“Industrial transformation turned out to be a bubble of promise followed by lost livelihoods and damaged landscapes. And yet: such documents are not enough. If we end the story with decay, we abandon all hope — or turn our attention to other sites of promise and ruin” (Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing)
NN Contemporary is pleased to present the debut exhibition of Northampton based artist Jonathan Alibone. The painting installation ‘Promise and Ruin’ explores the catastrophic vision and global crises. Using anthropological methods, the artist builds fictional landscapes as archaeological reconstructions, and documents, through painting, sites of ruin to visualise the dramatic effect. The gesture of documenting summons a critique of media image saturation, portraying the effect of a collapse in distance, as the contemporaneous. Alibone explores reality as proving inseparable from the simulacrum of media images. A thick layer of visual smog, as tonal hue, builds murky territorial narratives. Alibone treats media image saturation as a fog of pollution, anxiety-inducing and increasingly difficult to navigate. Installation across the galleries blurs the boundaries between subject and object, inviting viewers to experience the work through participative observation – learning with, and from.
Throughout the History of Art, the contrasts in the human figure/ background composition in painting have arguably suggested an ideology of man’s mastery over nature. This mastery has been summarized recently by the term ‘Anthropocene’. The Anthropocene describes how human activity, in particular financially driven human activity, has become the central catalyst of changes in the Earth’s ecosystem. Whereas climate once shaped culture, culture now shapes climate. The ‘financial human’ era is one that measures everything as financial material, resultantly the metaphorical contrast between staging environment and the beings that occupy it, disappears. Disciplinary boundaries collapse between the machinic, the animal, the mineral, the biological and the social. Posthuman morphing states the question of our binary certainties. Nothing escapes precarity, and continuity is the condition of an ongoing crisis.
A dilemma of ecological catastrophe for the Arts is presented through pieces of recycled cardboard and building materials such as cement, – should one recycle or build? A piece of waste is situated outside the sphere of ownership, whether private or public, in Alibone’s practice, it opens up the space of freedom. The artist’s process highlights the dynamics of encounter between elements of different texture, statuses or realms. The metaphor of ruination critiques ‘progress’ as the crucial factor in driving the West’s domination over the twentieth century through technological superiority. As an anthropologist, an explorer of alternate realities, Alibone reconfigures and assembles fragments, but not for the aspiration of escape. In ‘Promise and Ruin’ the artist takes on the critical, political task of post-producing reality, and thereby deconstructing the ideological mechanisms of statecraft to become situated among many other possibilities. Assemblage serves as a motif in an infinite montage, that strives for hope, in collaborative survival.