154, L’Apocalypse des Animaux

154, 2020-05, L’Apocalypse des Animaux, oil on linen, 82 x 90″ (208 x 228cm) (detail, 1)

ANIMVS·SVMMISSVS, The Shrine of Humility, was an art installation and experience created in collaboration with Santigie and Sapata Fofana-Dura, where a small wooden structure contained a work of art— a work of art that is very much real, yet which does not possess any actual objective reality: because only one person could enter the chamber and view the art at a time, and since there is no photographic documentation of the image inside, the art piece/image only exists as independent subjective memory impressions in the minds of the viewer-participants. The physical shrine is now no more, but the image and sensation of of the experience lives on. The painting inside was titled Essenes in Starlight.

During the shrine’s construction, Santigie rightly pointed out that such a shrine need hardly to have a painting in it at all— that when the supplicant enters the shrine and the chamber is illumined, it would be a statement and experience of considerable significance for it to be discovered that the room is entirely “empty”, with no particular image inside beyond only the sensation of being in that unique setting, with the unusual light source, the texture and aroma of old wood, and starlit scintillation beaming through the walls and ceiling. This idea of entering an “empty” room is powerful, and there are precedents, as further abstraction from the material necessity of artwork; the purpose of this project being to rescue the Self from Itself, all being needed is the liminal space and vital opportunity or pretext; one shrine prototype is the “empty”, unnamed room of wish-fulfillment in Tarkovsky’s Stalker, where the wish-granted manifests exactly as that as conceived by the true Self, not as the greatest desire that the conscious persona might think it desires. This is to say that we couldn’t ever really know for sure what our innermost desire is until it is consummated and made manifest.

We did decide that a painting needed to be in the Shrine, since compelling someone to enter a first darkened, then illumined, chamber, only for this guest to decide that they think the room is empty (despite the seemingly obvious fact that it contains the Self) could be antagonistic and perhaps expecting too much from someone who might be used to art as commodity or possession. But it did seem that the least that should be done in the future would be a immense trompe-l’œil painting of an empty room, a Map Room probably (the sort of place with peculiarly tiled floors in my paintings, which are sight-seeing locations for ideas), and the title would be Untitled Enthymeme, to signify the missing premise of the argument meant to be supplied by the viewer-experiencer— the missing premise of which yet still in need of diagnosing of its identity. As a capstone to this body of work and to career, interesting and ambitious surely, but also easy to imagine as being quite unengaging.

Before this, L’Apocalypse des Animaux was begun as a portrait of the apocalypse of the animals which we are now witnessing— global wildlife has declined 60 percent since 1970— and this being painted with Bruegal’s Fall of the Rebel Angels as backdrop. The foreground protagonists experience the horror in the realization of just what has been done, as they remember that there were once animals, now extinct, with humankind directly responsible. There are still present as spectral memory the endangered species Saola, Siberian tiger, and Northern Right Whale, all painted life-size. This was done in February, 2019, then for various reasons the painting was stored, incomplete. When the virus struck, and the social unrest, it seemed inappropriate to create something as very likely unengaging and abstract as Untitled Enthymeme, it not being worth the risk to dispose of this final expressive opportunity as the end of my time to create art drew to a close. Rather that make something of hopeful yet admittedly dubious eternal significance, it seemed better to do something timely for once. The final protagonist in L’Apocalypse des Animaux was born, and the painting resurrected. Heavy with the hope of her posterity, she lightly springs forth to rise above the fray and meet death in close quarter with flaming sword.