D Young V and Hugh Leeman are Bay Area artists who, together with Eddie Colla, have collaborated for Epilogue, an immersive installation in Hold Up Gallery in Los Angeles. The show opens September 8, from 7-10pm, and features three visions of life after societal collapse.
Anderson: So tell me about Epilogue. How did you first get involved?
D Young V: ‘Epilogue’ is a three-artist installation project concerning life after the apocalypse. There is no concrete definition throughout this project of the cause(s) of this apocalypse because each artist is dealing with a different take on the concept.
Eddie Colla’s work concerns itself with death, archiving the past (victims of a potential catastrophe), and new organizations amongst the survivors. I believe his work reflects a very realistic and dark view of what the world may become directly after a global catastrophe. There is a certain desperation, grit, literalism and even social commentary displayed through his new body of work.
Hugh Leeman, I believe, has taken on a different role with his work. Whereas Eddie’s work may reflect aspects of our lives concerning social organization, death and catastrophe, Hugh approaches the subject from an advertising/consumerism perspective. Much of his work reflects issues of privacy, social networking and commercial advertising. Many of his painted portraits are random facebook profile pics juxtaposed over collaged magazine adds. He will also include pieces he created through reclaiming billboard ads. To me his work is a both an observation and a criticism on the direction our society is going with its over abundance of consumerism and advertising.
My work takes on a more militaristic/science fiction approach. To me, if Eddie’s work reflects life directly after the apocalypse, then my work reflects life generations after this event. I’m continuing on with a narrative I’ve been developing for a few years, and my work will explore the redevelopment of society, or the creation of an entirely new one. The weapons, helmets and other military-related gear display symbols and numbers used by developing organized military and tribal groups within this world. The colors displayed on these pieces imply a sort of peaceful approach to the rebuilding process. Although they are weapons, there use is not necessarily to kill or conquer, but rather to maintain, defend and even enforce if necessary. I have trouble believing (unfortunately) that most (not all) peace, social order, unification can be created/maintained without the use of strong militant force. The same goes for social and cultural evolution. The symbols displayed in my work imply that people have begun to develop new forms of language and communication years after the end of our world. Many of the symbols reference our modern day languages, but in a way that they are either being revisited or re appropriated. I think that my intrigue with this concept stems from a strong interest in cultures and where they derive from.
I personally got involved in this project through Eddie Colla. He was asked to show at hold Up Gallery in LA. He brought his idea to the gallery, they accepted. I think he chose me because of our friendship and past collaborations, since my work was already dealing with similar concepts to his vision; it made sense to him to invite me. Throughout the last few years Eddie, Hugh and myself have worked together numerous times, it only made sense that we show together under a single banner.
Leeman: I saw this as a fantastic opportunity to evolve my work in a new direction. As I’ve wanted to raise questions on our society and the times we live in. My high aspiration is that the work can be looked back upon and seen as a picture of a moment in time. I saw the shows concept of a post apocalyptic society really fascinating. I saw it as a chance to look back as to what may have caused this collapse. Wasn’t it right in front of us? Wasn’t it our desire to build more, consume more, and reach closer and closer to the sun until the wax holding our wings together melts, causing for our own precipitous crash back to the simple, archaic ways we thought society as a whole had left behind so long ago?
Eddie: Leeman, Young, and Colla were kicking around the idea of doing something in LA. Colla had worked with Hold Up Art in the past and wanted to do something new in that space. We tried to find a point where all of our work intersects. The idea of this “epilogue” seems to be a natural progression for everyone’s work in one way or another.
What was your process for these works like? What has been your favorite part of the process?
D Young V: My favorite part of preparing for ‘Epilogue’ is the exact reason that it has been so challenging. All three of us involved are working in media that that previous to the project we were completely unfamiliar with. It was not simply a matter of completing new work by the numbers to fill a large space. Each of us had to continually brainstorm for new ideas to bring to life. We scavenged the streets and junkyards for materials. Then we had to learn new media to apply to these materials. Then there were bought materials too; i.e.: replica rifles, old billboard adds, car parts, etc. that we learned to utilize in the project. It took me three months just to figure out how the paints and primers I was using fore my pieces worked properly. Additional time was taken to nail down exactly how I was going to use these new materials to best explore my concepts. To me, this has been the most mentally and emotionally challenging project I’ve undertaken to date. There has been a high level of stress, uncertainty and frustration with the execution of this work. Another great challenge was bring all three of our visions together in a collaborative effort. We’ve been forced to find ways to fuse three different artistic styles and ideas together. Not only on singe piece collaborations, but an entire gallery installation meant to reflect a single world / narrative.
Thus far, what I’ve taken from this project has been great. I’ve learned far better ways to work with other artists in the future. Additionally, the new acquired knowledge I’ve gained in new media, tools and techniques has been phenomenal. Everything I’ve learned this far I will further explore in future projects. I believe ‘Epilogue’ has opened me eyes to vast array of new ideas and also evolved concepts that I had thought of previous to the project. I am very grateful for that.
Leeman: After five years of finding my models living on the streets and developing relationships with them, to the point of feeling comfortable to bring them to my home and studio to pose for pieces or just hang out, I’ve moved in a direction that could easily be its polar opposite. My subjects are fans from my Facebook fan page, and outside of this we have no connection. I go to what are otherwise strangers’ pages and take screenshots of them and create my portraits from the pictures they post on themselves. Instead of painting on canvas, as I have for years, I’ve begun painting on advertisements I reclaim from billboards on nights Im out wheat pasting my artwork. I have set aside my oil paints and traded them to use carbon soot emissions to paint with. These pieces are a portrait of the 21st century in both message and medium.
The process as a whole has been incredibly refreshing as the surface my pictures are made on, the medium I’m using and the people I’m painting have all changed dramatically. Most of all I’ve enjoyed the conceptual change and that which I don’t control. In working with these new materials improvisation to your environment becomes the common thread throughout the process. Conceptually I feel as though I have begun looking at the forest and its systems as a whole as opposed to my previous five year project (with the homeless) where I looked intimately at a single tree in the forest.
At times it’s been challenging to work with others artistically. There is an element of letting go that can be frightening. As artists we become so used to controlling the nature of our creations. They are an extension of ourselves and who we are. In a way it is as if we are God to our work and one God suddenly asked another to be a part of its control, meaning a loss of its own control. As I create this hyperbolic simile I can’t help but imagine Jesus asking Allah and Buddha for advice on where to release the locusts.
Eddie: The best part (of preparing for Epilogue) has been experimenting with new processes and new ways of making images. Working with new materials. Much of the work I have produced for this show involves found materials from my neighborhood. Objects you find have there own set of characteristics. It’s not a blank canvas at all. All these things have a history and part of that history is that they have become refuse, discarded. There’s some sort of redemption in that process.
This questions is for D Young V. Could you tell me about the weapons you’ve painted? What do they mean in terms of this total societal collapse?
D Young V: The majority of the weapons I’ve painted are from currently existing models, i.e.: Mac-10, M-16, P-90, etc. In a sense they are a reflection of our (my) obsession with weapon design. I suppose I’ve always has a slight fascination with weapons of any kind, particularly firearms. This I’m sure, is a common thing with most people especially males. Simultaneously, I don’t like violence. I’ve shot firearms only once in my life. The potential of what they can do to a living thing is terrifying. The experience frightened me. At the time I felt as though these tools were far too powerful for any human to possess. People are far too irresponsible to have such things.
However, the reality is that they do. Weapons such as these are used commonly throughout the world, as they have been for centuries now. Weapons are a part of everyday life whether you literally see them or not. They are used to offend, protect, enforce and maintain. They are used to uphold freedoms, uphold law, create fear, take from others, or prevent others from taking what belongs to you. Much of everything we know and have can be traced to the use of weapons. Social progress, technological changes, shifts in local or world power, cultural changes/ evolutions, etc.
People often underestimate the power and use of weapons such as these. Living in San Francisco, and growing up in a Punk scene: left wing politics, ideas of pacifism and hopes of peace come all too easy in many cases. There are far too many factors involved to create world peace, people getting along or a society (much less a world) without violence. To me, that will never entirely exist. Potentially we may come close, but never entirely. In general, respect for you fellow human should be standard. However, on a global level that becomes a tricky issue. Take into consideration; the difference in religions, political belief, and cultural ideas, huge divides in economic wealth amongst the world, and most importantly the ever-increasing lack of resources. All of that is the perfect foundation for war, as it has always been. Of course I am not so naïve to think it is nearly that simple. Some people have a lust for power, others a lust for killing, others don’t even have the genetic capacity to exist on a moral level that mist so called civilized people take for granted. With the complexity of the world and every individual person in it, violence will always be an issue. It’s simply in our nature. I think partially the weapons displayed in ‘Epilogue’ are a reminder of that.
To take things a step further these weapons are painted in way that implies hopes for peace, cultural unity and societal evolution. The colors I’ve chosen are made up of primarily variations on whites and blues. In a way it may seem like a contradiction, but humans are contradictory in nature. It’s the idea that inherently most people want peace and a connection with their fellow human. However, in this world (or any world) the use of weapons is still a necessity to create that. Considering that this a post apocalyptic world I would think the use of weapons would be a huge reality.
On a separate note I am in the process of working with another artist ‘ROTD’ in creating an array of weapons that are not necessarily modeled from today’s existing weapons. They are meant to look like future weapons that have been altered and reutilized in this new world. For instance if the world fell today, you would see variations on M-16’s, AK-47’s.,etc. If the world fell a few hundred years from now, what sort of variation on weapons would you see then? These new weapons are meant to look like they are older/altered models of weapons that do not yet exist. It would be like seeing a post apocalyptic Uzi variation at an art show during the civil war era. I hope that explains it. I am very curious about where technology will take us hundreds of years in the future. I often explore the ideas of how that will change us as not only a culture, but as a species. Once we have gone that far, how will we change? What also furthers my curiosity is if this ‘future’ society (which could be the furthest extension of our society) falls, what will be the new society to take its place later on. I think the world I’m looking to create through my work is the space in between those two worlds.
To better express this I’ll use the example of the Mad Max trilogy, which is more then typical of me. In the first installment ‘Mad Max’ you see the social deterioration of society. This is the last days of the world, as we know it, society is being held together by strings. There is still police, houses, families, trade, etc., but we witness the rise of gangs, tribal mentalities, and the failings of the system. You can tell simply by the type of police existing in this movie. They are rugged, gritty, and almost completely rogue themselves.
By the second installment ‘Road Warrior’ you see that society has totally collapsed, there is no law, no system in place. Everything exists in small pockets of people either defending the resources they have or violently attempting to take it from them. The people in this movie exist in the shadows of the old world, fighting to keep or take what’s left of it.
In the third installment, ‘Thunderdome,’ you begin to see the world starting to rebuild itself. You see it from two perspectives. Most of the adults in this movie have created new a law, trade, a new city, alternative fuel sources. They automobiles look entirely different then what we see in the first two installments. They are far more adapted to their situation. Although their world is a post apocalyptic world, they have become more civilized and less violent then in the previous movie. In my view, their laws are up help by violence, but that violence is used to prevent further violence, hence the idea of Thunderdome. However, their ‘society’ is still a reflection of the old world, but severely altered.
The second perspective in this movie is that of the tribe of children. None of them lived in the old world; all they know is the post apocalyptic one expressed in this movie. They have banded together and live separated from all adults. They are entirely new and fresh. It is doubtful that they can even read or write. Their communication is unique variation of English, and they use pictures inscribed on cave walls to visually express their stories. Their prophecy and only known history is based on relics of the old world. These relics are a photo slide show, items, and the downed airplane they find later on in the movie. In a way they have readopted these things to create something new based on what they know. As the movie concludes these children have moved past their cave community, started over in the remnants of a major city, begun to grow up and have children of their own. They are the foundation of a new society and culture. They are the future. Much of what happens in the world from there will be what they envision. Their history is new, their culture is fresh, and anything they discover from the old world will eventually be reutilized, readopted and redefined. That’s what fascinates me the most.
I suppose in the end I am looking express something similar to this. Rather then setting this apocalypse/new world in our generation, I want to explore the idea of creating it generations from now. This is a world where the past that is being discovered and reutilized is the remnants of the furthest possibly extension of our world. The people exploring these remnants are a generation that did not live in the world before them.
Hugh, I love the idea of using strangers’ Facebook photos to create your portrait. how did you come up with that?
Leeman: My actions are meant to mirror the actions of corporations. Taking something which is as intimate as a picture of yourself posted publicly and using it as I see fit for my own processes. As this can seem a bit strange, creepy, or maybe even exciting and inspiring my actions are meant to raise questions of our cultural deference. If one person does this and is making art shows from my intimate matters, what is the whole system doing and making from my private life I am making public?
I’m fascinated by social media and I am curious as to what is says about us, not so much as individuals, but on humans as a whole. Sometimes, I feel as though we are simply a small part of the whole blindly marketing ourselves to marketing companies and through thoughts of the butterfly effect I cant help but wonder what we are all in some small way responsible for, through our use of social media. Are we responsible, each in our own small way, for building media empires and new companies, as the backs of our “wall post” are what these institutions are built upon, and isn’t this massive yet new ecosystem currently seen as “to big to fail” phenomenally fragile?
Eddie, what has been the most challenging aspect of this show?
The most challenging part has been walking away from the way I usually do things and starting over to some degree. It’s an uncomfortable process filled with failures and rethinking.
What do you hope people take away from this show?
Leeman: Ideally the show incites peoples’ curiosity, to question the system and society we are a part of. To extend the metaphor of the forest I spoke of earlier, where larger trees block the light of the smaller trees and this is causation of many small trees’ deaths, the larger then use that very death and decay as food to further grow themselves closer to the sun. However, these trees through unchecked growth become so big that their very sustainability is drawn into question. The work’s high aspiration is to be aesthetically appealing while beneath its beautiful surface lie the larger ideas and questions of our social and economic systems.
D Young V: I’m honestly not sure. On one hand I hope they take away creative inspiration. I believe the three of us (Eddie, Hugh, and myself) are doing something entirely new and exciting.
On the other hand, I hope they take away a certain level of gratitude. I think that we (Americans) live in a very privileged society for the most part. I believe there is a generally lack of empathy for the rest of the world surrounding us. Although there is no such thing (yet) as a post apocalyptic society, there are parts of this world that are very close too it (if not worse). Sometimes I think its healthy to wonder what would happen if everything gotten taken way. What sorts of things would you learn about yourself, about others? How would you adopt, how would you as an individual change? How would your moral and ethics readopt? What would be the developments our culture would take on later on long after this massive change? How would we evolve? What would we evolve into?
– written by Maria Anderson for Warholain