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The Wild West I The End Of An Era

Museum Link: https://app.museumofcryptoart.com/collection/the-permanent-collection?collection=0xb932a70a57673d89f4acffbe830e8ed7f75fb9e0&token=16220&page=4

Source Link:  https://superrare.com/artwork-v2/the-wild-west-i-the-end-of-an-era-16220

Date Minted:  November 16, 2020

Artist Description: The animation & its soundtrack is an audio visual meditation about the current state of our western, trumpesque society. Looking at the modern world through the lense of the concept pride. Pride, as one of the seven deadly sins. We are living in times of change – this is the end of an era, but also the beginning of something new.

CohentheWriter’s Commentary:

The animation & its soundtrack is an audio-visual meditation about the current state of our western, trumpesque society. Looking at the modern world through the lense of the concept pride. Pride, as one of the seven deadly sins. We are living in times of change – this is the end of an era, but also the beginning of something new.” -Claudie Linke, artist

I could introduce the piece no better than its artist, a self-proclaimed German-Indonesian, who has nevertheless managed, somehow, to distill 300 years of American consumerism, expansion, self-importance, and greed into a single 1 minute and 30 second video. An enviable ability indeed. The Wild West I The End Of An Era is a piece bloated with visual information, all of it contributing to an overall juxtaposition of American society’s erosion with its original ideals of freedom, pioneerism, and self-governance. There’s really no way to look at this tremendous piece and not feel a deep sense of longing. Not just for the version of the world portrayed —a world wide-open, under starlight, accompanied by a roaring fire— but for the decay of that world which Linke has invited us to watch. To see Linke’s The Wild West I The End Of An Era is to confront the realization that American society has never been free of the ills which now grip it. Even the Native Americans who were here first, from whom invasive Americans took a country and culture both, are depicted emblazoned with Ed-Hardy-esque tattoos. What a motif. Even the very soul of the nation is unable to escape the corrupt influence dripping down from its surface unto its roots.

The Wild West I The End Of An Era is the kind of piece that rewards patience. It is an overstuffed corpse bursting with minuscule details. If the associations between these details are unclear at first, they emerge after sufficient time is spent pondering this motif together with that, this one with the other. What is clear at once, however, is that this is a garble of quintessentially American images, none more so than the distant, snow-capped mountains and the great grassy plains beneath them, the Native American family seated on the backs of two horses, the lone male holding a long spear over his head, and a mother sitting with two young children, one no more than an infant. Behind the Native Americans, but placed physically between them and the mountains, hangs the great yellow canopy of a gas station, and two pumps descending to the ground, one reading “love” and the other “hate.” At this point, finding individual details becomes more like a scavenger hunt than an act of appreciation. I spy, in no particular order (and I spy is perhaps the best way to describe the effort): a series of stacked Campbell’s soup cans, rolled dice, a row of dominos, a faraway village of teepees, a swan and cygnet, a rooster, two billboards —one reading “Men, eat meat,” and the other “Use sparkling toothpaste.” There are flowering cacti. There is a man in a canoe casting a fishing rod. There is a swinging traffic light and, just beside it, a small snail emblazoned with the “Nuclear energy” logo. And, I’m sure, there’s more. Although you get the gist.

It’d be a fool’s errand to try and sort out the symbolism of everything here, so I will say only this: There are clear connections between many of the images. The Native Americans, for instance, the way they appeared in the past and the gambling meccas their reservations have been reduced to. The cygnet growing into the swan, the passage of time and influence of experience. The mother seated next to her children. The end of an era, but the beginning of a new one, even if ignoble. Linke takes us on a tour of some of these symbols throughout the 90-second video, not content to linger on an animated frame, but zooming in to different spots, like to the swinging traffic light, which, when close, we can see has been written on in marker with the words “Run Run.” And yes, Love turns to Hate. And yes, soup cans become symbols. And yes, the great plains are overrun with advertisements. 

What surprises me is that Linke avoids being overly critical of American society here, figuring themselves a better observer than critic. There are criticisms inherent in the juxtapositions between items and symbols, but these owe less to what Linke is overtly saying and more to our (my) own ingrained knowledge, our (my) own feelings built up after nearly 30 years of being an American. In a way, then, by including so much symbology, Linke is drawing our own lexicon of images into the piece, and we end up critiquing ourselves. We end up making our own associations —positive or negative— between the images. It’s a very strange artwork which, in some ways, mirrors abstraction, because while we can identify the images individually, they are positioned in such a guideless mishmash that we are left to draw lines between them ourselves, and thus, no two readings will be exactly the same. We have different associations with gas stations, after all; and I’ve never visited the mountains of the American West. Many of us probably begin from a place (or end up there) of noticing the consumerist details, but our relationship to those details differs. 

The Wild West I The End Of An Era is abstract, but it’s also collage. It’s a critique without being critical, one that lets us choose our own adventure, so to speak, define our own symbols and establish our own relationship to them. Thus, Linke doesn’t really need to be American, because Linke isn’t criticizing American society in a way which would require such nativist knowledge. Linke is simply showing us details of American society that they’ve noticed or collected, placing them down within the same frame, and letting us —be we American or not— dictate the terms of the criticism ourselves.  

(EDIT: this piece was analyzed without having heard the underlying soundtrack, a bizarre medley built from the fractured corpses of things Donald Trump has said. A goddamn death wail. Worth your time if you have speakers).