lynette m.f. bosch, ph.d.

SUNY Distinguished Professor, SUNY Geneseo

On Day 11 (La Guerra de los Mundos), Geandy and Imara were hiding from Mickey Mouse, seen as a shadow on the wall, moving threateningly to where they hid in a closet. Said threat is implied by Geandy’s hand, placed over Imara’s mouth and his warning gesture. Lord only knows what a cartoon will do when they get hold of you …. The War of the Worlds, based on the novel by H.G. Wells, of the same title, published in 1898, became a sensation, when Orson Wells broadcast a dramatic version of it, on October 30, 1938, on the Columbia Broadcasting System. The broadcast was so convincing that people listening thought the Earth really was being invaded by Martian forces. The sensation this event caused became part of the popular culture lore of the Wells novel and War of the Worlds has since been recreated in film in 1953 and 2005. In Geandy’s version, the alien invaders are incorporated by Mickey Mouse, whose shadow creeps across the wall to where Geandy and Imara hide.

day 11 - war of the worlds

The juxtaposition of Mickey Mouse as a figure of terror and the staging of Geandy and Imara’s fearful regard of the cartoon character tropes on 1950s horror films and on the Walt Disney cartoon character. The combination of these two art forms is a consummate presentation of Kitsch art, handled with a tongue-in-cheek attitude that is the quintessence of one aspect of Kitsch aesthetics. Kitsch is derived from the German kitch – to coat or smear – and Kitsch art is an artistic aesthetic that satirizes (or coats or smears) “High Art.” Kitsch Art’s campy and irreverent attitude towards the icons of “High Art” employs aspects of popular culture visual culture, such as sentimental, household décor, or popular culture figures, such as Mickey Mouse to blend multiple visual, cultural and artistic traditions. 

In so doing, Kitsch art elevates tackiness and spoofs the serious art world by drawing attention to the artificial categories of the art world, as it points to the inventive appeal of the visual aesthetics of consumerism. Irony, satire, humor and buffoonery as the premise of Kitsch art and, while in lockdown, Pavón indulged his lighter side in a series of photographs that are stunningly funny and startingly serious, as he unfolded stories within stories, with brilliantly original juxtapositions of elevated philosophical concepts brought into alliance with run-of-the-mill household objects. The impact of these images is a bit like having Michelangelo come to visit a Monty Python world. 

These combined worlds of Philosophy, Art History and Kitsch emerged in a most notable surreal on Day 30 (Unheimlich or Freud’s Garden). Unheimlich means uncanny in German, a concept popularized by the Architectural Historian Anthony Vidler in his book, The Architectural Uncanny. There, Vidler discussed the unease inherent to the modern environments we inhabit, which are alienating and displacing in design and visual impact. Vidler’s ideas about the uncanny emerged in the work of the critical theorist Viktor Schlovsky’s essay “Art as Device,” where he coined the term ostranenie translated into English as “defamiliarization,” a sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known that is unsettling or unheimlich. And nothing could be more unsettling than to find fake flowers growing out of your living room floor as did the mask-wearing Geandy and Imara, who suddenly and startingly came upon the phenomenon. That the flowers also have a titular association with Sigmund Freud, founder of modern psychology and its exploration of the uncanny world of the subconscious expands on the theme of the juxtaposition of the “normal” with the “unheimlich.” As it was in Day 11 (The War of the Worlds), the aesthetic of 1950s horror films is evoked in this image. In both, the manner in which different types of emotions are juxtaposed with varying aesthetics that disrupt and defamiliarize the spectator from their understanding of reality is akin to the way in which the Covid Lockdown disrupted and alienated us from our lives and our versions of reality. Thus, Geandy and Imara’s staging of the unheimlich found in lockdown presents that which is serious in a campy manner that embodies the experience of quarantine in a form that is serious, while seeming to be playful.

day 30 - unheimlich or freud's garden

A similar way of addressing the epidemic and the lockdown in this mode of serious play emerged on Day 31 (Quarantine: Paradise Lost), which presents Geandy and Imara locked out of their living room, which is inhabited by a very unheimlich apple that sits on the coffee table. The title of the photograph alludes to John Milton’s (1608-1674) great work, Paradise Lost, wherein Milton describes in ten books of verse the fall of Adam and Eve and the struggle to return to the perfection of the Garden of Eden. As the masked Geandy and Imara look into their apartment, they are indeed locked out of their little Paradise by the cheeky apple that occupies their home. Locked out of “paradise,” yet desperately seeking to return, Geandy and Imara strive to move through the windows that separate them from their longed-for Eden, in a recreation of how Adam and Eve must have felt, when they realized that their transgression had cast them out of safety and comfort. As Adam and Eve were exiled from Paradise, Covid has exiled humanity from its previous state of existence and in Geandy’s Quarantine: Paradise Lost, even the safety of lockdown appears to have been denied to the cast out pair. Again, Pavón manipulated the conventions of Kitsch Art juxtaposed with Milton’s great work in an act of defamiliarization, evocative of how the lockdown upset the norms of life as we knew it. By creating an image that brought together, spoofery and satire, heavily laced with irony, while alluding to a literary classic, Pavón gave form to the absurdity and reality of the Covid Lockdown. In so doing, he created an image that documents one reaction to lockdown generated by blending of art, illusion and reality in the quintessential touchstone sensibility of “Quarantine: 40 Days and 40 Nights”.

day 31 - paradise lost

Paradise, Adam, Eve and the persistence of daily life in the form of love (Venus and Ochún) emerged on Day 35 (Quarantine: Untitled Paradise) in a re-presentation of Geandy and Imara as Adam and Eve, now standing in the unheimlich growth of artificial flowers that spring from the floor to provide the couple with a paradisiacal setting that is simultaneously artificial and real. For a moment, the defamiliarization of lockdown and the alienation from normalcy, being experienced globally, are suspended in a moment of communication that even though staged amidst the Kitsch Art aesthetic nonetheless displaces its artificiality and emerges into a genuine moment of connection.

day 35 - untitled paradise

An emotional aesthetic, similar to that of Untitled Paradise, recurs in Day 40 (Quarantine: Negative Theology – The Black Sun), where Geandy and Imara sit on her living floor surrounded by fake grass, fake flowers, real food and furniture, as they gaze into a reflection of a black sun projected on the wall, in simulacrum of every corny ending to every sentimental movie everyone has ever seen. The implication of a happy ending based on our familiarity with such scenes at the conclusion of romantic movies is inverted here with the substitution of the dark sun in place for the brightness of the actual sun. Yet, the moment of connection established by Geandy and Imara’s poses and gestures rings true in the way that such staged scenes in films and theatrical performances evokes the actuality of the emotions that accompany such moments of bliss in real life. Day 40 is a photographic compendium of idealized life, displaced from reality, yet compelling for its emotional veracity, a modern rendering of the rhetorical trope of enargeia, first described by Aristotle as the ability of art to bring spectators an experience of life’s emotions. 

day 40 - negative theology: the black sun

In Geandy’s creation of images of serious Kitsch Art, perhaps the most simultaneously serious and hilarious occurred on Day 32 (Nativity Or The Birth Of A Nation). Playing on the idea of the Birth of Christ (Nativity) and on the morally reprehensible D.W. Griffith film “The Birth of a Nation,” one of the most luridly racist examples of American early filmmaking that exists. In this film, Griffith adapted, which was adapted Thomas Dixon Jr. racist novel, “The Clansman: A Historical Romance of The Ku Klux Klan”(1905), which had the goal of creating a narrative about Southern White Supremacy that cast Southern whites as victims of reconstruction. On Day 32, Geandy and Imara consigned the “The Birth of a Nation” to the trashcan of history, where it belongs, as the multiplicity of histories they embody in their mixed racial, ethnic and national histories leaves no room for bigotry.

day 32 - nativity or birth of a nation