Epicenter City (Part 4)

After I finished building the floor model and the large pixel painting I found out that the show was going to be at a later date because of construction delays. This turned out to be a year later than planned and I spent the last year fine tuning and working on other project since I had finished the bulk of it by the end of the first year. As the show approached I started thinking about propaganda for the exhibition and decided on a fold out brochure/poster that would involve both text and imagery from Epicenter City. It was designed by Ben Knight under TVGS Design and the text was written by John Massier at Hallwalls. Ben also designed some preliminary posters for the show that never got used but I wish had been. It would have been nice to create a small 3 page fold out silkscreen on heavy weight paper that would have one of his early designs on it and some text/ propaganda. I think about creating more elements for the show even though the installation has already been exhibited in order to better fill out its history. I did this when I made Davy Crockett (Alternate) in 2009. Below is John Massiers’ text, the poster for the show (front and back) and an early design.

Epicenter City is a new installation created specifically for Hallwalls by the Brooklyn-based organization Associated Artists for Propaganda Research. The “propaganda research” engaged in by AAPR does not manifest itself in direct political action, but in eloquent expressions that cut against what AAPR sees as the prevalent ideologies of the day. It may be more apt to say that AAPR traffics in a reverse or anti-propaganda model.

In the case of Epicenter City, the concern is directed toward a perceived “industry of destruction” amid a warmongering status quo. It is not a matter of heroically searching for weapons of mass destruction, but manufacturing and selling such weapons while propagating and encouraging a volatile and dangerous world.

At the heart of the exhibition lies a 25-foot floor model of a decimated city. Four hundred city blocks and surrounding areas including an industrial park, suburban housing developments, waterfront development and recreations parks comprise Epicenter City. As a sly public art homage, AAPR has also re-installed Richard Serra’s controversial Tilted Arc public sculpture within its city limits. (Installed in 1981 at Federal Plaza in NYC, the original work—after protracted legal battles—was cut into three pieces eight years later, removed, and carted off to a scrap metal yard.)

In AAPR’s dystopian vision, the Epicenter City is not leveled in the manner we would expect. There is no destructive residue, no gaping maw of a crater where a city once stood. Instead, the city has been neutralized into funereal stillness by a single shade of grey, an all-encompassing blanket of ash, a grand poetic elegy.

The impact of this gesture—in effect, treating the city as its own shroud—emerges from the diligent care taken in modeling Epicenter City, the attention to creating a convincing depiction of urban density. The city has been designed, built, and realized block by block. Seen as a whole, it is utterly convincing. At the same time, AAPR is not concerned with microcosmic accuracy. Up close, the city reveals itself quickly as an abstracted object comprised of variously-cut blocks of wood.

The represented world that is simultaneously an abstracted object feeds the overall sentiment of the installation. It creates a significantly different effect from a work where the smallest detail is accurately rendered, as one might create in a model train environment. AAPR’s intention is blunter than that of the rabid hobbyist. Were we too entranced by convincing minutia, we might easily lose the bigger picture effect.

The bigger picture is punctuated by the painting W54davy2, which reiterates the abstracted elements of the model through its pixilated-block motif and its adherence to an ashen palette. In the painting, three business-suited men hover above a small object with an air of delicate reverence.

In actuality, the painting replicates a photograph of US officials inspecting the casing for a Davy Crockett fission bomb. At 51 pounds, it was the smallest and lightest nuclear weapon ever deployed by the US military. The Davy Crockett was intended to address the need for a mobile nuclear weapon that could be utilized easily in large numbers in a protracted war with the Soviet Union. Barely bigger than a breadbox, it represents the perverse amalgam of post-WWII American ingenuity and progress with a deranged Cold War logic.

Realizing the portrait in a modulating gray scale is a reminder that even right and wrong/good and evil are not merely black and white issues. Scientific progress, good intentions, sound design elements, love of democracy, and well-dressed men can still all collapse into a banal and terrifying evil.

As if to underline the divergent possibilities that lay perennially before us, AAPR includes two distinctive sky paintings. In one, the canvas is all sky—blue, ethereal, and seemingly endless. In the other, the sky is veiled within a slender horizontal plane and hidden behind a pink nuclear hue. Atop and below, this pinkish sky is violently sandwiched between solid slabs of utter black.

Forever boundless. Eternally doomed.

John Massier

Visual Arts Curator

Epicenter City PosterEpicenter City Poster Backaapr_epicenter

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Filed under Associated Artists for Propaganda Research, Painting, Sculpture

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