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I spoke with Miljohn Ruperto a few weeks before his two-person exhibition with Adrià Julià at Public Fiction. Our conversation occurred in a bar where we were both serving as extras in a mutual friend’s film. Between takes we discussed his new video work Mineral Monster 01-08, as well as Janus (2014), the video he presented last year in the Whitney Biennial. While we drank from our props of beer, we discussed our affections for cartoon animation. I was intrigued by the manner of imaging Ruperto had recently chosen to work in. He seemed to have found a successful counter to the current prevalent use of CGI, by embracing the style of contemporary animated cartoons as seen in the films of the great Hayao Miyazaki.
A few weeks later I stepped into the quiet storefront gallery of Public Fiction, a space secretly nestled in the hills of Highland Park. Ruperto’s work was presented on a flat screen and Adria Julià’s video projected onto the opposite wall. A soundtrack of dense forest subtly emanated from Ruperto’s work; Julià left his to play silently. Both videos, though markedly different, expressed a conflicted attitude towards the medium, while also presenting imagery with powerful symbolic associations.
In Ruperto’s work, Janus, we are involved in a site of hardcore animation. In his short video there is a clear attempt to make the viewer complicit in engaging with the labor-intensive medium of the animated cartoon. Hand drawn animations—as well as their contemporary computer generated counterparts—are known for their advantages of creating imagined reality: both dramatic and satirical in representation. Animations, of all forms, are now often farmed out to Korean or Indian production offices for cheap and quick turn around. For Janus however, Ruperto collaborated with animator Aimee de Jongh, meticulously crafting a genuine microcosm of invented fiction.
Depicted on the screen was a small solitary creature, who has possibly just escaped from some unknown danger. The animal breathes heavily CD under the shadows of tall ~ trees silhouetted by moonlight overhead. The figure embodies two animals simultaneously: a duck-like bill moves as he breathes, although the bill could easily be viewed as ears to the creature’s rabbit-like face. This is a fictive realization of the visual pun of the “duck-rabbit,” made famous by the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, who used it as an emblem to describe the distinction of logic in visual perception. Yet, as hinted by the title of Ruperto’s work, we may be looking at a possible mascot or gatekeeper to our present-day conflicts: this creature may mark the coming of peace. Historically the Roman god Janus kept the doors of his ternpie open during times of war, only to shut them once peace had been realized. However, the frightened creature of Ruperto’s work poetically suggests that our present state of conflict is far from over.
Julià’s video, Unwatchable Scenes, is seductive as an abstraction, deflecting quickly any immediate reading; instead acting as an invitation to read be- tween the lines. The work was difficult to discern, despite displaying footage of sometimes recognizable landscapes. The images are obscured by a muddle of black lines and shifting planes: visual clues of damaged video media. Slow and meditative, the work is somewhat evocative of the potential beauty of an abstract painting. Yet it also succeeded in pointing to technology’s inability to provide a clear record of what is purportedly being evidenced. I later learned that the work had been sourced from a found and edited video on YouTube. The artist had pieced together downloaded video footage of the film sets used for a 1981Hollywood film called Inchon, which primarily depicts the Korean war. Inchon is a subject the artist has been obsessed with, and which he has alluded to in his previous works. As a potential meditation on war—or cinema—Unwatchable Scenes is difficult to pin down; powerfully evoking the entropic status of the medium of video while leaving the purpose of those visual connotations difficult to define.
Like two sides of a coin—or an animal with two heads—the pair of videos that comprised Unwatchable Scenes and Other Unreliable Images… landed on clear opposing sides. Julià’s work con- founds and asserts a vague fog of war time terror. The found footage related to Inchon seemed to provide various entry points into a would-be concept, yet the piece did not engage into a clear dialogue about war or the original film (perhaps a watching of the original Hollywood film would provide an answer). The implied intention of discussing war-time politics is numbed by the abstraction of the work, rendering the content mute. By contrast, Ruperto succeeded by providing a work that playfully exists in the realm of myth and the imaginary, producing tangible evidence of empathy: of what it is to suffer in moments of conflict, and the struggle to survive towards an ever possible fleeting moment of peace.
This review was originally published in Carla issue 1.