In Shane Huffman’s exhibition Swimming to give myself a heart attack in order to stop the moon’s recession, the artist creates spare poetic installations of sculpture, photography, and text based on swimming exercises he did with the intention of giving himself a heart attack. Drawing interconnections between astronomical movements and human, physical, and emotional life, Huffman's work diagrams a rigorous personal cosmology.
In his essay on the exhibition, Jonathan Miller compares Huffman’s swimming to the language-like gesture of walking described in Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life. Fixated on longing and desire, Huffman’s exhibition focuses on the moon as the object of infatuation: one which is inaccessible, yet through a mixture of superstitious practice, physical activity, and sheer will can in some way be acted upon. Miller wrote:
If ignorance of the laws of nature is the basis of superstition, there’s an element of deliberate superstition in Huffman’s willful revision of cosmic order. Huffman reinvests interplanetary space, drained of mystery by the imposed order of cosmological description, with something “extra and other.” In de Certeau’s view, superstition is precisely what makes space habitable: remove stories and legends, banish all ghosts, and the resulting sterilized space lacks memory, history, and distinction. “Haunted places are the only ones people can live in—and this inverts the schema of the Panopticon.” Combining the roles of aquanaut and cosmonaut, Huffman re-enchants the galaxy, rendering it fit for humans to swim in.
Although the action of swimming and the absurd desire to give oneself a heart attack seem to have little to do with the moon’s motion, Huffman built up in his exhibition a strange and romantic logic which links all three elements. As Miller described it, “The Moon slips away from the Earth at the rate of some three inches a year, and, with every heartbeat, the distance increases fractionally. Suddenly having a heart attack makes sense: who wouldn’t wish to stop the heart when its every beat is so linked with pushing away what it desires?”
The exhibition will be accompanied by a discussion with Shane Huffman on Thursday, Septermber 26, 2002.
Swimming to give myself a heart attack to stop the moon's recession was commissioned as one of the projects in the 2002 At the Edge: Innovative Art in Chicago series.