Please join us for the third exhibition at Kapow,
Janet Loren Hill's Origin Story
May 5 - 27, 2023
Opening reception Friday May 5, 5 - 9 pm
373 Broadway, #219
New York NY 10013
One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them.
— Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
Janet Loren Hill’s Binocular Viewpoint Paintings spin the pictography of sinister historic propaganda campaigns and disparate textures of textile, paint and plastic objects into warm, fuzzy hierograms narrating epic conflicts between divided factions of a fictitious society, the Hammerhead People.
Endowed with a faculty for creation and destruction, some of these people have relinquished their Hammerheads in favor of crowns of Chattering Teeth. They use these crowns of sharp teeth as weapons to defend the mythology of their origin story and enforce the orthodoxy of their beliefs. However, in a pair of paintings we see that some Chattering Teeth choose to file their teeth down so that they may instead engage softly with reason and logic in pursuit of another possibility.
In this era of “Fake News”, Hill’s satirical stand-in for the real-world decay of social fabric into opposing camps of tribal dogma, gives us keyhole views of an imaginary battle between the forces of reason and those of blind fealty to ideas they have been conditioned to believe. Her signature Binocular Viewpoint invites us to engage from a blindered, tunnel vision perspective, with pictographic stories incorporating plant-shaped elements found in posters from propaganda campaigns used by nation states to rewrite history. Programs like Nazi Germany’s Lebensborn, China’s One-Child policy, and even America’s own Vietnam era Operation Babylift created narratives justifying the policing of women’s lives, reproductive rights, and childrearing. The plant motif is a recurring common theme, suggesting, perhaps, efforts to connect oppressive state policies with nature, beauty, and goodness.
Hill started incorporating this motif into her work at a juncture in life when she and her spouse were considering whether or not to start a family, and feeling murky about their own origin story after the overturning of Roe v. Wade. In the time since she began working on these paintings, we have seen states continue to restrict what children are taught in school about the origins of our country; major news organizations deliberately maintain a lie about the 2020 election results; and women worldwide being oppressed by patriarchal authoritarian regimes.
We have also seen defenders of civil rights standing their ground. Individual states have enacted new laws protecting women’s reproductive rights; and millions of women in Iran have publicly removed their hijabs and demanded freedom in defiance of a brutal and misogynistic regime. Hill clearly stands with this camp.
At every turn, with the Hammerheads as stand-ins for ourselves, Origin Story questions our identity. Are we defenders of democracy and human rights? Are we one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all? Can we be those things if our own origin story is a myth that
disavows the truth of our darkest misdeeds? Can we not see those misdeeds and accept responsibility for them? Can we not acknowledge that we built our nation upon the annihilation of its indigenous populations, upon the backs of enslaved Africans and disenfranchised minorities? Can we not admit that we arm people with weapons and promote unnecessary wars to enrich our own coffers? Can we not treat all people, including women, as equals? Can we not accept the possibility of viewpoints other than those we were conditioned to believe?
However, despite their satirical, dystopian viewpoint, Hill’s paintings also offer humor, hope and joy. Their vivid colors and soft, plush surfaces, set on the background of poster- inspired wallpaper impart the impression of being in a candy shop. Each piece draws one’s eye to the pleasantly familiar pictograms associated with distant memories of storybooks from childhood. Some are further adorned with groupings of loose plastic teeth, connoting associations with the tooth fairy. The chattering teeth, which can be found in all of the works, are associated with laughter and comedy – cheap toys that make children laugh. They give us license, at once, to laugh at ourselves, recognize the absurd in our foundation and to mock the propaganda.
Chattering Teeth also appear in the form of sculptures that vibrate on a motorized table. Hill pokes some fun here by making one of the sculptures out of raw porcelain slip and New York City dirt so that it slowly disintegrates as it vibrates. As if that’s not enough, she even provides mirrored mosaic toilet paper-tube binoculars for us to view the Hammerhead world in full, kaleidoscopic tunnel vision.
The largest piece in the exhibition, a bright orange painting titled Binocular Viewpoint: Some Kind of Origin Story, serves as a primary focal point. It appears as a large smiley face, with disk-shaped pupils at the top and a mouth-shaped gape in the lower border of the binocular boundary. The center is illustrated with images of plants, water, and Hammerheads torn between holding onto their agency or losing themselves into the lure of the Chattering Teeth – Chattering Teeth who promise a cycle of rebirth that ultimately devours them. Yet, even in the face of this brutal reality, Hill gives us reason for hope. In the mouth shaped gape of the lower edge, she has relaxed the boundary of the binocular viewpoint, leaving us an empty space with only blank wall behind it. In this space we may imagine our own story. Thus, we are offered a path to escape the tunnel vision.
Kourosh Mahboubian, May 2023
Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.
― George Orwell,1984