Through September 28
by Janette Chien
In Fight Well Against the Future, Katie Murken uses flat drawings of cars juxtaposed with various textures to create surreal environments as complex metaphors. The effect is simple yet monumental, reminiscent of a children’s book handling difficult ideas in an accessible way. It circles a narrative, but concludes as a symbol for humankind and our relationship to history and technology.
The cars, created from a simple contour drawing made by Murken during her travels, have been reproduced in gold leaf in a variety of shapes. These cars are amusingly familiar, reminding us of parking lots, waiting in traffic, arriving and departing. With their different styles, personalities, and classes, cars are a symbol of contemporary technology and lifestyle, embodying the idea of compartmentalized living. By homogenizing them into a congregation, Murken creates a colony searching for a place to nest and form a civilization.
In Man in the Autumn Light, Murken creates a humorous juxtaposition between the cars and the surrounding architecture. The cars read as incongruous in the space, comical even, peeking out behind Mesopotamian pillars like mice. They imply the detachment of man from his surroundings, and his presence as out of place and insignificant. The flatness and skewed perspective of the scene are puzzling. The environment has a formulaic quality, with the water pasted over the pillars, the land over the water, and the cars over the architecture. Murken makes no attempt to render realistically or achieve natural textures. Even the graphite rubbings created from a cement brick read as uniform and manufactured. Murken recycles the same vocabulary for each collage, giving the works a standardized look and suggesting a purposeful artificiality. The car functions in this context as a kitsch symbol for modernity, and represents our superficial engagement with history and nature.
From the floating pillars in Das Shaudern (The Shudder), to the waiting cars parked on the edge of the black abyss in Man in the Autumn Light, we are spectators before a stage, anticipating the moment when something (possibly monumental) is about to occur, reflecting our desire for the sublime. Murken describes one of her inspirations as a hoax email she received with the subject “Mars Spectacular.” The email contained a powerpoint stating that on the evening of August 27th Mars would appear to the naked eye as large as the full moon. The claim was supported by convincing facts and declarations, but with a little research the email was revealed to be nonsense. Murken examines our civilization’s search for the sublime, and how that search ultimately falls short.
There is loneliness and stillness in this work. The blackened car windows suggest a lack of human life, as though we have left our cars stalled on the road like relics in a museum. Cars are artifacts of our society as architecture is of Mesopotamian civilization. Murken ponders whether technological innovation will be our era’s only legacy.
Janette Chien is a visual artist and writer from Hong Kong who lives in Philadelphia. She holds a BA in English and a BFA in Studio Art from Tufts University and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. She has written for NAPOLEON and exhibited work in Boston, MA. She currently works at SpArc PDDC as a Program Specialist for their Cultural Arts Center.