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A golden reindeer gallops across a vast checkerboard while a grotesque UFO flies overhead. A duty free store in a futuristic space station peddles night sticks, bulletproof vests, smoke grenade launchers, and other law enforcement accessories in luxurious vitrines. The cushions of a modernist sofa birth a golden calf with Apple pinwheel cursors for eyes. All these surreal scenes and many more feed into and sometimes very literally penetrate each other in “Escape Pod” (2015), the 20-minute short film at the center of Jonathan Monaghan‘s solo exhibition of the same name at bitforms gallery. Other works in the show, including five large-format photos of digitally created and futuristic Fabergé eggs, a small bovine sculpture, and another looping animated film, are all exquisitely rendered, full of sharp details and wry humor. But in “Escape Pod” Monaghan has crafted, using commercial animation software, a beautiful and dystopic mindfuck of Baroque-modernist science fiction.
The animated short is Mikhail Bakhtin-meets-Manolo Blahnik, with boutique interiors and space-age minimalist vehicles butting up against, well, floating butts, gyrating alien phallus things, and bursts of gold and garish rainbow hues. The video’s enigmatic narrative loops seamlessly, following the golden calf as it climbs into an escape pod and travels to an orbiting duty free store; alongside that store is the riot gear boutique, which leads into a security checkpoint for escape pod travelers from which a wiggling space worm takes flight; zooming out, the entire preceding sequence turns out to have taken place inside a golden reindeer, which sets out across a desert expanse, trailed and eventually overtaken by the UFO; when the reindeer catches up to the spacecraft an escalator unfurls and the squirming alien phallus emerges from the deer’s glowing butt, floats aboard, and the whole sequence repeats. Though many of the spaces featured in the video seem designed for (extremely wealthy) humans, none appear, giving the whole thing an ominous, post-apocalyptic atmosphere. Every image and surface is precise and photorealistic, even though the world they depict is completely nonsensical. Monaghan is a one-man Pixar studio creating M.C. Escher-esque circuits of weirdness.
In the exhibition’s other short video, “The Pavilion” (2014), a spinning luxury clothing store with Rococo ceilings lays a series of large, egg-shaped objects. Those pods are isolated and magnified in After Fabergé, the series of 57-inch-tall photographs that line the gallery walls. They look like what Arcimboldo might have come up with if he’d been commissioned to create Fabergé eggs and given nothing but 21st-century consumer goods. They incorporate wireless signal transmitters, modernist footrests and chairs, Starbucks storefronts, satellite dishes, and USB ports, but also tonsils, ornate building façades, and undefined hairy body parts. They are hybrids of gaudy gadgets, yuppie interior decoration, and pulsing body parts. What might emerge if one were ever to hatch is anybody’s guess. A golden reindeer? A Kardashian?
There’s a seductive tone to Monaghan’s post-human futurology. The works in Escape Pod portray a depopulated world of luxury, cyborg creatures, and beautiful but pointless design. Where his earlier videos centered on animal characters, pop culture quotations, and religious iconography, the pieces in this show are resolutely agnostic and cryptic. The most coherent interpretation I could formulate, as I sat gazing at that galloping reindeer, is that these works depict the customized escape vessels used by one-percenters to flee the earth as it falls to ruin. Whatever happened to the pods’ intended passengers, and the 99% of us left behind to rot, I sincerely hope will be the subject of Monaghan’s next video.
Editor’s Note: This endorsement is part of a special edition that Hyperallergic published on the ongoing legal case to return the photos of Renty and Delia Taylor to their descendants. * * * Your Honour — On April 11, 2018, The New York Times published a report on the differential outcomes for maternal and infant…
he ownership of images has a long and nuanced legal history, which has evolved dramatically in recent years as cultural standards and photographic technologies have rapidly advanced
The show, which honors the 50th anniversary of an exhibition history once ignored, continues a series of projects documenting Wilmington’s contemporary art scene.
Renty and his daughter Delia. Renty was an enslaved African, kidnapped from the Congo, sold and forced into slave labor on the South Carolina plantation of B.F. Taylor
What is the relation between possessing a person, possessing their image, and dispossessing their progeny
As a scholar of African American history and photography whose work has focused on the status of violent images in museums and archives, I fully support the validity of Ms. Tamara Lanier’s claim and the amicus brief.
Two K-12 art teachers will each receive a $1,000 cash gift and an additional $500 to put toward classroom art supplies. Nominations are due October 31.
The daguerreotypes of Renty Taylor, Delia, Drana, Alfred, Jack, George Fassena, and Jem remained in an unused storage cabinet until 1975, when it was discovered by an employee of the Peabody Museum.
I am writing in support of the amicus curiae brief submitted by Professor Ariella Aïsha Azoulay of Brown University for the full restitution of the daguerreotypes of Renty Taylor and his daughter Delia, currently held by Harvard University, to their familial descendant, Tamara Lanier.
We cannot be indifferent to the long-lasting effects of photography. The photographs at the center of Lanier v. Harvard are relentless in making Renty and Delia Taylor work and perform as slaves. The pain inflicted on them has not ceased. Photography has the capacity to propagate harm, and we have the moral obligation to interrupt…