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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Apocrypha @ OKOK

"Pillars", 2008

Apocrypha: New Works by Sean Higgins

September 13th - October 5th

OKOK Gallery
5107 Ballard Ave. N.W.
Seattle, WA 98107

OKOK Gallery is pleased to present Apocrypha, a new works by Los Angeles-based artist Sean Higgins. Man’s pursuit of the unknown, and the isolation inherent in such ventures, has remained a consistent theme throughout Higgins’ career as an artist. Apocrypha continues to build upon Higgins’ fascination with the indefinite, albeit with an entirely new set of imagery, the NASA photography archive.

Higgins is part of an American generation in which science fiction underwent a sort of pop culture renaissance that bled into government policy as evidenced by Reagan’s Star Wars program, a failed attempt to develop a defense system that could intercept nuclear missiles from space. Higgins is a member of the generation that witnessed the Challenger tragedy unfold on live television, which one could argue marked a collective loss of American innocence rivaled only by September 11th.. In all likelihood he was one of the millions of children enamored with E.T. and Star Wars toys. Perhaps coming of age during this period in history subconsciously led Higgins to cull source material from the NASA archive, or maybe it can be attributed to Higgins hiking and bike riding above NASA’s jet propulsion lab in Pasadena over the course of the last couple years. The source of his inspiration is debatable but the parallels and contradictions that coexisted between the historical and pop culture milestones of that era are present throughout this body of work.

"Co-conspirator", 2008

It is easy to be transfixed by the beauty of the billowing clouds that unfurl in the frozen explosions, the white glow of rockets’ trails, or the shimmering foils concealing machines that appear too foreign to be of human origin. There is a nerdy charm to the work, a comforting feeling of misplaced nostalgia and vague familiarity. But with time the aesthetic splendor and adolescent playfulness of the imagery begins to fade into a feeling of ominous threat and uncertainty. Higgins has noted that over the course of developing the work certain pseudo religious qualities began to surface in the imagery. This is a fitting observation considering the source imagery represents the documentation of man forcibly penetrating the heavens so to speak. The menacing nature of the work is compounded further by a sense of disorientation achieved through the absence of humans and the intentional removal of most reference to scale. The viewer is invited to form their own fiction, left only the occasional clue to guide the narrative, evinced in works such as Drive-In in which a staircase is illuminated by a shaft of light reminiscent of a Nuclear-cooling tower flipped inside out.

The question of authorship is also a point of interest for Higgins. The concern is reflected in the exhibit’s title. Apocrypha is derived from a Greek word meaning “those having been hidden away.” The broadest definition of the term is “writings, statements, etc., of doubtful authorship or authenticity.” When applied to a Judeo-Christian context Apocrypha is defined as “a group of 14 books, not considered canonical, included in the Septuagint and the Vulgate as part of the Old Testament, but usually omitted from the Protestant editions of the Bible.” Higgins begins his own exploration of authorship by sourcing material from a public archive, with the aim of utilizing these images as the framework for original works of art. This sort of appropriation is nothing new in the art world but Higgins manages to provide a unique perspective by purposely transforming documentary images into a disjointed fiction, a fiction that succeeds in spanning the edges of pop culture, history, science, and religion.

Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.

-Carl Sagan

What are we doing here? It’s like… something out of a dream or… I don’t know. Maybe I’m just going crazy.

-Luke Skywalker to R2-D2 on Dagobah



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