OZO! Zines #15: David E.F. Currie – Commoner’s Guide to Nonsense, Part 1

Ottawa Zine Off Dave Currie

FORGOT TO INVITE JUSTIN CORPORATION: Commoner’s Guide to Nonsense, Part 1
David E.F. Currie, 12 pages

“The Naki-Ax is how I look at my memories. The fishtail dove tails into my thoughts. Moments are like fish, once they are gone they are memories. Memories are dead fish – I zap them with electrical impulses to make their tails move.

Are we friends yet?”

In the late ’90s the Maywa Denki Corporation, a Japanese conceptual art duo best known for creating the Otomatone, released “26 different nonsensical inventions into the Japanese Market as products” seeking to explore the human mind by means of fish. An arch, vaguely surreal demonstration of the Naki line is available in three parts on YouTube, and is certainly worth a watch (unless the prospect of fish-sadism deeply disturbs).

Dave Currie’s Commoner’s Guide to Nonsense takes the Naki series as inspiration, juxtaposing Naki product descriptions with episodes from a very strange courtship. Being familiar with Currie’s work, it doesn’t surprise me that Maywa Denki’s project struck a chord with him. They share an absurdist deadpan sensibility. What is interesting, and funny, and even poetic, about Currie’s riff on the project is the way it explores the most nonsensical aspect of the mind: attraction.

Each day, a barista is visited by a lunatic busker who attempts an unorthodox wooing via juggling, unicycling and sucking down oysters in grotesque volume. Each of the barista’s diary entries are paired with a description of a Maywa Denki product, which may stand in for the busker’s thoughts, comment obliquely on the situation, or have no relevance whatever to the story:

“The next time I saw him, he cursed me out. One of my coworkers called the police. I hung up on them.

See, he didn’t just curse me out. He cursed me out in 39 separate languages. He swore at me for over an hour. Dear diary, I have never been so turned on in my life.

By the time the police arrived, I knew this was not going to end well.

Gra-Fish is a terrible thing to hang on your wall. I will instruct you. First, remove a goldfish from its tank. Second, place it on a canvas. Now, simply stand back and watch it flap around until it is dead. ‘As each fish lives a different lifestyle, the ways in which they die are also different.’

Although Masamichi and Novumichi Tosa, the artists behind Maywa Denki, seem almost disappointingly well-adjusted in real life, there is a bleak cruelty in the worldview expressed by their Naki project. The fish, which represent the human soul, are unthinking pawns strapped into juddering machines that transform their nature into a comic danse macabre. It supposes a meaning to life that is worse than meaningless, as uncomprehending butt of a cosmic joke.

Currie’s Guide has a pretty saturnine view of dating. Centuries of romantic stories have ingrained in men the virtues of relentlessly pursuing one’s desired mate and wearing down her resistance with a series of Big Gestures; the busker’s off-kilter courting gleefully desecrates the blurry line between devotion and obsession. The barista views their increasing attraction to the busker with a kind of detached apprehension, like watching an object hurtling towards you that it seems hopeless to avoid. The heart wants what it wants, but what if it’s just a dumb fish swimming inside a machine covered in lightbulbs running over and over into a wall?

As is often the case with Currie’s comedy, the stippling of raw discomfort and hesitant tenderness in Commoner’s Guide to Nonsense leaves you laughing and then wondering why you did.

Members of the Corporation collating copies at the Zine Off.

Members of the Corporation collating copies at the Zine Off.

JM’s JaM: The Books – A Dead Fish Gains the Power of Observation

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