Years after Zero

400 x 2.600 cm
three C-Prints diasec on dibond each 50 x 380 cm

Years after Zero 12
Years after Zero 11
Years after Zero 13
Years after Zero 10
Years after Zero 7
Years 1
Years 2
Years 3
Years 4
Years 5
Years 6
Years 7
Years 8
Years 9
Years 10

Click image to enlarge.

Years after Zero

As a real counterpart to the long-format photograph "World of Plenty”, "Years after Zero" has identical dimensions and depicts the opposite model of life, showing individual and social failures and sins, mechanisms to escape from fully experiencing life, as well as ways to waste one’s time.
People live without finding satisfaction or peace despite the excesses of the entertainment industry and its products. Drugs, the fan cult around celebrities, and bureaucracy are presented alongside traditional cardinal sins such as vanity, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, etc. Many of these sins are built into the norms of the society and supported by large industries. Greed gets a modern interpretation and personification through incorporators, drug dealers, polygamists, and swarms of children in a single family. Shopping is gluttony in a socially accepted form.
In this image, human beings are lost in a chaotic reality. They live in an urban nightmare full of social and moral decline. Wild nature disappears to the outskirts of the settings of consumerist chamber play.

Years after Zero

My first exposure to the work of Tea Makkipa was the epic ‘World of Plenty’, an astonishing mixture of images collated into one person’s vision of a Utopian idyll that seems to wed elements of Bosch’s ‘Garden of Earthly Delight’ with the warped perspective of Fra Angelico. I was immediately drawn to it, partially by the dichotomy it represented, but mainly because it spoke to me so plainly of some of the best things I remember from the anarcho- punk sub-culture of the 1980s.

This superficial resemblance to a Crass record sleeve – the collages of G. Sus that played such an integral part in capturing the imagination of the band’s followers – caused me to look further into the artist’s work and so it was with a pang of recognition that I stumbled upon its evil twin, the dark work of genius that is ‘Year’s After Zero’.

I am glad I discovered them in this order. ‘World of Plenty’ is a mind-blowing psychedelic experience in which Alice eats the wrong kind of mushroom and the whole world joins her on a happy trip to the moon. The artist’s command of subtext, ever-present throughout her canon, makes its presence felt gently, and a warmth and optimism flows through the whole canvas. ‘Years After Zero’ offers no such luxury, and to engage with it without an awareness of its counterpart would be to gain a false impression of its creator as some doom-laden pessimistic wintersfiend, with nothing to offer in the way of salvation. We have no right to expect artists to come up with all the answers, but when they come up with nothing but questions we are entitled to wonder if there is any give and take in their work at all. Art, we might be entitled to suppose, is at its best when it is a two-way experience.

But if the two are intrinsically linked, it is inevitable that some of us will lean towards one or the other. Sated and deified by the warmth and wholesomeness of ‘World of Plenty’, I find myself dragged down into the dark side by the stark totalitarian reality of ‘Years after Zero’. Image after image queue up to confront the viewer – many of them innocuous in themselves, but adding up to an overwhelming recognition of the chief malaise of our time. Not war, terror, genocide, or the potential to destroy the planet in any one of a number of ways, but the creeping growth of spiritlessness and acceptance of mediocrity that is at the root of it all. The acceptance of our own worthlessness that is the inevitable fallout of a global acceptance of celebrity. ‘If these’, we tell ourselves, ‘are the beautiful people, then we by default are the ugly.’

This, for me, is one of the real masterstrokes in this work. Our civilisation is at risk from many things. Our potential for greed and stupidity is impressive, but these are not the tools with which ultimately we threaten to deny ourselves the world of plenty that the artist has promised elsewhere. Rather the lack of focus and direction, the unnecessary striving after things we don’t need, and the celebration of worthlessness will prove our undoing. That imaginary ‘jet set’ culture that ceased to exist when the Airbus filled the skies, and the rest of us peasants got airborne along with the rich and famous, is still held out to us as a vision of value and success, but it is a cheap piece of glittery tat, and only appealing when viewed through the wrong end of the telescope. If we lack the imagination to understand our own self-worth, then this is where we are predestined to arrive – Years after Zero. A world of want without need, of hope without aspiration, and failure without ever having striven for success because the expectation is that of the lottery player. All or nothing, with the odds stacked inevitably against you.

So why, then, if it presents such an unremittingly grim picture, would we choose to look at the thing at all?

The perception and enjoyment of art is a subjective experience, and doubtless there will be many different reactions to the work, just as there will be as many interpretations as there are words in this present tract. Speaking for myself, my first reaction to the piece is to the shockingly voyeuristic nature of the images, and the unerring accuracy with which the artist reads us that once again enables her to draw us in. The fawning journalists, the paparazzi, paying dutiful homage to the glamorous model, personify our total engagement with the pecking order established for us through the medium of TV and film. The bulging shopping carts filled with things we neither need nor want, but only desire, disgorge their loads into an already overfull car, symbolic of the waste and greed we regard as normal, and are as much a part of the vision as the helpless victim, kicked on the ground by skinheads, or the woman imperilled on the adjacent steps, but these images are offered up to us as real life spectators, and just as we might choose to walk past walk past a mugging on the other side of the street, turning our face away ‘lest we become involved’ so we are compelled here to confront the joint responsibility we all bear for each and every one of our fellow creatures as we plough heedless on towards our ultimate destruction. Tea Makipaa paints with people as others use chalk or charcoal. Melodramatic maybe? Possibly – but the artist’s skill is present in the execution of the piece to such an extent that these emotions cannot be set aside.

Emotionally ‘Years After Zero’ grabs hold of the viewer and drags one into its complex jigsaw of experiences, but this would not be possible without the physical shape of the composition, and it is here that another of the real elements of genius is to be found, in the arrangement of the work as a triptych – redolent again of the early renaissance - divided into three distinct groupings of characters, and in which the central arch forms an almost churchlike focal point, under which the picture’s most elemental act of brutality is carried out. Not a large feature of the work itself, the two skinheads administering a beating to a third figure on the ground takes on enormous significance by virtue both of its position, and of the attitude of the other characters in the composition.

The focal point of the left hand portion is the woman in the green dress in front of the glitzy hotel, harried by the cameras, but it is of note that every face on this side of the triptych is turned away from the central portion – something that starkly highlights the figures in the subway. These in their turn are in two groupings – the polygamous family group and the two skinheads and their prey. Once again the faces of those not involved in the beating are turned universally away and this further highlights this one fragment of the picture.

Moving to the right we find ourselves in a less glamorous world, but one equally unprepared to intervene. This end of the triptych is populated by mundane gluttons, petty obsessions with household pets, and the selfish everyday insurances we all make towards our own survival. Here the figures are not pointedly turned away from the flashpoint, they are simply disinterested.

For this viewer, then, the entire experience of ‘Years After Zero’ can be distilled down to this one scene set at the very heart of the work. Doubtless coloured by past experiences, for me this single act of violence, ignored by one half of the picture, and condoned by the other, personifies the act of destruction we are, as a race, permitting to be visited upon ourselves, our world, and every living thing on it. Our future – our world of plenty – is being kicked to bits in a subway by skinheads and we, disinterested, bored, indifferent, or too frightened or ignorant to intervene, are going to walk on by and let it happen.

Joseph Porter