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Unreliable Narrator


Images and words inform and deceive. The interplay of text and visuals may be both penetrating and perplexing; actions may move fluidly within stationary pages, and round figures are revealed from the depths of flat surfaces. Unreliable Narrator invited viewers into a combined theatre and gallery space to see plays combined with paintings. Each artist chose a play whose words – and pages themselves – were incorporated into the figurative tradition.  For his participation in Unreliable Narrator, Jay Senetchko adapted WB Yeats’ The Words Upon the Window Pane into a work that was simultaneously painting, sculpture, installation and written word; as well as reflecting the voyeurism inherent in audience participation in both the theatrical and visual arts. 

At the beginning of the 20th century Yeats feared that middle-class values and ambitions would eventually result in the materialization of every aspect of society, including the arts.  The Words Upon the Window Pane was intended to expose middle-class audiences to the spectacle of a middle-class audience watching a play critiquing their values.  Jonathan Swift is the mouthpiece of this critique as he materializes via seance to spew venom at its participants; and a shattered tea saucer serves as the primary symbol for the unsettled nerves of a conventional audience. As Swift pontificates about “the ruin to come” (meaning democracy and its values) a human cliche in attendance remarks that he is a character “in some kind of horrible play.

Modernism as an ideology was meant to have been the fusion of opposing aesthetics and ideologies. Between ‘the ruin to come’ and a member of its rank, there would appear to be little chance of reconciliation; but a fusion and reconciliation we do not get in Yeats.  The Circus Animals of his poem’s Desertion never arrive at his symbolist Innisfree in the Celtic Twilight, and the objects of his poetry never enjoy the cheery automatism of an ennobled Realism. Rather than embracing opposites or attempting their reconciliation into some forced Hegelian synthesis, Yeats refuses in the end to surrender his ambivalence.  He felt that the world was a mess of mostly bad human relations, and one of transcendent beauty.  Distinctions he came to realize between competing aesthetic and ideological movements of his time were illusory; and were more reflective of psychological evasion than any substantive force. 

According to the mature Yeats, everyone – be they Romantic, Symbolist, Realist, or Modernist, were evading the psychic fear that accompanies thinking and feeling too many contradictory things at the same time.  Yeats ultimately reconciled himself to the fact that differences are always indistinguishable, and therefore irreconcilable.  He came to hold the belief that everything is always true, and to deny this fact is to condemn yourself to finding out.  Realizing this, and that there was no way to escape this realization, he lay down to die “where all the ladders start, in the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart.