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BOONE, NORTH CAROLINA — The vibe of Anthony Goicolea’s first traveling museum solo show is a slow melancholy. Looking at the photos, videos, paintings and installation in Alter-Ego: A Decade of Work by Anthony Goicolea at the Telfair Museum in Savannah, Georgia made me sink slowly into thoughts of living with apocalypse. Ever a popular theme in our culture, an apocalypse is generally treated as a sudden end — a meteor crashes, the earth opens up, everyone dies, there is great tragedy that leaves an empty lifeless wasteland. The character of apocalypse in Goicolea’s work is entirely different. It is not an apocalypse of an abrupt event followed by an aftermath — it is an apocalypse of slow and definitive ruin that continues throughout life.
Take for example, “Bed Ridden” (2007). It’s a time-lapse painting of a sick young man. Groundless, bound by weakness, his entire existence is the bed itself. Ninety hatch mark the passage of time, discarded entertainments and the remains of nourishments surround him. Nothing exists outside. No family, friends, doctors. It is a personal apocalypse, universally experienced.
On a larger scope, Smoke Stacks reminds me that we are all contributors to the decline of our environment. Heavily and expertly edited, the cityscape is made up of images of the same set of buildings and smokestacks, taken from slightly different angles and recombined. The escape from the real space of photography opens up a metaphorical geography in which there is no visible ground or grid-like order to the streets.
Almost every building has one or more smokestacks billowing pollutants into the sky. Each inhabitant contributes to the collective pollution in a direct way. The gap between the public and the production of pollutants is closed. It’s a necessary reminder of the condition of our time — we all have a personal smokestack. Although it’s perhaps owned by a corporation and in another state or country, it is no less real. Ultimately, we don’t live in a way that can be sustained. It’s a pessimistic thought, but the sun will end in 4.5 billion years, and as a society, our current actions may not allow our far-future descendants to exist anywhere close to that length of time. Our current apocalypse-in-progress is one of slow decline — it’s so gradual that it can’t be seen in a lifetime, but scientists assure us it’s there. I know the death of our environment is happening, but I can’t believe it when I step outside into fresh air and look at the mountains around me.
The interesting thing about the apocalyptic visions in Goicolea’s work is that they’re inhabited. The people seem to adapt and return to routine in images such as “Deconstruction,” in which people rest in hammocks attached to the walls of a half-demolished building, and in “Low Tide” (2007), where a woman sits on a bench overlooking the battery, perhaps gazing at the industrial wasteland surrounding her. Our epic fictions seem to characterize an apocalypse as a singular and rare hypothetical event set in a not too far future, but the reality is that apocalypses surround us. It takes work such as Goicolea’s to remind us that we already live in the wreckage of industrial society, even if we don’t always believe it.
Alter-Ego: A Decade of Work by Anthony Goicolea at the Jepson Center at the Telfair Museum (207 West York Street, Savannah, Georgia) opened to the public on September 2, 2011 and will be on view until January 8, 2012.