“Control≈Center: Noelle Choy and Adams Puryear,” Bad Seed

installation view

How will the world end and when will it do so? This is the central question raised by “Control≈Center,” an exhibition at Bad Seed by Noelle Choy and Adams Puryear. In a comical exploration of our society’s fears, the artists have created a fake doomsday bunker and held celebrations and ritual performances to get people thinking about what might, or might not, be in store for our civilization.  

Using mostly paper mache and some wood, the artists created and L-shaped sculpture featuring fake computer consoles, irregularly shaped, and covered in a thick yellow paint, giving the gallery space the appearance of rock walls that have been sealed in a protective coating. There are numerous ceramic elements in the shape of fake dials, switches, buttons alongside found objects like remote controls, coffee cups and a wallet filled with cash. 

Above the consoles are several large posters with graphics about the end of the world. Some of the diagrams list potential causes for the end of the world, including climate catastrophe, AI, nuclear war and alien invasion, while another poster lists dozens of science-fiction movies about the end of the world. An enormous ouroboros, a snake eating its own tail, appears on another. A huge pie chart divides up and categorizes all of the possible protective measures one could take against the end of the world. 

installation view

Several tv screens are built into the paper mache consoles. A prominent screen plays clips of some of the world’s wealthiest men: Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Larry Ellison. In the video, the billionaires are redubbed with fake voice overs, in which they talk about their favorite disaster movies and how they are building bunkers and making plans for the end of the world. 

Displayed prominently in the center of the room is a massive, 4-foot-tall, white ceramic dog made in a lumpy and cartoon-like style. The dog sits on a wooden pedestal, painted in the same industrial yellow paint as the consoles and engraved with loose, line-art drawings of Greek columns. The dog feels like a guardian in some ancient Egyptian tomb. Sticking up out of the consoles are several more of the fake wood columns, each topped with a smaller ceramic guard dog. 

Also displayed in the gallery are the costumes that Choy and Puryear wore for their opening night celebration: tinfoil hats and tin foil scepters, along with capes, one of which reads “The Beginning Of” and the other “The End Of,” two slogans meant to loop endlessly in an ouroboros fashion. These costumes were used to lead a parade march on the opening night of the exhibition, in which the improv band EMAS and street parade brass band Sass-a-Brass played music while the public was invited to help carry an enormous fabric snake. For the closing celebration on the 28th, local poets will read works about their fears and anxieties for the future. 

Noelle Choy and Adams Puryear, opening night performance

For all of the humor and black comedy found in ““Control≈Center,” there is an aspect of this exhibition that feels all too real. We live in a strange age where imagining “The End” seems all too plausible, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic radically and abruptly altered our lives. While some concerns, like alien invasions and zombie apocalypses feel implausible, catastrophes such as AI and nuclear war seem plausible enough, and things like climate change and water scarcity are extremely real. For each of the possible varieties of apocalypse, one could imagine a government office somewhere making preparations. Should we ordinary people be preparing? And are these preparations reasonable, or, are they like a comedy routine or a performance art piece? Does it help put us at ease to make such preparations, or do such actions drive us further into paranoia? 

Such fears might take new shapes, but humans have contemplated the end for thousands of years. As Jesus said: “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.” But perhaps it is science-fiction author William Gibson that we should listen to: “The Future is already here, it just isn’t evenly distributed.” 

Control≈Center: Noelle Choy and Adams Puryear” continues at Bad Seed, 1909 McGee St., through April 28, with a closing reception from 2 to 6 p.m. with a reading by poets starting at 4 p.m. Hours by appointment, 917-359-7578.

Neil Thrun

Neil Thrun is a writer and artist living in Kansas City, Missouri. He is a 2010 graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute and was a resident artist with the Charlotte Street Urban Culture Project in 2011 and 2012. He has written for publications including the Kansas City Star, Huffington Post and other local arts journals.

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