• Night of the Apocalypse

    Date posted: November 6, 2008 Author: jolanta
    In autumn 2005 I had just finished a giant installation at Exit Art, part of its Traffic exhibition. Essentially a sloped ceiling coated in 12,000 colorful toy cars, this piece was ostensibly a wry, humorous take on global warming. But as the show wore on I began to feel uneasy. I wondered—can art really walk the high wire between poetry and politics? Can it live in tension between comedy and bleakness, while expressing both? My feelings of ambivalence about American culture didn’t assuage my sense of aesthetic inadequacy. I needed an exhaustive foray into a long project that would stretch beyond a simple one-time exhibition. I craved a way of funneling my competing visual tendencies and absurdist impulses, to celebrate not just the glow and gloom but the detritus of our world. And I wanted to take my time with it, to make it evolve. Image

     Jonathan Allen

    Image
    Jonathan Allen, The Things You’ve Had, 2008. Recycled billboards on vinyl. Installation view, Socrates Sculpture Park, Long Island City, Queens. Photo credit: Biliyana Dimitrova. Courtesy of the artist.

    In autumn 2005 I had just finished a giant installation at Exit Art, part of its Traffic exhibition. Essentially a sloped ceiling coated in 12,000 colorful toy cars, this piece was ostensibly a wry, humorous take on global warming. But as the show wore on I began to feel uneasy. I wondered—can art really walk the high wire between poetry and politics? Can it live in tension between comedy and bleakness, while expressing both?

    My feelings of ambivalence about American culture didn’t assuage my sense of aesthetic inadequacy. I needed an exhaustive foray into a long project that would stretch beyond a simple one-time exhibition. I craved a way of funneling my competing visual tendencies and absurdist impulses, to celebrate not just the glow and gloom but the detritus of our world. And I wanted to take my time with it, to make it evolve.

    I decided to make a series of collages—100 of them. They would all be the same size (22 by 30 inches) on the same basic rag paper. They would all be intricately crafted, using mixed media and many techniques. Beyond these few limitations, however, I drew no other boundaries. I began borrowing imagery from a range of popular and art-historical sources. IPod ads, Winslow Homer paintings, Madonna album art, New York Times Baghdad photographs were all fodder. I integrated pop, abstraction, political iconography, and the mundane into surreal dreamscapes. By my summer 2008 residency with the LMCC, overlooking ground zero, I had completed about 40 works along with several related paintings. My goal is to complete all 100 works before 2010. The name of the series is Night Stand Apocalypse.

    Collage to me as a form most accurately conveys today’s cultural condition of dissonance and—paradoxically—simultaneous fluidity. It usually juxtaposes, but it can also connect and link disparate images. In it there is an elasticity that other media can’t achieve quite so nimbly. The possible exception is poetry, which is why the title of the series comes from a poem by underground New York poet Greg Fuchs. His work has constantly inspired me with its ravenous associative visions.

    I returned to installation last summer at Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, Queens. Instead of toy cars, I collaged recycled billboards. Collaging at that scale—10 by 28 feet!—was utterly strange and extraordinary. In many ways the resulting dreamscape explored the same terrain as Night Stand Apocalypse—but this time it felt more real.
     

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