Hollis Brown Thornton
The Earth on the Back of the Giant Turtle
Intent Statement 2008
The phrase “The Earth on the Back of the Giant Turtle” originates in Native American myth. In the story, the world is covered in water and an animal is asked to dive to the bottom of the primordial ocean to collect mud to form the dry land on the back of a huge turtle. Although this earth origin may seem silly today, the story is one in countless explanations cultures throughout history have formed defining the origins of Earth and the nature of the universe. We constantly question events happening around us and our answers are always dictated by our limited perspective, by what we know or don’t know, by being born into a culture with a dominant religious or mythological or scientific belief, and by living in a constant state of flux and, eventually, death. And it is our perspective, beliefs, culture, religion that make this turtle story seem a bit unrealistic, just as future generations will likely dismiss certain beliefs of our culture as outrageous. The story of the earth on the back of the giant turtle is another step in the continuously developing understanding of an ever-changing reality through science and experience, from explaining how and why the sun sets to predicting the path of a hurricane to trying to understand the growing impact of virtual reality to the potential future realities of global climate change, peak oil, and energy crisis.
The environments in the work are constructed of both the tangible and the remote, things that are already understood and things in a vague state of formation. For instance, images in the photographs are tangible aspects of reality, frozen moments in time, people and places that exist, or at one time existed. Erasing or obscuring elements of the photograph puts the situation in a state of transition. Adding the lines and drawings adds other influences and potentials. Sometimes these lines are controlled by the elements in the photograph and sometimes they are completely independent. But the figures in the photographs, they are the reason the myths exist, they are the questioners who come up with the stories and explanations, so their environment is altered to represent these uncertainties and changing beliefs.
In many people’s lives, computers are becoming more and more important and perhaps necessary aspect of existence. Now we live in a merging of real and virtual worlds, an intermingling of realities to form this current reality. This new reality allows new forms of communication and interaction, we have virtual identities, personal websites, social networking, and we have video games, allowing the people to be the protagonists in new mythic adventures. We are able to create images and events that were once impossible, either in the huge blockbuster movies or tiny computer manipulated photographs. Ever increasingly, we are made up of pixels and html code.
A pigment transfer process moves the images from virtual reality to tangible reality. The steps in this process, from the initial computer work to the outsourcing for the actual prints to the transfer of the mirrored prints to the final physical scrubbing and removal of the paper, each step has its own variables, many of which are uncontrollable. The materials of this method are carbon (from the black transfer pigment) calcium (in the gesso and marble dust) and water (used to remove the paper from the transfers).... these are also a human's main ingredients. The process involves a combination of chance and control, central to the idea of not being in complete control and to the limitations of any human pursuit, while at the same time, being driven by the operation of creation and destruction. The materials of this method are carbon (from the black transfer pigment) calcium (in the gesso and marble dust) and water (used to remove the paper from the transfers).... these are also a human's main ingredients.
The photographs are occasionally sideways, reinforcing the idea of being on a planet, in space, spinning around. So they are not sideways, but rather in various positions floating in space. The world is round, we are sideways and upside down to many people around the world. So, ultimately, in the sideways photographs, it is the desire to avoid viewing the world from one specific perspective, to try to think outside of that limitation.
The lines drawings, both on their own and combined with the photographs, are at times influenced by other images and at other times influenced by the previous line. And then there are times were the drawing is uninhibited doodles. These lines are the ideas, the questions and answers of the figures, ideas that are influenced by things existing, ideas that are slight variations of previous ideas, and ideas that are seemingly unclassifiable. Some lines are complete and others fragmented. The lines change the same way perspectives change over time, from the idea of the earth being on the back of a turtle to the earth being at the center of the universe to one planet of trillions of billions floating around at no special place in space.
The mountains in the drawings are the back of the alligator snapping turtle, the giant turtle of the southeastern United States. The mountains range in numerous small jagged spikes, representing the contours of the turtle’s shell, to larger pyramidal mountains then begin to resemble the Egyptian pyramids, another ancient belief of creation, the pyramid representing the primordial mound from which the earth was created, and death, the pyramid being a tomb. And the mountain’s color and the flowing paint, often similar to the melting glaciers, which represents the current reality of global warming.
Then we look up from the ground and see outer space, a place we continue to ask and answer question after question after question. There are as many theories and myths explaining why events happen in space as there are tangible answers. Why do some stars appear blue and others red? Why are there stars concentrated in the Milky Way? Why do some objects in space follow their own path and not the general movement of the stars? What is dark matter? Do aliens live in the universe?
The space invaders, which originated in the early Atari video games, represent the origins of virtual reality. Their simple illustrations are noticeably constructed of the square pixels that make up the virtual world. With any beginning, there is an ending, and the invaders illustrate the preoccupation many cultures and belief systems have with an impending doom. This potential end may arrive in the form of space invaders or some other object from space or something here on earth, perhaps a disease or it may be the man made doom, such as the computer itself. It could arrive very quick or very slowly and obviously, like the space invaders, like the closing credits at the end of a movie.
As for the very large paintings, their abstraction, the combination of directly applied marks and free flowing paint, the horizontal broken by the vertical, the continual flux and conflict, and the drips, sometimes transforming subtly and at other times dramatically, very much like our own ideas. They are the vague, undefined scenarios, in the process of formation, meandering, painted versions of the lines, and these drip lines travel across the surface of the painting partially controlled and partially uninhibited, the exact way in which we are in partial control of our environment.