Curated Spotlight: Whit MacLaughlin of 707 Hazardous Moves
A softball interview with Whit MacLaughlin conducted by Whit MacLaughlin
Where did 707 Hazardous Moves come from?
Uncertainty. I’ve been thinking about, wondering about, and making work about uncertainty for a long time. I’m trying to become certain of uncertainty. To make friends with it.
What is uncertainty? It’s maybe our most consistent, most permanent state. We’ll just never know what to think or do for sure, because we can’t know what’s going to happen. The best computers, with the best algorithms can’t predict anything with assurance. It seems like there’s a firewall between what has been and what’s going to be.
The fact is, we can never be sure what’s going to happen. We can try to make things happen, and we can certainly influence outcomes, but there will inevitably be surprises. Coming to terms with this, trusting our own unsuspected inner resources in the face of our uncertainty, is the source of much joy.
What the hell? What’s the attraction to “not knowing”?
Some people are really good with not knowing. Others, very “successful” people, seem to need to feel oriented all the time. The really, really successful ones, are like Zen cowpokes of improbably. They ride that bucking bronco of chance with ease.
I’m a long-termed devotee of the I Ching, translated as The Book of Changes, which is an “oracle” with its roots in China somewhere around 2500 years ago. One throws coins or yarrow sticks to generate a series of numbers that index a recommendation in response to a question about how to proceed with a particular life issue. The responses are strangely right on point, and I can’t figure out why it seems to work. So oracles, and this process of learning how to proceed into the future, have become an obsession.
Especially because a bunch of crazy, unknowable things have affected my life recently.
I came across a poem that seems to frame the problems surrounding risk and faith supremely well – this thing by Stéphane Mallarmé, called A Throw of Dice Will Never Abolish Chance. It’s really a remarkable piece of writing. Beautiful, but not lyrical. Not very personal, kind of strangely impersonal, brazenly DIFFICULT. Gigantic. Totally up my alley.
Why a poem?
Good question, Whit.
I went to a long-form poetry reading over 20 years ago out in rural Michigan conducted by a gang of poets that had gathered around a hobo named Max. Twice a month they recited their own work, the work of others, ancient stuff, modern stuff, pygmy poetry, FROM MEMORY. They knew thousands of poems by heart. I felt inundated with the oral tradition. By the end of the evening, I was totally intoxicated by words without a drop of booze.
I am not a written word poet, and to be frank, I don’t generally love poetry, but I do respect it. And hearing it out under the stars recited by experts was a life-changing experience.
Mallarmé’s piece really got to me and stuck to my skin. It’s weirdly robust. Almost inhuman. I’ve wanted to get into the ring with it, and duke it out.
Is this a new direction for New Paradise Laboratories?
Well, autobiographical work has been verboten in our catalogue, even though I’ve always thought that NPL’s work was almost nakedly autobiographical – of everyone involved. The personal was just camouflaged within a strong experience that totally upstaged any vulnerability. I could be totally wrong about this.
Anyone familiar with our past work will recognize it in this piece. It has, strangely, a similar art strategy. I’m just saying, straight out, a handful of things and telling some stories, that I have kept hidden.