For a good time, call 1-844-ASTRAL LOANS: Staticky smooth jams and a silky-voiced robot will welcome you to “The Caged Pillows Feeling Network.” Automated menu options include listening to “a special message from the Astral Gem itself,” hearing “the Prophecy of Goodtime Charlie,” leaving a message to “contribute your mind,” and listening to the “World of Caged Pillows National Anthem” — which sounds a lot like the Star-Spangled Banner spliced with ray-gun noises. Have you called yet?
The toll-free ASTRAL LOANS hotline recently launched alongside a psychedelic animated film, “‘The Caged Pillows,” directed by LA-based artist Galen Pehrson. Commissioned for the debut of Ruins, a new magazine about urbanism, the film is set in a dystopian city (resembling Los Angeles?) populated by anthropomorphic cartoon animals. The narrative follows Ediza (voiced by Jena Malone), a laconic teenage cat in the suburbs; Monday (voiced by Rose McGowan), a celebrity duck; and a slick talk show host duck (voiced by James Franco). All the characters look lost and slightly stoned throughout. The soundtrack is a medley of Daft Punk, Future Islands, Death Grips, and Devendra Banhart. Experimental hip-hop group Death Grips’s new track “Trash” was first released through the Caged Pillows hotline.
Like a druggier take on cartoon series BoJack Horseman, the video captures the dissonance of feel-good New Agey adspeak, the total noise of contemporary media, shallow Hollywood glamour, and the isolation of screen addiction. (A clip of a crystal emerging from a screen into a hypnotized cat-girl’s paw recalls Videodrome’s “techno-surrealism.”) By now, these might seem like hackneyed themes in the realm of video and post-internet art. But Pehrson, who lived until age 12 in rural Nevada City without access to cable TV, has a particular, uncanny vision of pop culture. His vividly imagined animation — a mashup of Ducktales tributes, geometric 3D-models in space, the technicolor fantasies of Avatar, and neon ‘80s Vegas kitsch — makes the “World of Caged Pillows” feel convincing and creepily familiar.
“On the surface, The Caged Pillows is a story about the way we’ve come to communicate, removing ourselves from human touch, alone but together,” Pehrson explained in Ruins magazine. “Screens feed us standards — from the media, from each other — and project images that define what success, happiness, and beauty look like.” You won’t find a straightforward explanation of what, exactly, the “World of Caged Pillows” is, aside from what you see in the video. “As the director, I don’t offer the answers,” says Pehrson. “Instead I abstractly approach the topic as a media-oriented ‘Guernica’; I present the topics, characterize the subjects, and let the viewer create their own internal dialogue.”
Throughout the video, a pink gemstone spins in a late-night commercial for the ASTRAL LOANS hotline. Voiced by Gemma Ward, it promises some kind of cosmic sleep balm. “If you’ve got problems, and you feel like you’re all alone out there, call us now,” it says. If “a special message from the Astral Gem itself” doesn’t make you feel less alone, well, there are other hotlines to call.