Maybe the precise moment when I felt my soul unlatch from my body. A still from The Happiest Thought.
Maybe the precise moment when I felt my soul unlatch from my body. A still from "The Happiest Thought." Courtesy of the Frye Art Museum
I gulped down a giant can of over-caffeinated water before walking into Agnieszka Polska's Love Bite at the Frye Art Museum. That was either an unintentionally brilliant move on my part or added to my slight anxiety while experiencing this piece. Either way, Polska's immersive, ASMR-adjacent audiovisual installations seek to unnerve through exploring history, scientific theory, and humanity's existential crisis over the fate of our planet. Love Bite marks the U.S. debut of two of Polska's video installations that address climate change and mass extinction.

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This iteration of "The Happiest Thought" is located in the gallery where the salon-style hanging of the Frye's permanent collection used to be. In the middle of the darkened room, a giant screen hangs from the ceiling, slanting down, imposing itself on the viewer. The public is invited to lay down on foam mattresses in front of the screen to watch the video play out in front of them. A man next to me snored very loudly.

Taking its title from Albert Einstein's revelation that led him to formulate his theory of general relativity, "The Happiest Thought" imagines our death as an incident that transports us back to prehistoric Earth, before the Permian-Triassic extinction which killed of 90 percent of life on our planet. A gentle, hypnotic voice guides the viewer through different layers of consciousness—submerged in the sea as an aquatic animal or gazing at dragonflies in the sky as a mammal—all the while meditating on the fact of our prehistoric existence and subtly suggesting how it relates to now.

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250 million years ago, life on our planet was nearly totally decimated. Yet here we are. But we're on the precipice of losing it all again. Is there any hope? For us, maybe not. But in another 250 million years, who knows?

Love Bite is up at the Frye Art Museum until April 19th.

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