Arts » Visual Arts

From ancient Rome to SoCal: iMOCA's Philip K. Dick show


A still from Prince Rama's short film NEVER FOREVER, part of iMOCA's The Empire Never Ended.
  • A still from Prince Rama's short film NEVER FOREVER, part of iMOCA's The Empire Never Ended.

iMOCA executive director Shauta Marsh was in Portland last year for a conference when she came upon a group of artists who had invented a religion based on the works of the nominally-Gnostic-but-too-complex-to-describe-using-only-a-few-adjectives sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick. "I wasn't into what they were offering aesthetically; it was a little too Charlie Manson," she tells NUVO. "Besides, Dick would have hated that anyone created a religion based on his work."

But she was impressed, and she headed over to the (totally awesome) Powell's Books, picked up a copy of Dick's VALIS and read it while listening to the work of psych rocker/performance artists Prince Rama. The soundtrack here is important: When Marsh decided to do a show inspired by VALIS - about a schizoid main character who may or may not be Philip K. Dick but is in any case named Horselover Fats - she called upon Prince Rama, plus a couple Dutch artists (Marc Bijl and Serge Onnen), to contribute work.

And it turns out Marsh was right in thinking Prince Rama would be on Dick's wavelength. "What's funny is that before even knowing what the heck VALIS was, I decorated our entire apartment with pictures I tore out of a book on ancient Roman art and architecture for no real reason besides looking cool," Prince Rama's Taraka Larson says. "Then I read about Horselover Fat's visions of Ancient Rome superimposed on the southern California landscape, and suddenly realized I was unconsciously constructing the same kind of cross-temporal aesthetic vision.

"His conclusion was that time had stopped during the Roman empire and that southern California was a holographic projection on top of it, aka The Empire Never Ended. So we were like, actually Ancient Rome is already holographically projected on Southern California via kitsch decor, watered-down Italian architecture, gilded cherubs, plaster busts, cheap versions of ionic columns, etc., so what if Southern California was the "true" reality, and the Empire is the simulated one?"

It's in keeping with Larson's concept of "ghost-modernism," a term she devised to describe "the aesthetic phase following post-modernism that's marked by a massive haunting of the present by the phantoms of the past by means of kitsch. Anyone who watched the Super Bowl the other night can agree Bruno Mars was totally possessed by the spectres of old boy bands like the Temptations mixed with the dance moves of Elvis, Prince, and a touch of Michael Jackson.

"A halftime performance totally haunted by kitsch resurrections of the past - a little weird overall, right? Similarly, our exhibit creates a holographic experience of "the present" SoCal 2014 haunted by fragmented shards of Ancient Rome resurrected by way of kitsch, i.e. leather jackets of a fictional motorcycle gang called Parmenides, or a poster of Kim Kardashian dressed as Helen of Troy."


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