In the closing scene of the 1968 film, Planet of the Apes, Taylor (Charlton Heston) – after being placed in suspended animation for 2000 years and now believing he is somewhere within Orion’s Bellatrix System – finds the Statue of Liberty beach, buried and buttressed by rockface. Taylor, falling to his knees as he sees the statue, intones, “oh my God, I’m back…I’m home…we finally really did it…you maniacs…you blew it up.”
Time is warped in Planet of the Apes, co-ordinates seem to be exact yet skewed: where there was once land there is now sea. Apes now fulfil human roles, even if these roles appear only as evolved as feudal society (and yet, the apes also use 4×5 cameras and bulb flashes). Earlier in the film, Taylor is declaratively asked, “the question is not so much where we are, but when we are.”
Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs’ (TONK) 2021 publication, Future Memories, seems to pose a similar question both in its title and images. It is perhaps this ‘retroactivity’, these futures of a past, that the Austrian writer Robert Musil considered when titling his slim book of essays, Posthumous Papers of a Living Author.
In their earlier book The Great Unreal (2005-2009) TONK displayed an American landscape – besmirched, eroded and confused – still to be beset and damaged by the Trump administration. The erosions and escarpments, the circular ‘trompe-l’oeil’ roads dividing and containing nowheres, the halation and neon-fuzz presented a metaphor for the United States during George W. Bush’s last term in office. A road trip – as in The Great Unreal – formed the material for Continental Drift (2013-2017): a goulash of images and film stills that depict former Soviet Union countries suspended in both pre-modernity and post-modernity, seemingly caught in a nether-state between totemism, communism and capitalism.
“… how can one create what exists already and what is as ancient and irreversible as the Universe?” – Stanislaw Lem
Light of Other Days (2009-2010) perhaps shares a kinship closer to Future Memories not only insofar that the work was studio based (the artists note “the work was made in the weird years of 2020 and 2021”) but also its inclusion of Stanislaw Lem’s science-fiction short story, The Eighteenth Voyage. In this story, the narrator creates the universe, even if “the whole thing turned out rather badly.” The story also contains a potentially useful insight into the fabrication of Light of Other Days not only in the creation of an alternative universe, but one also that is both fixed temporally and yet simultaneously atemporal. As Lem writes: “So, then, the goal of this expedition was the creation of the Universe. Not some new, separate universe, one that never existed. No. I mean this Universe we live in. On the face of it, an absurd, an insane statement, for how can one create what exists already and what is as ancient and irreversible as the Universe?”
Future Memories consists of largely – but not solely – collaged cityscapes and landscapes drawn from TONK’s negative and print archive. Yet the formal departure for TONK in Future Memories is the near sole reliance upon collage as a technique. While elements of collage (both real and simulated) had previously been employed, their former mechanics of striations and false perspectives seem now more amplified in conjunction with collage, as if a kind of symbiosis of technique had been achieved. This symbiosis of collage and line is largely due to the mode of cutting: lasers.
The cutting effects of the vector lasers are highly palpable in the outlines of the collaged elements: the markless precision of scalpel and scissor are eschewed for the imprecisions of slightly ragged burnt umber lines; geometrically correct, like those found in architectural timber models that employ similar laser cutting techniques, equally leaving traces of their fabrication. Process here becomes implicit in the work’s outcomes, especially the relationship between figure and ground, delineating, emphasising and rupturing these visual elements even further.
TONK’s collaged works – usually compromising no more than two individual images – maintain their original referents, eclipsing neither, to create a new assemblage or false picture plane from these deterritorialised combinations.
While TONK’s application of technology to collage appears relatively unorthodox, their strategies are still partially housed within Modernist orthodoxy. This orthodoxy – this relation of figure to ground, negative to positive – is typified by the American art critic and theorist Rosalind Krauss in her essay, In the Name of Picasso: “If one of the formal strategies that develops from collage […] is the insistence of figure/ground reversal and the continual transposition between negative and positive form, this formal resource derives from collage’s command of the structure of signification: no positive sign without the eclipse or negation of its material referent.”
Yet TONK’s collaged works – usually compromising no more than two individual images – maintain their original referents, eclipsing neither, to create a new assemblage or false picture plane from these deterritorialised combinations. The frame – window, building, structure, vitrine or cave – is the most often employed technique for presenting new figure/ground relationships. An analogue to this technique can also be traced to an iconic collage of Resor House (1937-1938) by the architect Mies van der Rohe, where a photographic view of a Wyoming landscape is partially excised from – and placed into – the house’s drafted glazed wall and structure. Yet figure and ground, as is common with both Mies and TONK, is a relationship that can sometimes remain ambiguous.
Animation lasers are also utilised within Future Memories: a Tron-spectrum of whites and yellows, oranges and violets, reds and pinks. In this way a classical Greek architrave goes all disco; a smog-hazed tower becomes a beacon; inert Asian mirror-glazed towers appear transplanted from Las Vegas, and twilight skies become props for inexplicable spectral phenomena (unlike Barbara Bosworth’s star phenomena found in her 2018 book, The Heavens, which appear known, benign, and unwaveringly beautiful).
It is significant that the collaged works were made from 4×5 and 8×10 negatives (or positives), implying a certain disfigurement of – and rebellion against – the original negative’s singularity and polymeric unity. The strategy is somewhat different than the employment of mass-produced images by artists as historically diverse as Hannah Höch or Richard Hamilton (and latterly, Justine Kurland) where the source material is not singular but serial, replaceable by its exact likeness.
These effects do not appear as novelties. TONK appear highly aware of the techniques, including ‘straight’ images of the technology itself within the book, continuing their ongoing interest in self-reflexivity. This awareness is continued in the conceptual subtlety of the book’s stitching: hot pink. Ambiguity of image and tone has often been a hallmark of TONK’s work. Future Memories seems initially to extend this range of ambiguity. However, on subsequent consideration, the tenor of the work gives way to a certain mournfulness, a feeling of impending ecological catastrophe. The book’s candied hues are deceptive.
… tangles of building forms become a new architecture of assemblage, city-mirrored; building infrastructure jammed into a stone bluff; apartment windows opening to scenes of deforestation and bountiful marine life …
The book begins with a lasered-out sun over an indistinct city, continuing with – amongst others – images of: generic cityscapes collapsed into skyscraper facades; a motel swimming pool gorged out to become a subterranean cave; Hirst-like vitrines as storehouses for refuse and forest; tangles of building forms – amongst them Carlo Scarpa’s Brion Cemetery – become a new architecture of assemblage, city-mirrored; building infrastructure jammed into a stone bluff; apartment windows opening to scenes of deforestation and bountiful marine life; some kind of infrastructural installation screens an enamelled toxic moonscape back at itself; a landscape of excised sliding door and billowing desert; a garish apartment tower sectioned to reveal a destroyed anti-scalar interior, and cities appearing from between gashes of rock, as if only just discovered. The final page is an orb containing a city, distant on the sea’s horizon.
The sun – its heat increasingly suspended within the Earth’s atmosphere – project the window frames’ geometries over the table, scything the laptop’s screen into a diagonal of light and shade. A news notification appears: an image from the Ukraine, where the window is only glassless frame, and the view from it displays a wreckage of conifers and carbonised earth, as if it were a collage. This current sunlight is an intangible form of ancient photonic history. If for the literary critic, James Wood, the historical novel is “science fiction backwards,” then perhaps this light, these rays from deep time could equally be seen as science-fiction.