Monday, April 24, 2017

The Allegory of Good and Bad Government and the Affirmation of the Moral-Political Self

I just wrote a short essay on my thoughts behind my new body of political work.  Check it out!




"The Allegory of Good and Bad Government" by Ambrogio Lorenzetti


Normally, I make post-structural (non-binary) work about emergent truth, contextual meaning, and relativism, as a both a critique of modern formalism and a means of providing space for myself to exist as a queer woman in today’s art world.  But nothing is normal anymore.  The 2016 election changed everything for me as a whirlwind of corruption, fake news, and neofascism infiltrated our Executive Branch.  Sadness, fear, and anger consumed me and I strained to make sense of the American political and cultural landscapes.  Within this frustrating “alternative” reality, I wasn’t always sure that two plus two didn’t equal five, but ultimately clarity prevailed and I knew I had to take a stand.  I was an American and I made the conscious political choice to fulfill my civic duty, however small, to protect democracy and global stability.  And as an American painter, this meant I had to make political work.


To quell my anxiety, I took refuge in art history and traced the origins of western democracy back to depictions of Greco-Roman government.  During my research, I remembered a medieval fresco by Ambrogio Lorenzetti that I had visited eight years ago during a study abroad program in Sienna, Italy.  “The Allegory of Good and Bad Government” was a stunning sight, with an epic juxtaposition of good and bad government spanning three large walls.  In its composition, civic officers and magistrates are guided by stately figures, angels, and demons, as the effects of good and bad government play out across the city and country.  As the viewer stands in the middle of “The Allegory’s” moral ultimatum, they are forced to compare idealisms between the work and their own political reality.  In context to today’s American democracy, the experience evokes a sense of responsibility in determining one’s own moral priorities and understanding how they manifest as a political choice with cascading effects.




"The Allegory of Good Government" by Zoe Shulman


It was then that the subject had become clear to me: I knew that if I could locate a moral definition of government, I could use it to achieve my political goal of promoting an ideal democracy.  My process would involve translating Lorenzetti’s fundamental allegoric structure into a system of geometric symbolism that could convey a moral American government.  There was only one problem: How do I approach this flat, illusionistic fresco of seemingly dualistic and universally moral subject matter from my post-structuralist position?  I felt conflicted, as if I was arrogantly touting my own moral superiority as the epitome of righteousness.  How could I take on such a proposition when the American political landscape has multi-dimensional complexity, with connected and contradictory spectrums of truth that are relative to each individual?


Central to my work is the concept that painting, whatever the painter's definition, does not exist in isolation.  I believe that it sits relative to the architectonic dimensions of all other media, and that there are multiple right ways to paint.  Many of my paintings are made without paint, exist within multiple spaces simultaneously, and break down the frame by engaging the viewer’s bodily subjectivity.  For me, the wall presents an oppressive paradigm of purist-modern-formalist-objectivist dogma that has a history of excluding the perspectives of women, LGBT individuals, and people of color.  When I use the wall, it is with extreme caution and my primary intention is to inform the growth of my works off-the-wall.  From this vantage point, making a moral work of art for the wall felt like two plus two suddenly equalled the cow jumped over the moon.


"Electro-Pop Lady Grids I & II" by Zoe Shulman

And then, an epiphany.  Intentionally-political art, regardless of morality or spatiality, is always about perspective, and it pushes back against the white male painter’s narrative of so-called “pure art for art’s sake”.  Furthermore, I realized that Lorenzetti’s “Allegory” was just that- an allegory!  It was not to be taken literally as a universal truth, but rather as his idealized Sienna, in which the moral and political come together to shape our pragmatism and give us a sense of control over the future.  And within the individual’s moral and political subjectivity, duality can exist and achieve affirmation through flatness and the frame.  So now I understand my need to flatten my political work and put it on the wall: I simply need to affirm my values and locate myself within the larger American political zeitgeist.


Ultimately, we can acknowledge our subjective truth and still accept relativism as a larger condition of that truth.  This is the key to making any work active.  Fascists won’t appreciate the truth in what I'm making, and I think that's incredibly powerful and important at a time when democracy itself is being likened to mere “political correctness”.  And for me, this is the real stuff of painting.  Being engaged in painting is more than just medium specificity; it’s a larger conversation about how our experiences get expressed through space, dimension, and surface in order to delve more deeply into the nature of truth.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Allegory of Good and Bad Government

I'm planning a more politically-driven series based on Ambrogio Lorenzetti's "Allegory of Good and Bad Government".  I am composing the work as a large triptych that will interpret Lorenzetti's dramatic 14th Century governmental scenes using symbolic geometry and linear perspective.  My inspiration comes from the need to visualize the structure of contemporary American government and draw parallels between Sienese history and neo-fascism.  Lastly, I am also working on a sister series called "Checks and Balances".  It will also visualize governmental structure, but with a focus on the tension between the three branches - more details soon... In the meantime, here are a few ideation notes and sketches for my "Allegory":



Lorenzetti's Good Government


Lorenzetti's Bad Government











Hilma af Klint is a huge inspiration:



<3 <3 <3


Lebbeus Woods, "Slow Manifesto"



The House and Senate, Temporal Power (Pendulum), Scales of Justice, Power Pyramid (upside down), Frame of Constitution expands to encompass a greater majority.  I am using the philosophical and subversive aspects of alchemy to reference an older, more occult America, in which spirituality is visualized by geometric symbolism.  Throughout history, alchemy has been practiced as a secular philosophy to achieve inner transformation, enlightenment, and salvation.  To disguise themselves from the intolerant church, alchemists developed geometric symbols to share profound esoteric spiritual meaning.  By bringing this hidden language into view as political art, I believe it can aid in an American spiritual revolution that will transform hearts and minds, leading to a moral enlightenment and reclamation of core democratic values.


Our Ouroboros Government

Good and bad government are a reflected, asymmetrical feedback loop. They're codependent and capable of becoming one or the other at any given moment.  Like Alchemy, turning water-to-wine.



Power pyramid is upside down; the frame of the Constitution expands to represent a greater majority.


The cube-rosette, an alchemical symbol of the divine throne and window to enlightenment and transformation.


Rosettes, also a common architectural feature of federal buildings, will be incorporated into the design of my Good and Bad Government


The Hexagon Fractal: Mother of all golden squares, circles, triangles, rhombuses, ellipses...


The Rosette of Hope


The Rosette of Charity



The Rosette of Faith

Digital sketches: Tinkering with illusionistic texture to provide a sense of light and mass in the structure








The Rosette of Faith


The Rosette of Charity


The Rosette of Hope


Hope, Faith, and Charity


Crystal scan!



Hexagon metal prints!


"The Rosette of Faith"
Digital mixed media
2017


"The Rosette of Charity"
Digital mixed media
2017


"The Rosette of Hope"
Digital mixed media
2017


"The Rosette of Fortitude"
Digital mixed media
2017


"The Rosette of Justice"
Digital mixed media
2017


"The Rosette of Magnanimity"
Digital mixed media
2017


"The Rosette of Peace"
Digital mixed media
2017


"The Rosette of Temperance"
Digital mixed media
2017


"The Rosette of Wisdom"
Digital mixed media
2017





Hexagon-metal prints!



"The Allegory of Good Government" is finished!

The cube-rosettes, known as alchemical symbols of power and enlightenment, form the Nine Virtues that guide the Executive Branch of the Democratic Republic.  The Allegory of Good Government encompasses the Judicial and Legislative Branches, the expanding Frame of the Living Constitution, the Power Pyramid empowering the greater majority, the Pendulum symbolizing the healthy transition of power, and the Ouroboros embodying the death and rebirth of moral government...


"Bad Government: The Malicious Power Pyramid"
Through the angry fire of laissez faire, trickle-down capitalism, the elitist 1% stares down maliciously with resentment for the poor.  It hoards power and wealth at the top, as the light of Hope grows more and more narrow towards the bottom of the pyramid.


(Affectionately known as "The Angry Pyramid")
The elemental triangle of death's fire, a confrontation and condemnation of what is...
The elemental triangle of life's water, an idealization and mourning of what was...


The head of the Ouroboros emerges...


What happens when a foreign government is responsible for interfering in our democracy? Are good and bad government really just a closed feedback loop, or is there some external entanglement? What happens to the Ouroboros?

Just finished two high resolution final drafts!  I can print these at up to five square feet!  Big hexagon prints, here I come!


Inversions are a metaphor for "flipping the script" and exposing power structures.  To be more specific: what happens when we switch the roles of the black and white binaries?  Are we still looking at the same image, or has something fundamentally changed?  Can we contradict the flow of light and still call a shadow, a shadow? 

In terms of morality, is bad the simple inversion of good and vice versa?  Good and bad government are more than mirror images of each other.  Good and bad government are a reflected, asymmetrical feedback loop, like an Ouroboros.  They're codependent and capable of becoming one or the other at any given moment.  Ultimately, there are no equal opposites in a fundamentally unequal society and humanity is not up for debate.

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The Moral-Political Affirmation as Digital Painting

Digital painting expresses my moral-political affirmation by unapologetically confronting and condemning bad government.  All too often, digital art is mischaracterized as a deceptive medium that lacks handmade authenticity while simultaneously air-brushing the truth.  To the contrary, I believe digital art has historical relevance in today’s political climate and may be used as a form of cultural jiu-jitsu against Vladimir Putin's cyber-warfare.  In relation to geometric abstraction, its smooth, high-gloss, rigidly flat, pixel-measured, Pantone-charted certainty is what solidifies my work as hyper-intentional, subjective political art.  Desperation and lack of representation drives my need to raise my voice and make an empowering statement; thus, the subtle architectonics of hand-painted physicality have no place here.  My goal is to use subjectivity to shine a light through three dimensions and get to the allegoric structure of truth by revealing its flattened shadow.  I believe painting is a state of mind as much as it is a physical act, and by thinking like a painter, I can manipulate light and shadow to render a subjective moral-political truth that holds as much weight as Caravaggio's oily chiaroscuro.  


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Within my "Allegory of Good and Bad Government", the gallery space becomes a spiritual grotto. It is a dimly lit space that glows with soft candle light, evoking hope in the face of darkness. The Rosettes are like Saints, each one occupying their own shrine for reflection and empowerment.
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The heavy backward vibration drones on as I aspire to see Good Government while staring down Bad Government...