Next up in our series with WeTransfer is artist Jonathan Monaghan, who filters visions of a dystopian future through surreal reconstructions of today's luxury spaces
Mixing the visual vocabulary of luxury advertisements with witty, sinister narratives, American computer animator and artist Jonathan Monaghan is rewriting mythical histories to tell dystopian stories of the future. Utilising 3D animation and computational technology to create films, prints and sculptures, he brings vestiges of modern wealth to new eeryie forms of life. From baroque architecture rerendered as faberge eggs-cum-sci-fi space ships, to enlarged headless lambs on a journey through ethereal landscapes, Monaghan combines styles of photorealism and video game graphics to create virtual spaces that leave viewers at once enthralled and unsettled.
In his artificial scenes, wealth and power are embedded in representations of architecture through the ages. Intergalactic and intergenerational spaces are left abandoned by humans for us, as avatars, to explore on the tales of animals and mythical creatures alike. With light-hearted graphics and ominous plots, Monaghan is imagining visions of potential futures in light of the contemporary quest for the ultimate site of luxury.
POSTmatter: Each of your videos, prints and sculptures host a wide variety of architectural influences from luxury apartments, to baroque architecture, to airport lounges. In which real life cultural scenes to you find most inspiration?
Jonathan Monaghan: I am interested in architecture relating to power and desire; architecture designed to control or to evoke authority. These types of spaces and buildings are ancient, cathedrals for instance, and contemporary, such as luxury clothing stores. The influence this has on us and our behavior is understated I think. The same can be said for technology and I am interested in this parallel.
PM: Your films are imbued with a futuristic sci-fi quality, as well as hints of ancient mythologies, such as the golden deer in 'Escape Pod'. How do you find these genres of storytelling interact with each other?
JM: I have always loved science fiction, but I think my interest in mythology stems from the parallels to our world today. I think the works create contemporary myths, and I hope that through this we can learn about who we are and where we are going.
PM: In what ways do you find 3D animation to be a useful tool for commenting on excessive materialism and wealth?
JM: The software I use is designed to create commercial imagery, typically to sell something, be it entertainment, new condos or consumer products. I consciously try to evoke this commercial sharpness and seductiveness in my work as a subversion and examination of this imagery of desire. For instance in 'Escape Pod', I was highly influenced by magazine advertisements for luxury furniture. Scenes from 'Escape Pod' could almost pass for such images, but there is always something more sinister or surreal happening. I like to walk this delicate boundary.
PM: Why do you choose to eliminate human beings from your artificial landscapes and instead often forefront large-scale animals?
JM: For me, human characters or actors can be a distraction in that the viewer may become absorbed in or associate with the character. Of course many great films and artworks are created this way. But with my work, mythical histories, architecture, futuristic contraptions, and relics of consumerism become the characters, and I want my viewers instead to become absorbed in this dystopian, dehumanised world. It's like a video game where you don't really see your character, you become the avatar and unfold a story by exploring the environment. The work is confrontational in this way; live in my version of our future and see if you like it.
PM: Please tell us a little about your research and process for the creation and development of your upcoming show Gotham, soon to be showing in Paris.
JM: My latest body of work centers around luxury apartment buildings built in Manhattan during the explosion of wealth disparity in the late 19th century. I became interested in this architecture partly for its intricacy and grandeur, but also because I am native New Yorker and the more I researched, the more parallels were revealed to the speculative development and new wealth changing the city's identity today.
The show consists of prints, sculpture and animation which transform the apartments' Beaux Arts facades into a kinds of organic matter. Combined with fabrics, fur and futuristic contraptions, these surreal vignettes offer a meditation on material desire and wealth.
This interview is published in partnership with WeTransfer, as part of our series exploring the creatives who push the boundaries between digital and physical space in new and surprising ways. See Jonathan Monaghan’s work custom moving image piece on WeTransfer here.