Text by John-Paul Pryor
Angelbert Metoyer first conceived the thirteen large-scale drawings at the heart of Icon Execution when he was traveling through remote villages in China, where many people had been become ill as a result of pollution, and were infected with HIV/Aids via a corrupt and bungled blood donor program run by the Chinese government in the late 90s. He became fascinated by a folkloric tale he heard from many of those he met on the road about a young Chinese student who had been ‘executing’ memorials to the leaders of The Cultural Revolution. Metoyer was told repeatedly that in the dead electric silence of night this heroic student would place an execution hood over the heads of the memorial statues with Banksy-esque stealth and precision. Although Metoyer never saw any photographic evidence of what he came to regard as a popular myth, the story burrowed its way deep into his psyche, resonating with his beliefs about the power of myth-making and magick.
Earlier this year, while on a painting residency in Memphis, the story of the student resurfaced in Metoyer’s mind when he learned of a performance by the arts professor Richard Lou that provided a very public damning indictment of the city’s famous equestrian monument to a confederate general (a man with a history characterized by slavery, Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan who was responsible for what The New York Times described as “one of the most atrocious and cold-blooded massacres that ever disgraced civilized warfare”). Metoyer began to make studies of the monument and in all of them, he performed an homage to the mythological rebel student by drawing Abu Ghraib-style execution hoods over the head of the figure upon horseback. In doing this, Metoyer considered himself to have undertaken the role of a time traveller, whom he conceived as the alter ego I-AOI: the conceptual personification of a cosmic trickster who has the ability to mould space and time in order to eradicate the spectre of dark forces from the pages of history.
The role of I-AOI in Icon Execution is to make a clear and profound statement about the spectre of racism and slavery at the beating heart of American society, and tear out the cancerous monuments to war that Metoyer believes will be detrimental to human evolution into a higher a species. The artist thinks there is no better place to make this statement than Chicago, the veritable Valhalla for those from the South who fled to North America in the fight for their freedom (after all, it was to the Windy City that the famous 19th century hero Henry ‘Box’ Brown mailed himself in a sealed container in order to escape the violence and shackles of the South). Therefore, Icon Execution witnesses the Namdi gallery itself transformed into an evocation of Metoyer’s Valhalla.
Metoyer turned his attention on monuments all over the United States and began to travel from state to state to make studies of them… compiling a demonology of confederate generals. Unsurprisingly, he was heavily drawn to the plight of horses depicted in these equestrian monuments. Metoyer has always been fascinated with horses and the roles they play in the history of art, religion and literature. In many of the artist’s works they are a recurring symbol of freedom and transcendence.
In Icon Execution Metoyer seeks to guide the attention of the viewer to the way in which these innocent creatures have been historically crucified in the pursuit of violence, warfare and political domination. To act as a foil to this human domination of the species in his confederate drawings, Metoyer has chosen to exhibit one of his largest paintings of horses to date, the awe-inspiring Clouds. This huge and complex piece takes up one whole
wall of the gallery space and depicts the four horses of the apocalypse as they are described in The Book of Kings 2.This enormous painting explores what Metoyer refers to as the hidden language of religion and incorporates in its make-up myriad waste elements taken from the earth, highlighting Metoyer’s theory that from waste and decay can come a new form of beauty. For Metoyer, the horse is a nothing less than a mystical, eternal spy on man, the creature that witnesses our crimes and reports upon us to the higher celestial powers. It is only fitting then that the four most famous horses in mythological history should be found to abide in this show.
In Icon Execution, Metoyer is also exhibiting four of his M Windows – works informed by his notion that time only exists as a personal psychological experience contained by the parameters of subjective perception. Metoyer theorizes time as an equation of memory and self-projection realized solely in the mind of the sentient being at the centre of any given ‘moment’. He believes we receive our memories; that they are not our own but are visions based in time. The M Windows exhibited in the exhibition recreate his ‘mind:memory:moment’ equation within the context of an artwork. Each M Window is made up of various still images that deal in the arena of war and beauty, all of which take one element of memory – eternal, dynamic, static – as their conceptual base. The placement of these still images upon each other within sheets of gold-dust-flecked layered glass creates holographic movement within the work, resulting in a series of dimensions that appear to be in perpetual flux, taking different forms depending on the angle theyare viewed from. They encounter the path of thought in the viewer, providing an intervention in space and time where images and light become a place of convergence: a moment captured in a state of eternal potential.
The final element of the Icon Execution exhibition are four of Metoyer’s short films, all of which are projected out of the gallery windows an into the street at night. These films were shot during his travels all over the globe in the last ten years and they project out into the Chicago night when the gallery is closed, providing a heavenly white light in the darkness of the city, and a portal into the eternal daydreams that inform the artist’s practice. The media of film becomes a way to mark visual moments and cast an electric glow of a daydream into the city. Its haunting ambient soundtrack brings the sonic background of a fast and growing world into a moment experienced only in passing. In this way, Metoyer invites passers by to visit the celestial transcendental home of his I-AOI confederate demon hunter myth and experience a space free of the ghost of racism – a tale here is told that can truly eradicate the darkness of the past, and help us all to step into the light of a future filled with grace and wonder.