduate with honours, and defer to authority whenever possible. So in a sense, this nameless, faceless, Gen-R girl is the living embodiment of our times; a product of a culture that emphasizes personal exploration while simultaneously telling her that she should know better.
But this is where Dash Snow departs, in life and art, from his competitors; enter the third viewpoint, namely that of being utterly conscious of one's own desired image. Assume, now, that the girl, and subsequently Dash who is involved in the craziness and documenting of it, are aware of a) their reality, and b) their desired reality vis-a-vis received media over the years. This girl, presumably wants to be known as, and know herself as, a wild, fun-loving, mischievous one; a lifetime of received media would suggest that, to fulfill this self-image, a certain degree of rebelliousness (as in smoking) and sexual promiscuity is in order. Yet the artist, too, is not immune from this self-awareness; he sees, and knows himself as a creative, debauched enfant terrible, many of whom were notoriously reclusive and died at twenty-seven, and so died of the drug of choice at the age of choice.
Notably, too, by and large his Polaroids portray debauchery and grit for its own sake, unencumbered by any overriding social philosophy. His subjects are far too self-aware for that.
This drives at the heart of Snow's work, be it Polaroids, Hamster Nest, or collages; in them all, there is a pervading sense that, today, no matter how vile, vulgar or debauched, it is impossible to be authentic; impossible to truly remove yourself from outside influences. There are so many references out there to every possible mode of behaviour, that to be anyone is to fundamentally, and irrevocably, become a caricature of oneself. Dash's work, then, is a study of what happens when the desire of an image, and its reality, collide. And it fucking sucks. This is what happens when perceived coolness, and its reality, collide.
This is, bar none, my favourite work of Snow's. It's essentially a collage which shows a cascading wave of headlines from the New York Post, all dealing with violence and drama in the media of some sort; such as, "Granny's Revenge", "Blood Money", and "Fatal Flirt". They are densely packed against a bright yellow, sunny background, and yet the bottom tenth of the piece is free of headlines. It is the slow creep of journalistic madness, how casually-reported violence and horror infiltrates a society at rest, and it's running fast down the sheet; the little bit of happiness and freedom that is left, untouched, is under threat by the cascading wave; and time is running out. On its own, it is unremarkable; but combined with Snow's candid shots of depravity and destitution, creates a compelling whole which sheds light on the simultaneously flippant, and deadly serious mode of media which we live in.
This, really, is the ultimate irony of Dash Snow's life, and especially death; he seemed authentic enough, but with a rich, philanthropic background like James Taylor and a generous monthly stipend from his grandmother, could we ever really be sure? He certainly didn't have to earn his shit, like William S. Burroughs. And what lengths, what depravity would he have to go to to prove his authenticity? And in a desire to prove it, would these lengths be inherently untrue? And even in his death, which on the outside seems a blatant imitation of star-struck sages who've come before him, could he be taken seriously then?
Can any of us be taken seriously for who we are anymore?
Dash Snow - unwitting man of our times; or possibly, more witting than we will ever know. RIP July 13, 2009.