It’s easy to look at our triumphs–to celebrate democracy, free speech, and relative abundance (even amidst economic turmoil)–and forget that World War II was so recent, to block the bombs and the internment camps so conveniently out of our minds while sampling the latest innovation in probiotic froyo.
And that’s a point largely explored by artist Chad Wys in his collection American Tapestry. It’s a series of digitally altered works, with a focus on melted porcelain and burned paintings–destroyed cultural artifacts.
“I wanted to create an ode to America. The manipulation of the art and decorations represents a nation’s ability to both produce beauty and to engage in brutality. I wanted to observe representations of both at the same time,” Wys tells Co.Design. “In the back of my mind, the ‘melted’ American porcelain is meant to represent what might have happened if the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs had been detonated over New York or Chicago instead.”
It’s a disconcerting thought that’s never more than a stone’s throw from any superpower since the dawn of the nuclear age. We used to worry about Russia. Now it’s Iran. While Wys’s work is largely nostalgic, it’s not hard to imagine modern nuclear fallout, and a melted iPad conveying a similar idea for 2012’s political climate. Our beauty is constantly protected by brutality.
Rather than modernize the object to have contemporary relevance, though, Wys explores different means of distortion. Melting is one. Burning is another. But interestingly enough, pixelation sits right alongside these more violent distortions. It’s a particularly salient point when you realize that American Tapestry doesn’t contain any real objects, not really. Each piece is a digitally manipulated print rather than a tangible, melted or burned object.
The viewer may see classic destruction and decay, but it’s all swimming in the larger theme of modern deceit.
“I’ve employed a kind of digital trompe l’oeil; an aesthetic deceit that was en vogue in American art around the times the paintings and objects referenced in this series were originally crafted,” Wys explains. “For me, though, the digitally reproduced image is the most culturally dangerous of all since it’s so inherently malleable for any purpose.”
Ultimately, Wys’s work brings up so many themes that it’s wildly difficult to dissect. But the final effect always seems to be the same: Whether a product of violence, censorship, or age, everything is ruined sooner or later. Or maybe it was always a little bit tainted, and we just didn’t notice.