Feb 4th 2020

Armageddon Yacht: Michael Anderson at New York’s Arts & Leisure

by Sam Ben-Meir

Sam Ben-Meir is professor of philosophy and world religions at Mercy Collage in New York.

International collage artist Michael Anderson is presently enjoying a solo show, the first in four years, at Arts & Leisure gallery on New York City’s Upper East Side. Armageddon Yacht is an exhibition of sixteen recent works, all featuring Anderson’s unique and inimitable style. Whereas most collage artists make use of magazines, Michael uses exclusively street posters gathered from around the world, which allows for work on a much greater scale than is typically associated with collage. His pictures are at once unmistakable and visceral, sweeping, playful and ironic.

Consider for example the title piece of the show, Armageddon Yacht (2019). The name is derived from a term that US sailors use for an aircraft carrier. Power and violence are recurring themes in Anderson’s work – and no less here. With irony and wit he questions our contemporary assumptions and illusions about power. The central image of three models sipping martinis on a yacht presents us with an idealized vision of Western luxury and decadence, privilege and wealth. Contrasted with this is the wide surrounding border where we find a kind of conflagration out of which emerges a montage of terrorists, and exaggerated machismo. In a darkly humorous way Anderson suggests that both worlds represent fantasies and asks us to question the unspoken ways that each needs and implicates the other.

There is currently an exhibition in Israel entitled Naked Soul, centered on the painter Chaim Soutine. When we are naked, we are at our most exposed and vulnerable. Some artists are intent on baring everything, their soul, with every stroke of the brush. Van Gogh was perhaps another such painter. This is not what Michael’s work is about. His work is not about himself as such, but about the world. But nor is he simply collecting and aggregating the fragments of an atomistic society. There is an aesthetic transformation of these fragments that takes place – he works his materials over. This accomplishes something crucial: it defamiliarizes the material and turns it into something we no longer know; to put it another way, perhaps more precisely, it depotentiates our habitual frame of reference. There is indeed a subversive element to his work. But in what sense, precisely?

 

Anderson is keenly aware that we live in an era oversaturated with imagery – some real, some “real”, and some fake, with the lines between them growing ever blurrier. He confronts head-on the challenge and necessity of finding ways of constructing meaning out of this chaos. At the same time, he refuses the temptation to privilege any particular construction, or set of signifiers: everything is off-center – set free of its origin, and reduced to a kind of vector of energy, free to float and intersect with other modes, creating new and novel ways of becoming. One is tempted to suggest that there is an implicit ontology running through this body of work, an ontology of univocity perhaps, a kind of univocity of being.

Michael Andersson Armageddon Yacht
Armageddon Yacht (2019) by Michael Anderson

Briefly put, to say that being is univocal, means that being has only one sense, and is said in one and the same sense of everything of which it is said, whether it be God or man, animal or object. The fundamental problem of a univocal ontology is that if being is said in one and the same sense of everything that is, then how should we understand the difference between beings? It was Spinoza who grasped the solution to this problem. The only acceptable difference is difference as a degree of power or intensity.

What I am suggesting is that in Anderson’s collage there is no hierarchy, or ontological privileging – nor is his work meant to meant to invoke a former unity that has now been lost or broken. All things are in this sense equal. What we find in Anderson’s work is a kind of “continuum of differential multiplicities through which intensities are actualized.” So, there is undoubtedly something subversive about his work – but not in an immediate political sense. What he subverts is fixity and essentialism, any system that blocks the process of continual transformation.

Anderson’s art invokes a great sense of freedom, of limitless possibilities, the most disparate images, visual references and allusions can intersect in startling and provocative ways. His de-centered, non-linear approach enhances this sense that we are not bound by ordinary logic. At the same time, every genuine work of art sets up its own rules, its own limitations, its own conditions which determine what can and cannot be done, what will and will not work. This is not less true of Anderson’s pictures, and he is scrupulous about honoring the work itself, respecting the parameters, as it were, which are internal to and different with every work.

In my many visits to Michael’s studio I have had the opportunity to observe his process up close and over time – from the long and careful method of layering by which he makes his “canvas” to the dissection and application of representational elements and graffiti abstraction (and now graffiti textiles), to the countless small touches which fine-tune the piece and lend it polish in its final stages.

Anderson has been and remains a formidable and prolific collage artist. This show is but a small sample of the monumental work he has yet to reveal to the public. In Anderson’s work faces, figures, forms and things emerge, converge and seem ever ready to submerge back into the universal substance from whence they came. His vision is a large, comprehensive, almost Spinozistic, one. And for that – at a time when we are beset on all sides by narrowness and provinciality – we can only be grateful.

Michael Anderson: Armageddon Yacht runs through February 9th at Arts & Leisure located at 1571 Lexington Avenue in New York City.

 

Browse articles by author

More Essays

Jul 12th 2020
EXTRACT: "Remember, your wellbeing is extremely important when supporting someone with depression. Take time for self-care so you can model positive behaviours and be replenished enough to provide this crucial support."
Jul 4th 2020
EXTRACT: "--- Nobody is more dangerous than he who imagines himself pure in heart, for his purity, by definition, is unassailable. --- Author James Baldwin’s words, written in the America of the late 1950s."
Jun 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "Numerous studies have shown that children who grow up in more deprived neighbourhoods tend to have worse physical health as adults compared to those raised in more affluent areas. This is the case even when researchers take into account family income and education, and whether or not parents have major illnesses. In order to address this health disparity, researchers need to understand how those living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods end up with worse health outcomes. Our team’s latest study has highlighted one potential way your childhood neighbourhood may influence your health for years to come. It might do so through changing how the activity of your genes is regulated."
Jun 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "Ruth Poniarski is a painter and the author of Journey of the Self: Memoir of an Artist (Warren Publishing, 2020), in which she tells the story of her decade long struggle with mental illness, a “spiraling malady” which led her into a “pattern of psychosis”. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Poniarski about her life and work, and how she eventually overcame her demons."
Jun 27th 2020
EXTRACT: "I know I’m good in a couple of things, really good in a few things, and that’s enough. My confidence is big enough that I can really let people grow next to me, it’s no problem. I need experts around me. It’s really very important that you are empathetic, that you try to understand the people around you, and that you give real support to the people around you."
Jun 27th 2020
An essay about the "the enormously influential 1940 'Head of Christ' painting by evangelical Warner E. Sallman" pictured below.
Jun 17th 2020
EXTRACT: "The diverse, non-human life forms that live in our guts – known as our microbiome – are crucial to our health. A disrupted balance of these contribute to a range of disorders and diseases, including obesity, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease. It could even affect our mental health..... It’s well known that the microbes living in our guts are altered through diet. For example, including dietary fibre and dairy products in our diets encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria. But mounting evidence suggests that exercise can also modify the types of bacteria that reside within our guts."
Jun 13th 2020
EXTRACT: "Bonhoeffer’s life holds an important lesson for us today, regardless of our religious affiliation or lack thereof. And simply put it is this: you are called upon; you are called on behalf of your neighbor. When you are called to be responsible that is not an obligation which you can decline, discharge or acquit yourself of – it is an infinite responsibility, a “forever commitment” as Charles Blow recently put it. And we all must be prepared to make any sacrifice necessary when we are called."
Jun 11th 2020
EXTRACT: "People differ substantially in how much they’re affected by experiences in their lives. Some people seem to be more affected by daily stress, or the loss of someone close to them. On the other hand, some people seem to get through the same experiences relatively unscathed. Similarly, some people benefit strongly from counselling, or having a support system of close family and friends. Others seem better able to manage on their own. But understanding why some people are more sensitive than others isn’t just a question of how they were raised, and the experiences they’ve been through. In fact, previous research has found that some people in general seem more sensitive to what they experience – and some are generally less sensitive."
Jun 7th 2020
EXTRACT: " The root causes of anthropogenic climate change – which has led to the endangering of countless species across the globe – cannot be adequately grasped in isolation from the technological application of modern science. While Swedish activist Greta Thunberg was certainly justified in calling upon American legislators to “unite behind the science,” neither can we overlook the culpability of science in bringing about the environmental crisis. "
May 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "The QAnon movement began in 2017 after someone known only as Q posted a series of conspiracy theories about Trump on the internet forum 4chan. QAnon followers believe global elites are seeking to bring down Trump, whom they see as the world’s only hope to defeat the “deep state.” OKM is part of a network of independent congregations (or ekklesia) called Home Congregations Worldwide (HCW). The organization’s spiritual adviser is Mark Taylor, a self-proclaimed “Trump Prophet” and QAnon influencer with a large social media following on Twitter and YouTube."
May 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "The aim of my research for the Understanding Unbelief programme was to investigate the worldviews of non-believers, since little is known about the diversity of these non-religious beliefs, and what psychological functions they serve. I wanted to explore the idea that while non-believers may not hold religious beliefs, they still hold distinct ontological, epistemological and ethical beliefs about reality, and the idea that these secular beliefs and worldviews provide the non-religious with equivalent sources of meaning, or similar coping mechanisms, as the supernatural beliefs of religious individuals."
May 22nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Psalm 91, for example, reassures believers that God will protect them from “the pestilence that walketh in darkness… A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee”.............Luther was a devout believer but insisted that religious faith had to be joined with practical, physical defences against sickness. It was a good Christian’s duty to work to keep themselves and others safe, rather than relying solely on the protection of God. "
May 22nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Evidence from this study shows clearly that eating foods rich in flavonoids over your lifetime is significantly linked to reducing Alzheimer’s disease risk. However, their consumption will be even more beneficial alongside other lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, managing a healthy weight and exercising."
May 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "It’s possible that the answers to questions like, “how do I live a virtuous life?” or “how do we build a good society?” are not the same as they were a few weeks ago."
May 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "Strangely, those with strong beliefs tend to be admired. The human mind hates uncertainty, so it is comforting to be told what to think, and to form settled opinions. But it is not rational. As the philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote: “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”
Apr 21st 2020
Extract: "Humans, Boccaccio seems to be saying, can think of themselves as upstanding and moral – but unawares, they may show indifference to others. We see this in the 10 storytellers themselves: They make a pact to live virtuously in their well-appointed retreats. Yet while they pamper themselves, they indulge in some stories that illustrate brutality, betrayal and exploitation. Boccaccio wanted to challenge his readers, and make them think about their responsibilities to others. “The Decameron” raises the questions: How do the rich relate to the poor during times of widespread suffering? What is the value of a life? In our own pandemic, with millions unemployed due to a virus that has killed thousands, these issues are strikingly relevant.
Apr 20th 2020
Extract: "If we do not seize this crisis as a moment for transformation, then we will have lost the war. If doing so requires reviving notions of collective guilt and responsibility – including the admittedly uncomfortable view that every one of us is infinitely responsible, then so be it; as long we do not morally cop out by blaming some group as the true bearers of sin, guilt, and God’s heavy judgment. A pandemic clarifies the nature of action: that with our every act we answer to each other. In that light, we have a duty to seize this public crisis as an opportunity to reframe our mutual responsibility to one another and the world."
Apr 16th 2020
EXTRACT: "Death is the common experience which can make all members of the human race feel their common bonds and their common humanity."
Apr 7th 2020
EXTRACT: "A crisis such as this one demands that we exercise what the philosopher Immanuel Kant called the ‘public use of reason’ – as opposed to merely the ‘private use of reason’ where, briefly put, the expert, the specialist is tasked with resolving a defined problem. The private use of reason is sufficient when we are dealing with a problem that can be solved by simply applying the appropriate expertise...............The public use of reason asks: how we are defining the problem? Is our definition – our conceptualization of the problem – perhaps part of the problem itself? Is this pandemic solely a problem of public health, or is it also a problem of extreme economic inequality? ..............Since this crisis began, the greatest failure of the administration is not the denial, the lies, the lack of preparedness, but the inability to rally and unify the nation against this common threat, the lack of genuine leadership – Trump’s utter inability to bring the nation together."