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Monkey is the Root of All Evil

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Date Minted:  November 11, 2020

Artist Description: A surreal expression exploring a nihilistic view of the relationship between money, morality, intellect, and evolution. 

CohentheWriter’s Commentary:

Sometimes you see an artwork, and everything you need to know about it is right there, self-contained in the small universe it has created around itself. Monkey is the Root of All Evil, a piece minted by artist Bishop two years ago in November of 2020, is just such a piece, a clever spiderweb of iconography and linguistics, of semi-related imagery and concepts, all with the aim of creating a “A surreal expression exploring a nihilistic view of the relationship between money, morality, intellect, and evolution,” as per Bishop’s Artist Description. Nihilistic indeed: A black hole where a face is supposed to be, and a surrealist departure from logic; this is a piece that relies on the fragmented chaos of symbols, and our desperate human desire to link them all together. As an independent artwork, Monkey is the Root of All Evil is the obvious stand-out in Bishop’s collection of works on Rarible, easily the most thoughtful and memorable piece the artist has created within this segment of their output. 

There’s a lot to unpack thematically in this work, so let’s see if we can find a jumping off point from within the aesthetics themselves. The black-and-white aesthetics, the colorlessness, they infect everything within the piece with a kind of abnormality. There’s only one item that’s colored as it’s theoretically meant to be, and it’s the sky-facing 9mm pistol in the bottom-left corner of the screen, gripped —on butt and on trigger— by the four visible fingers of the main subject itself, a faceless chimpanzee. The chimpanzee itself, here denoted by little more than fingers and fur, takes up almost all of the frame, though where its face would be is instead, as mentioned, an empty black hole, devoid of form and devoid of detail. From out of the black hole where the monkey’s face is, a fist extends, a fist clutching a wad of twenty dollars bills within it. All the various parts of the piece —fist and gun and monkey, too— have a slightly different level of realism. The gun, for example, is rendered intimidatingly realistically, whereas the monkey —and perhaps this is the nature of all chimpanzees— has the thick and falsely-lustrous fur of a puppet. The hand coming out of its face seems pulled from a stock photo, and the black hole from whence it extends seems unlike anything else herein, an obvious dose of surrealism in a piece that is, yes an odd collage, but otherwise built of realistic parts.

So there’s an inherent weirdness that comes from the overall image seeming so surreal when most of the individual aspects of it are relatively realistic. But despite its cohesive aesthetic framework, Monkey is the Root of All Evil strikes me more as an artwork of collage than something stereotypical surrealist. I suppose if you wanted to take the works of Dali and Méret Oppenheim and Carrington and say that the works of these surrealists are also a kind of collage, there’s some sense to that argument. But in the desert island works of Dali, for instance, the disparate and oftentimes solitary characters and objects lend themselves to a much more obvious collage-like reading; unrelated objects in disconnected styles existing without clear relationship to one another. But this same collage influence is more subtle in Monkey is the Root of All Evil, probably because the piece goads us into inventing an underlying logic for the mishmashed objects. After all, they’re not too far off from each other aesthetically or symbolically, and Bishop plays on our underlying associations, even using the punny title to prime us to make those connections. The violence implied by the guns, and the greed implied by the money. The animal barbarism implied by the chimpanzee, and the disfiguring inhumanity of the black hole, it all lends itself to a single discomfiting reading of the piece, one which actually antagonizes the nihilistic assemblage of parts that Bishop may have intended. 

Because yes, there is a central figure holding the gun, but any violent agency on its part is nullified by the fact that it is without apparent agency in terms of personality —read emotion— or intellect, as per its lack of brain. I think it’s rather clear that Bishop is coaxing us into a certain reading of this piece, one which looks something like: Human beings have become evolutionarily controlled by greed to the point that accumulation of money has overtaken reason, and that leads to violent acts on the part of us unthinking, ape-like humans. But these symbols are interchangeable enough that I think you can rearrange their interactions with each other and come up with equally plausible readings. There’s a somewhat suicidal intonation denoted by the placement of the gun. There’s a certain implication of something else within the black hole in the primate’s face, a human body attached to the money-grubbing arm, as if humanity is puppeting the natural world in a typically violent manner. 

A lack of motion or animation ultimately leads to an ambiguity within the piece. Perhaps this is what Bishop meant when he spoke of the “nihilistic view” Monkey is the Root of All Evil imparts. Though there seems a clear pathway through the reasoning of the piece, our hands are not held, and any implication of meaning that we pick up on is, in reality, one we ourselves have assembled, like a stew we’ve made out of whatever we have laying around; no recipe, just a way of handling the ingredients we’ve picked up from experience, through watching and through consuming ourselves.  

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