Caroline Picard’s exhibition, under the pen name of Coco, titled Dr. Rock transforms the Franklin’s outdoor space into the interior of a therapist’s office. Picard encourages visitors to embrace this contextual shift in the backyard venue by merging mundane administrative procedure with spontaneous emotional exploration. Intimately tied to the release of Picard’s debut graphic novel, The Chronicles of Fortune1, the exhibition and book charm through their surreal meditations on loneliness and grief.
To experience the exhibition one must first contact Dr. Rock via email and book an appointment. Upon arrival, patients enter through the Franklin’s side gate, turn over the exhibition’s signage to read In Session, and take a seat on one of the available couches. Appointments are roughly an hour long. A timer is available to keep track of one’s session. There is a single painting in Dr. Rock’s office. It is a gauzy, forgettable watercolor of Greco-Roman ruins which openly contributes to the room’s featureless anatomy. The space’s sheer ordinariness mimics clinical offices and serves as a reminder that the function of transitional space is dependent upon one’s interactions within, rather than with, said space. The eponymous “doctor” of the exhibition’s title is a five-pound gray rock sitting upon the polka dotted cushion of a slatted wooden chair. For the next hour, one solipsistically “interacts” with the Rock under this occasionally difficult scheme, possessing a full awareness that the Rock is an inanimate object. There’s no potential for an emotional connection here. One is alone. Though it is crucial to mention that this solitude can offer a small respite from daily forms of social self-censorship.
Picard’s fascination with ordinary affects merging into, or simultaneously brimming with, extraordinary oddity lies at the heart of the graphic novel. The Chronicles is the story of Edith May, a character whose everyday decisions (like embarrassment over renting a thoughtless romantic comedy at a video store) begin to impact her life in increasingly surreal ways. Picard captures the beginning of Edith May’s uncertainty and ensuing adventures with ink sketches that convey the precious importance of her daily rituals. There are sharp-cornered surprises within the sketches, delicate intricacies similar to Unica Zürn’s creature drawings.
[Editor’s note: The Chronicles of Fortune spoilers ahead!]
The story begins with a death in Edith May’s family. As a response to her own emotional turmoil, Edith May’s spirit schisms to form Fortuna, a superhero alter ego. However, Fortuna does not seem to possess any superpowers and suffers from a case of ennui. Both Fortuna and Edith May are bored, lonely and quietly grieving; acquaintances and friends are mostly absent while their family views them as flighty and unreliable. Edith May/Fortuna’s life begins to change when a series of innocuous decisions bring them into contact with a complex civilization of moths, a wise mountain forgotten by partying beatniks, a horse that enjoys tacos, and a weeping alligator responsible for a leak in the ceiling. A somber trip to California for the family member who passed at the beginning of Chronicles soon too morphs into a surreal conversation with a ghost living on the grounds of Alcatraz.
These misadventures weave together and culminate in a climax as the readers learn that a heavy, menacing presence was hanging over Edith May/Fortuna’s head this entire time: Death. Death emerges as a late antagonist, one who taunts Fortuna and challenges her to a fight. Fortuna momentarily defeats Death by shoving it into her favorite stove. However, Fortuna can not bring herself to kill Death. She calls herself a coward, even as she releases Death from the stove, who happily greets her with a hug and tears of relief. The climactic moment is driven not by cowardice but by a heroic acceptance; Edith May/Fortuna are residents of the world, no longer driven to hide from life
Chronicles is not an average superhero tale. Edith May/Fortuna’s urban adventures are reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland’s vignettes. With the appearance of Death as the ultimate foe, Picard creates a superhero with emotional resonance and a deeply empathetic story of one woman re-entering the world. Picard’s compassion translates ambiguously to Dr. Rock’s therapy sessions. Cultivating the potential for change is a task left to each visitor. Dr. Rock can not engage visitors making each interaction one-sided; an element of each session that is unavoidably awkward. Perhaps the awkward aspects of this freedom are intended as Picard is simply reflecting a fact of the human condition; much of life is a solo expedition.