A new exhibition at New York's Bitforms Gallery depicts a futuristic world of post-apocalyptic decadence, distorting our reality with new mythologies
Monochrome, modern interiors are filled with ornaments of decades past, while baroque ceilings and checkout machines sit side-by-side in a spectacle of our history and our future. The dreamlike HD animation of artist Jonathan Monaghan transports us into a world of a future close enough to resemble the minutiae of our own time.
The only sign of life is a stag, whose birth and subsequent journey we witness like spectators to an unfolding story. Cast in gold, the stag’s eyes glow green as it runs across a simulated wilderness as empty and vacant as the future that awaits us. Roaming through the various spaces within the ‘Escape Pod’ of the exhibition’s title, we discover through its explorations lavish bedrooms, boutiques, airport checkouts and even a luxury riot gear store, unaware of its own commodity value in gold. Presented in one continuous shot, the pod is clean, beautiful and glaringly uninhabited. Suggestive of an absurd post-apocalyptic descent into decadence, the stillness of the space heightens its hollow, almost violently consumerist nature.
A series of photographic prints accompany the video, depicting a set of structures modelled after the jeweled Fabergé’ eggs made for the Russian Tsars. Satellite dishes sit atop curling wall decals, while delicately carved designs are entwined with a local Starbucks and the balcony of a modern flat. In Monoghan’s vision, the indulgence of desire is taken to an extreme. Meaning and function are collapsed to link a baroque past with an equally mythologised future.
POSTmatter: In ‘Escape Pod’ an animation based on hunting mythologies of Greek and Nordic traditions is . What was it about these mythologies that foretold/informed the extravagant yet apocalyptic future created in your video?
Jonathan Monaghan: The deer in many mythologies is able traverse worlds, representing a connection in some way to an alternate reality, so it is an apt icon to use when creating this virtual space. In hunting mythologies it also represents the unobtainable, so reaching for something but never quite getting there. I think that's a good way to describe our condition and interactions with technology; there is a lot of uncertainty and unfulfilled desire.
The deer in many mythologies is able traverse worlds, representing a connection in some way to an alternate reality
PM: Could you describe the process you go through in creating your work?
JM: My work starts with looking. I look at historical works of art and architecture from Western history, but also look at something like high-end design magazines. As I collect these references, I begin conflating these disparate elements, sometimes these will start by simple phrases jotted down in my sketch book like "luxury riot gear boutique" or "WiFi reliquary." I then begin to sketch these objects, environments and creatures that will populate this virtual world. I model these with the 3D software, define their appearance and texture, then animate and "film" it.
PM: ‘After Fabergé’, the photographic prints in your exhibition, are of ornamental egg-like structures, decorated with functional and decorative pieces of our consumer habits. The structures themselves appear functionless, however. In what way do these reflect upon the direction in which we are headed?
JM: Much of my work is filled with iconic and recognisable elements, but deconstructed from their framework. So the meanings and histories of these elements operate in a more non-conscious way. I think this parallels the mutability of how we perceive histories, reality and identities filtered through media.
PM: Your work presents virtual worlds that appear as familiar as they do otherworldly. What is it that interests you about these imagined spaces?
JM: I think the fantastical interjection into something banal and commercial can help uncover some critical insight on the apparently seamless condition of our lived experience. Distortions on perceptions of reality seem to increase exponentially with new digital technologies. When making work with these same media, I think its important the work understands its own artificiality.
Distortions on perceptions of reality seem to increase exponentially with new digital technologies.
PM: You conflate technological and consumer artefacts with bodily orifices. How do you view the overlaps between the two?
JM: I have always worked with the disconnect between the rendered surface, which can be made to feel very soft, fleshy or desirable in some way, and the ultimate flatness of the rendered image. This frustrating disconnect is an apt method to examine a kind of basic unfulfilled desire that comes with technology, which is to be more natural or more human. So the conflating of architecture and orifices, or flesh and couch fabric, play with these desires. It also acts a metaphor for how technology acts as its own life form, continually perpetuating itself.
PM: Your work has an absurdist quality to it. Do you see this as part of a continuum of your work within art history, or presenting a break into something other that is very much based in now?
JM: I took graduate level classes on European decorative arts, and I think perhaps the work has more in line with these objects than anything to do with modernism, which was very dialectical. I think that ‘Escape Pod’, like much art today, operates with a fluidity of meanings and iconographies. In it, I am looking at ornate 17th century tableware, looking at Dali, looking at ads for luxury walk-in closets, but blurring their meanings into what I hope can be a holistic study on who we are and where we are going.
'Escape Pod' is on show at Bitforms Gallery until 3rd May 2015. For more information, click here.