Opening today at Nitroglobus Roof Gallery, curated by Dido Haas, is the first element in a two-part exhibition entitled American Shot, by Milena Carbone.
Both Nitroglobus and Milena have reputations for presenting and creating thought-provoking exhibitions that challenge perceptions and thoughts; and in this exhibition, we have one of the most expansive and provocative installations I’ve seen within Second Life. For her canvas, Milena essentially takes the entirety of human history, using it to outline the rise of civilisation – notably western civilisation – and the corruptions that have inevitably followed, with a focus on the American Empire.
To say American Shot is richly layered would be an understatement; truth be told it is a complex piece that, for some at least, might make for uncomfortable viewing, given it is exceptionally timely in its presentation, indirectly touching, as it does, on events that have recently unfolded in the United States.
This layering starts with the title of the installation itself. The “American shot” (or plan américain), was a term from French film criticism. It refers to a medium-long (“knee”) film shot used in the early years of cinematography to record a group of characters engaged in complex dialogue, with all of them visible to the camera, thus negating the need for a more complex (and time-consuming at the time) multiple shots that might otherwise be required were close-ups of individuals to be used. It particularly became a staple of early American western movies of the 1930s and 40s, thus earning it the name.
Within the exhibition, the term refers not so much to the framing of the images, but to the idea that, in the history of world shaping civilisations, it is currently the “American Empire” that holds sway – is calling the shots -, although it now appears to stand at a junction in its own history, the paths before it leading either to further greatness for the benefit of humankind, the other leading to collapse and decay.
Further layering comes in the form of presentation: for the first part of the exhibition, fourteen out of 28 images are presented; these will be swapped at around the mid-point of the exhibition’s run for the remaining fourteen. Each of these images offers something of a reflection on humanity and / or the American experience, the commentary within them both clear and subtle.
The “clear” commentary among the first fourteen images is perhaps best exemplified in Million Dollar Priest, an underscoring of the way in which the Christian religion has been subverted over the decades in America through the rise of the “tele-evangelists” with their messages of godliness being invariably tied to the idea of their own personal aggrandizement through the acquisition of wealth through the concept of prosperity theology.
The inclusion of this image also brings into focus one of the themes that can be found throughout Milena’s art: questioning the nature of God and religion. Nor is it the only one of her themes. Also to be found here are thoughts on the collapse of humanity, the roles of science and spirituality, our perception of fiction, reality and consciousness. Some of the pieces also are relevant to the current US situation in their commentaries on the nature of authoritarianism and the role of violence in shaping civilisation – again, notably, but not exclusively, Army of Bataclan.
I’ve selected the latter image both to highlight the the point made above, and because it encompasses another element of the pieces here: a neo-classical linking of modern civilisation with the great empires of the past. These are again both somewhat clear in places, and elsewhere subtle, with some also layered in broader references. The mirage of democracy, for example, reminds us that the democratic ideal has been the goal of western civilisation – but is something that can easily be subverted (as seen with the Rome Empire and, again, the events in the United States of the first week of January 2021).
Much more awaits discovery within this installation, including a a book that helps chart the way through the images and Milena’s ideas in American Shot. Rather than forming a simple expositional piece, however, the book actually forms an integral part of the installation, offering categories for the images that help with their context as well as a story that brings together Milena’s ideas and focus for the installation. It can be found for sale both at the landing point for the gallery and at the café, and I recommend visitors consider purchasing it.
There really is a lot to unpack within this exhibition, as such a visit is highly recommended – as is a return when the second group of images in unveiled (all 28 are contained with the accompanying book), something I’ll be doing later in the month. As such, I’ll finish her by pointing out the official opening takes place on Monday, January 11th at 12:00 noon SLT.
- Nitroglobus Roof Gallery (Sunshine Homestead, rated: Moderate)