Which creature would win in a battle between an ostrich and a duck, a narwhal and a horse, an orangutan and a whale, or a swarm of butterflies and a pair of lobsters? The fictional collisions of such animals are the focus of the incredibly charming The Exploded Mind of Mulholland Hwang, a collaboration between artists Oliver Jeffers and Aaron Ruff at the Invisible Dog in Brooklyn.
The whole exhibition is set up to take viewers inside the mind of a fictional young boy named Mulholland Hwang, who is imagining the epic biological battles from his room. The fights have “exploded” into illustrations, dioramas, collages, and paintings around the gallery. By standing on the head of a lion that’s part of an old carpet in the middle of a replica of Hwang’s imagined home, you can see all the match-ups in a swirl around you.
Jeffers is an illustrator and writer from Northern Ireland, now based in Brooklyn, and best known for his children’s books, which include This Moose Belongs to Me, on the difficulties of owning such an obstinate pet; The Heart and the Bottle, on a girl who protects her heart by putting it in a bottle and then needs to remember how to get it out again; and a series of misadventures featuring a boy and his friend who just happens to be a penguin. Jeffers was also one of the artists selected for the crowd-sourced GO exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum.
Aaron Ruff, also based in Brooklyn, is the jewelry designer behind Digby and Iona, taking inspiration from history, literature, and childhood quests for hidden treasure. Ruff and Jeffers obviously are a perfect match for turning the wonder of childhood into a well-crafted exhibition of playful nostalgia. They’ve collaborated before, with a project called “4D Glasses,” specs through which you can “see the future/re-enjoy the past.” The work included an advertisement that looked like something from the back of an old comic book (a space from which kids used to be sold everything from hovercrafts to x-ray vision goggles) as well as the glasses themselves and a guide for their proper use.
The Exploded Mind of Mulholland Hwang has a mixture of Jeffers’s lively illustration style and Ruff’s attention to handcrafted detail, together inspiring a sense of wonder and youthful imagination. One diorama holds a flamingo and a turkey having a showdown in an old Western town. In another two-dimensional piece the flamingo has a “stare-down” with a pig (the flamingo seems to be a particularly enjoyable animal to imagine fighting other animals). One of my favorite works in the exhibition shows the heads of soldiers in a print of the Battle of Austerlitz painted over with those of mice and birds, composing an an all-out animal war.
The details of The Exploded Mind of Mulholland Hwang are incredible, from the haphazard arrangement of the objects in Hwang’s “room” to the tiny, tiny animals hiding in the landscapes of dioramas. But it’s really the illustrations that show the most personality, of the artists and the animals alike. As for which species will win in this showcase of mortal combat? You’ll have to take the evidence that Hwang’s mind has presented and decide for yourself which animal is the top competitor in this creature clash.
Oliver Jeffers and Aaron Ruff: The Exploded Mind of Mulholland Hwang runs at the Invisible Dog (51 Bergen Street, Brooklyn) through May 18.