“Seven Simultaneous Sunsets” (detail), 36”x96”, acrylic on canvas, 2017
Ricky Allman’s multisensory work evokes apocalyptic narrative and images from popular culture, science-fiction movies and books, and the inevitable cyborg. He writes, “The first 30 years of my life I was anticipating the imminent apocalypse; hoarding food, memorizing scriptures and warning the wicked. After leaving these ideas behind . . . my brain allowed me to think of a future, a hundred, thousand, or five thousand years in the future. I began to think about self-replicating printers. Buildings that begin to reproduce by mining their own materials from the earth; errors in the duplication process produce mutations the way DNA mutations happen. Over time some of these mutations will become useful and these buildings will grow stronger and replicate stronger buildings.”
Allman’s paintings are visually stimulating and psychically arousing and his precise renderings of the spaces, architecture, and bodies of his future are mind-blowingly detailed. Painted in subtle shades of neutrals with brilliant colors punctuating the compositions, Allman’s visions never equivocate. His full commitment to his vision, notwithstanding some of the creepier imagery, carries the viewer willingly along this strange trip.
Allman’s fantastical musings of posthuman bodies in a seemingly posthuman world emerge in his dense pictorial matrix. His large-scale paintings depict the architecture, cities, bodies, and infinite spaces that he imagines can create and replicate themselves in an era in which “humans will become autonomous computers, buildings, cities, and super organisms with power and intelligence beyond anything we can currently measure.” In other words, something as yet unnamed, beyond even advanced cyborgs.
But if cyborgs (or their next, next generation) are, according to feminist historian Donna Haraway, the “illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism,” we know they cannot be trusted in the long run. By its pose and disintegration, the “body” in the painting “The Fear and Fragility of the Biological Body Fleeing from the Inevitability of the Cyborgization of Humanity” suggests that the mistrust is real and merited. So, we might consider whether Allman’s paintings are optimistic visions, or dark dystopias.
Allman’s deconstructed bodies, comprised of “humans” who “begin editing their genes and replacing limited biological organs with super intelligent, self-repairing, 3D printed organs, muscles and brains,” appear as hybrid corpse/skeleton/robots/cyborgs, sometimes with exposed cadaver-like insides, like the body in “Domestic Dust.” The giant room in which the body is seated at a table — Allman’s interior and exterior spaces are infinitely scaleable — is repeated as a tiny image in “Seven Simultaneous Sunsets.” In “Robot Death and Resurrection” the robot, who also appears in “Seven Simultaneous Sunsets,” merges with the apparatus that dominates the landscape. Surrounded by a mountain ridge, the land as womb, the body is resurrected as mechanical other.
Size and scale are unstable in these transmuting, self-replicating cities and spaces. In the drastic perspective shifts, we are sometimes small, looking up into the scene of “Domestic Dust,” but sometimes we feel huge, looking down at the action. While the cities and “bodies” generate, we may even feel malleable ourselves as we visually and intellectually discern our place in these environments.
“City in a Pit” is Allman’s physical iteration of the complicated and layered paintings. Responding to viewers’ desire to be inside his paintings, Allman constructed “City in a Pit” from glass, mirrors, wood, and other assorted materials that mimic the paintings. While it can’t wholly satisfy the desire to enter the paintings, from an elevated walkway’s perspective, we become the giant body dominating the miniaturized city, part of the ever-shifting scale central to Allman’s works.
The sound and video projection is a collaboration between Allman and artist Barry Anderson. Allman provided the eerie soundtrack while Anderson assembled the images from nature and from Allman’s paintings. The haunting video with its blacked-out suns and merging, deconstructed landscapes feels future-world chaotic and unstable. In Allman’s world-view, everything is fractured, disjointed, and malleable, but primed for futuristic regeneration.
Allman and Anderson performed together in relation to the video at the exhibition’s opening and will perform together again at 8 p.m. Oct. 6 at Studios Inc Exhibition Space.
“Ricky Allman: Seven Simultaneous Sunsets” continues through Oct. 14 at Studios Inc Exhibition Space, 1708 Campbell. Hours are 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday – Friday and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday. For more information, 816.994.7134 or www.thestudiosinc.org