Solo Exhibition at Haifa Museum of Art
December 12th 2015 – May 1st 2016
Curator: Hadas Yossifon
The one-man exhibition “American Circus” brings together a significant and contemporary body of works in the oeuvre of Federico Solmi. The show presents the video trilogy “Chinese Democracy and the Last Day on Earth,” the animated portraits from the latest series “The Brotherhood,” and the group of video paintings titled “American Circus.”
In his works Solmi combines traditional hand-drawn animation with computer game animation, video skill, and a cinematic idiom. The work process involves filming against the painted background using Motion Capture technology. The “Chinese Democracy and the Last Day on Earth” Trilogy is unique to his previous and latest work, in that it involved writing the script, creating, painting and modeling the characters and every sq inches of the set / environment of the film. Solmi plays the lead figures, who speak in his voice thus emphasizing the performative aspect in this body of work, inspired by Charlie Chaplin’s Great Dictator movie, while simultaneously creating a new way of filmmaking. The wild, distinctive style of his work is characterized by a simple narrative, monumental spatial perception, a grotesque design of the characters and visual elements, the use of multiple layers of paintings in bold colors, and an exaggerated wealth of details that is simultaneously unnerving and attractive.
Solmi’s violent, subversive, and ironic works evoke a dystopian vision of contemporary society. He creates satirical portraits of zealously greedy ruling mechanisms feeding on mass admiration, materialism, and the worship of power and the body. The monstrous figures appear in ridiculous uniforms, their faces set in frozen smiles, their body movements clown-like. The world glimpsed through his oeuvre is a male hierarchy ruled by dictators, politicians, businessmen, and religious leaders. Their arrogance, corruption, and blood lust causes the collapse of moral values. The contemporary affluent society and the destructive nature of humanity are presented in an ostentatious, circus-like, pseudo-naïve aesthetic idiom, with humor illuminating the absurd aspects of domination and the horrors it causes.
Chinese Democracy and the Last Day on Earth
The video trilogy includes three films that unveil the adventures of one hero – the ultimate tyrant. This epic satire presents, in overflowing, lively colors, a world in which flat and obedient human beings are produced in assembly-line series, only to be downtrodden and destroyed by power-hungry and bloodthirsty individuals unchecked by moral constraints.
The first chapter, “A Song of Tyranny,” tells of the tyrant’s rise to power. He is an invincible idol who has come to dominate the entire planet, except for America, which he is determined to conquer. In a colorful military show parade designed as a party, dozens of balloons are freed into the air. Inflatable dolls in the shape of the ruler drift against a background of skyscrapers and Chinese pagodas. In a newspaper interview the hero tells of his admiration of American culture and the central values he has adopted, such as the celebrity culture and reality shows, exaggerated materiality, greed, and political corruption. All these have elevated him to his current status.
“Chinese Democracy and the Last Day on Earth” is the trilogy’s second chapter, after which the entire series is named. The film presents an apocalyptic process of the destruction of Earth by the tyrant. The world, once a paradise, has become a violent incarceration facility as a result of human actions, culminating in the bloody conquest of New York’s Times Square and the city’s destruction by fire. Economic savagery and tyrannical leadership lead to the total destruction of the earth. The planet disintegrates into an endless stream of refuse, consisting of icons and particles of consumer products such as the Statue of Liberty, Google, Coca Cola, and more.
In the third chapter, “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” the ruler returns to his planet of origin on a journey through space littered with the remnants of the planet Earth. He announces the destruction of humankind and receives a hero’s welcome, a huge crowd applauding him in a victory celebration. Yet the waste particles from Earth rain down and destroy the other planet, and the tyrant himself is killed when a monumental sculpture of him falls from the sky and crushes him. In the meantime, humanity, represented by American figures, continues to spread throughout the galaxy.
Solmi developed the trilogy for over three years, the work was commissioned and produced with the support of the Guggenheim Foundation, New York.
In this series of projected video paintings Solmi combines drawing, painting, and 3D technology to create a parody of the iconographic representation of historical figures. The series includes Solmi’s absurd variation on portraits of leaders such as George Washington, Napoleon, and the Pope, alongside members of “The Brotherhood,” an organization whose aim is to maintain global chaos in order to advance the deterioration of the human race. Using portraits and short narratives, Solmi exposes history as invented propaganda and as an orchestrated manipulation generated by governments and political leaders. He illuminates the distortion, incompleteness, and tentative nature of our knowledge of the past, and challenges us to reexamine our beliefs about history.
This series of video paintings is Solmi’s version of the upcoming United States presidential election. Each of the video works focuses on a political archetype mentioned in the title: the next female president, the last president, and Dick Richman, the Wall Street tycoon. The objects combine LED screens, video animation, and painting, and they are rich in color and texture. The figures’ movements are stiff and disjointed, like those of computer game protagonists. The candidates stand in front of the American flag, accosted by a rack of microphones, nodding their heads as if acknowledging the applause of an unseen audience. Their waxen faces seem ghostly, their eyes bulge, and beneath them are dark-red stains reminiscent of blood hemorrhages. As in other works, the bright colors that make up the picture (red, white, and blue) glitter and shine. The figures with their frozen, tense smiles, the seeming products of grotesque plastic surgery, speak of the decline of Western society and its decadent body worship. Yet despite their stiff movements, they are richly colored and evince a sense of human complexity. Each of the figures seems about to deliver a speech, yet it is only the last president who really speaks. Solmi uses a pool of sentences typical in speeches of this kind, for example “My fellow Americans, we are the best country in the world,” from which he constructs the true meaning, as he sees it, of the presidential message – a collection of familiar, hollow slogans used by tyrants to establish control.