Blame it on the History Channel's Hiroshima documentaries or the section in theology class on the Rapture. Apocalyptic visions are undeniably enthralling. I don't know about you, but I can't help but contemplate how mass hysteria would look, feel and smell. So when I come across a show like "Gardening With Oscar Oiwa: New Paintings" at ASU Art Museum, it's only natural for me to have a major staring problem at his large-scale paintings that depict not-so-distant future worlds of collapsed infrastructure, parasitic oxygen and utter lack of humanity.
A piece titled White House Garden envelops collective fears of total humanitarian breakdown. A huge birdbath filled with black oil juts out among scenery of relentless rubble. Military helicopters circle the fountain like birds, and one rests on the fountain's concrete lip while tanks crawl below. No humans can be found, only these miniature-scale vehicles of mass machinery that are somehow absolutely adorable. Feeling affection toward destructive technology is unsettling and causes a reevaluation of true beliefs about war.
Postmodern Architecture (Black Market) is another compelling painting that studies postapocalyptic survival. In the midst of an industrial wasteland, underground networks of dark tunnels articulate into finger-like arrangements, ending in small rooms. Each pod-like space contains evidence of human life such as televisions, toilet paper, guns, gardens and teddy bears but no actual humans show up. Here, Oiwa provides a future human condition only seen in terms of infrastructure and possessions. It's up for question whether the creatures living in this environment would be at all recognizable.
Subtlety is not Oiwa's intention, but he does go a little overboard with Do you like Iraq? (Barbecue). The painting shows icons of American consumerism (Yoda, Colonel Sanders, etc.) enjoying a backyard barbecue. The cuts of meat to be devoured by the gimmicky guests are shaped like countries and continents. While all of Oiwa's works are message-heavy, this one really slaps you over the head in an obnoxious way. These characters have been used so many times to criticize consumption that the large-scale painting is overdone and obvious. This minor glitch aside, Oiwa offers incredible landscapes that simultaneously thrill our anxieties and feed our fears. And like any scene of carnage, it's impossible to look away.
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