The web is the unconscious mind of everyone alive today. It’s a networked intelligence and a hive, a living thing, and also a digital repository for 5,000 years of human history. We can safely say that most everything repressed and hidden lies in some corner of the Internet.
A couple of years ago while surfing the web a picture caught my eye and remained on my screen. It was quirky, cartoonish, not contemporary, not even modern. A pattern book montage, stiffness in the gestures, the naked bodies, and a steeple, all were clues to a particular historical period. But the picture also looked farther back, way back in history, thereby standing at some midpoint between the deep past and digital present. Today it’s still on my screen. I made a set, and restaged it in my studio and filmed it as a reflection on temporality, art, and fantasy. I was very intrigued therefore to read Boris Groys’s comments in e-flux journal’s issue 45: “Rather, the artwork remains present in the future. And it is precisely this anticipated future presence of art that guarantees its influence on the future, its chance to shape the future… Art shapes the future by its own prolonged presence.”
Look deeper. The picture is a single frame from a late medieval manuscript painted by the artist Maître Francois around 1475 for Jacques Armagnac, Duke of Nemours, before his beheading by Louis XI. It shows the fantasyland, Eden populated by two sets of Adam and Eve and six animals all being created—born—emerging from the slime or dust moments before humans gained dominion over every living thing on earth. Behind these figures and to the right rests a small town. A dead tree silhouetted on a cool blue sky marks the transition from hill to town. The action moves left to right, front to back so you read it doubly in time, giving the scene a cinematic breath and depth.
The myth—it’s not exactly the unconscious, rather a true collective unconscious. Dominion, expulsion, aren’t these the very tropes that define our ties to planet earth? The biblical earthly utopia Eden and what that myth darkly foretold are forever intertwined. Climate change, anthropocene are simply the new nomenclature.
There are different kinds of narratives, abstract narratives and personal ones. Can you restage a picture from the web, undo that moment of dominion, and upload an altered picture, or a series of them, or a film for some imagined future? It’s a kind of science fiction. “Art shapes the future,” says Groys and in my particular case, the future is called upon to rescue the present.
Lenore Malen is an artist and writer who draws on mythic stories interpreted through installation, performance and film. She received a Guggenheim Foundation Fellow and a NYFA award in interdisciplinary art in 2001. She has exhibited in NY and in Europe and performed for the BBC. She teaches in the MFA Fine Arts Program at Parsons The New School.