When I desire you a part of me is gone: my want of you partakes of me. So reasons the lover at the edge of eros. The presence of want awakens in him nostalgia for wholeness. His thoughts turn toward questions of personal identity: he must recover and incorporate what is gone if he is to be a complete person. –Anne Carson, Eros the Bittersweet
To be at the edge of eros, for Carson, is to be at the boundary of desire, the moment when a love ignites. Shifting focus from the pleasant aspects of new love, Carson calls attention elsewhere, to the painful reckoning the desirous individual undergoes as they are split into two: part former self and part a consuming want of another. But what is to be made of the other edge of eros, the boundary demarcated by the dissolution of a love or a desire? To me, it seems possible that this second edge is one of unification. That, through an estrangement, the individual reckons not with a splitting, but with a fusion as they fight to restore their own discrete wholeness.
In Promises, Mike Goldby negotiates this latter edge and the encounter of the self—in all its frustrations and glories—in the dissipating wake of eros. The images that comprise this exhibition were selected from Goldby’s personal archive and illustrate both literally and thematically the intimacies that are created through establishing distance. The images are quotidian—a lilac bush, a bathroom selfie, a drink—but in practice they represent tentative discoveries, made through a perspective in flux. In A Lover’s Discourse, Barthes talks about how a telephone can “[resume] its trivial existence” once you’re no longer waiting for your lover to call; but, by the same token, a lilac bush might adopt a sublimity as it transforms into a clarifying source of hope.
Of course, it’s never as simple as all this. Life, generally, and periods of transition, in particular, are full of antithetical energies, feelings, and interests constantly wrestling for recognition—often undermining one another in the process. Goldby captures this friction tangibly and elegantly. By shielding each photograph with sandblasted glass, he introduces a physical reminder of the initial distance that necessitated these “discoveries” and he mirrors—through the experience of the viewer—the residual longing that informed each and every one of them. Put plainly: the more you want to see them, the closer you get, the harder they become to see.
Obfuscation is no stranger to Goldby’s practice. Promises marks an evolution of an idea first hatched in Silver 35, an earlier body of work. In that series, the images, which mostly featured glimpses of strangers on the street, sat behind a tinted, reflective film that simultaneously obscured the work from the viewer while ensnaring them within it. Promises gently turns this idea on its head. Formerly embraced into an indifferent public realm, the viewer is now invited into a highly personal and private one, but is forced to stay at arm’s length. Goldby furthers this gesture of distantiation through a series of poems, written only to be pasted to the back of each piece, out of sight of any hopeful readers.
Ultimately, this body of work is a negotiation: a dialogue between a self and the ghost of the absent lover over where to draw the line—or the edge—between them. It is host to confusions and clarities, concealments and disclosures; and it embodies the complicated truth that, try as we might, we can never restore a former wholeness, we can only ever shape a new one. Because, after a love, one’s wholeness can no longer exist, will not seal shut, without holding the traces left by the other.
- Kate Kolberg, 2023
Mike Goldby (b. 1991, Toronto, CA) completed his BFA in Integrated Media at OCAD University in 2013. He has exhibited internationally in Toronto (Franz Kaka, Gallery 44, Sibling, Jr. Projects, Tomorrow, Art Metropole, Division), New York (MAW Gallery), Brussels (Mon Cheri), Berlin (Future Gallery), and Paris (Galerie Chez Valentin). His work is included in the public collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne where he will be included in the upcoming NGV Triennial, which opens Dec 3, 2023. He currently lives and works in Montreal/Tiohti:áke where he is an MFA candidate at Concordia University.