Purgatorial Aesthetics: Chris Lloyd at Entrance and Gina Fischli at Swiss Institute

Chris Lloyd, In Solitude Until The End of Time, 2022, installation view. (Photo credit: Mario Miron)

“Your soul.
Take mine.
Your time.
Fighting it low.
Yeah. You.”
“Immortal Visions,” Obituary 

In a basement not so far, far away from whence I came, I saw hell. Or, rather, the charred gates of hell, engulfed in flames, so papery thin that a devilish visitor could tear their way through them in an instant. This is Albuquerque-raised, Brooklyn-based artist Chris Lloyd’s exhibit, titled In Solitude Until The End of Time at Entrance, in which death metal iconography prevails, including an Obituary poster contorted into an elaborate dragon, stitched together with crimson red threading and suspended from the ceiling. Lloyd’s hell includes vertical scrolls hung from metal chains, such as Thinking of You With A Dagger In My Heart – a title of which some cursory googling led me to G.G. Allin, born “Jesus Christ Allin”, a rather nasty and ill-fated punk rock musician described as “the most spectacular degenerate in rock n’ roll history” with other chart toppers such as “Ass Fuckin’ Butt Suckin’ Cunt Lickin’ Masturbation” and “Abuse Myself, I Wanna Die” (there are a few particularly unsavory ones I shan’t get into here). In this work, a serpent licks a skull, a knight in armor bends over a sword, a Black saintly woman appears with a sword piercing her neck, and another guy with an unperturbed expression is accosted by gargoyle-y demons all around him. In a vivid cyanotype titled Infinite Pathways Before The Flame of The End, another serpent curls around a black oval, with little Lucifers and centaurs positioned around the spiral. Lloyd’s scroll-portals into hell allude to tangles of bodies in torment, as in Bruegel or Bosch, though these could also be pages from his own elaborate Red Book. Is this an artist in existential crisis confronting his nightmares, as per Jung? Or is this an artist wholly besotted with Christ – a fanboy regurgitating the symbols and metaphors of the Bible? 

It appears that Lloyd is conversing with dark psychic forces and the notion of heaven and hell as dynamic oppositions, as far as his engagement with satanic metal goes. Norwegian bands Gorgoroth and Immortal are also referred to in dramatic titles like Where Dark and Light Don’t Differ, and stickers stuck in shadow box works next to cobra heads and skulls protruding sunflowers. The work seems strangely pure in its full immersion in a multifaceted process of sewing, laser engraving, architectural pin-plotting, collage and watercolor. Each element combines to achieve hypnotic striations, interrupted with stickers and the singed edges of stenciled wings, halos, love hearts and fabled figures. At times, his scenes resemble those of Howard Finster, only they go without Finster’s cartoonish charm, the ludicrous smiley faces and those long-winded evangelical texts. 

The upstairs level of the gallery yields renditions of a more celestial ilk, including your usual suspects, Adam and Eve, or to clarify, a Brown Adam with dreadlocks and a Black Eve with long peroxided tresses, pondering the apple of sin. In another depiction, Two Blessed Hands, Adam and Eve are turned together toward a heavenly staircase, which could also double as a spaceship ready to launch with angelic bodies gathered at its peak. In another scroll, Saint Sebastian strikes his martyr pose. While the double-sided scrolls reveal their crudeness, other works are more like windows with laminated prayer cards floating in them. One prayer card is dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel (of which there’s a corresponding Nora Ephron film), another contains a copy of “Footprints in the Sand”, his version credited to Mary Stevenson (authorship is much disputed and an un-Christian lawsuit ensued). The windows present an opportunity for collage maximalism that Lloyd could have gone wild with, but he shows restraint. 

A Genesis-laden press release declares that while God created heaven and Earth and spoke a “bunch of stuff” into being, God has since vanished from an otherwise self-sustaining universe. And thus we have this young artist self-sustained by a religious lexicon, which I’m led to believe by the congenial gallerist, is absent of irony and to be distinguished from the trendy Trad Cath movement of lower Manhattan. Irony, apparently, is the new corny, the postmodern poison in our era of performative reverence. While I don’t think irony necessarily goes hand-in-hand with glib, it is evident that absurdity merrily co-exists in Lloyd’s earnest universe, especially if you have been privy to his curation of TikTok videos on his Instagram stories, one of which features a cat named Freddy flinging himself around in a portable carry case while his owner films his frenzied yet fruitless escape. It goes to show even a bona fide believer is as entangled in the bounty of social media as the rest of us. 

Gina Fischli, I love being creative, 2022. Installation view (Photo by author)

In another basement not so far, far away, Swiss artist Gina Fischli’s exhibition I love being creative at the Swiss Institute stars a social media influencer (played by actual influencer and actress Lisa Bärenbold) across a rotating four-channel installation, greeting her viewers with TikTok banalities such as “Hey guys!” and “Hello, welcome back” and more perplexing comments such as “I’m on strike” and “Do I need society?” and “This is war propaganda.” She talks to us sluggishly, sometimes with her repetitive script on a piece of paper lest she forget a simple line, while reclining across lounges in variously ill-fitting ensembles. In one scene she sits beside a faux fireplace projected on a screen. The four screens on each wall of the Swiss Institute basement are flanked by spray-painted curtains and the name Gina is scrawled in a corner with a love heart on top. Only one screen is on at any given time in jumpcut fashion, generating a moving target effect for the viewer as they orient themselves from screen to screen accordingly. Sometimes a generic EDM track plays softly in the background. Idle and impatiently waiting, as though she’s oblivious to her half-formed thoughts and the follies of “self-actualization,” a basic point is quickly received about the deference of soul-searching in favor of perpetual distraction. Fischli’s influencer is vaguely grappling with the idea of expiation but to no point of coherence, leaving her askance in a circuitous limboland, or shall we say, screen-based purgatory. One might even recall the Robert Lowell poem, “Skunk Hour”:

“I myself am hell;
nobody’s here—”

Christianity and Judaism alike describe purgatory as divine punishment yet also as God’s merciful response to sinners, allowing the deceased to enter heaven cleansed from sin. Purgatory is distinct from eternal damnation; it is a temporary condition of existence and one that is alleged to commune sporadically with the living. In the far, far away land of Rome, you can visit the Museo delle Anime del Purgatorio (Museum of the Souls of Purgatory), which is less a museum and more like a narrow tucked away corridor within a neo-Gothic church. There you will find photocopies of scorched paraphernalia: burn marks made by fingers left on books, shirts or aprons, and various other impressions of the deceased getting in touch with the living, asking for prayers and atonement. You may also find this ghostly guy in a corner, looking not unlike a solitary Jonny Greenwood, a brooding apparition evaporating into a shadow. I couldn’t find any information about this forsaken sinner but at least, in this narrow gap between heaven and hell, we too are given pause. 

Artist unknown. The Little Museum of Purgatory. Installation view (Photo by author)

Jessica Almereyda has work published in Art Agenda, Art Observed, Blue Arrangements, BOMB, Big Other, Brooklyn Rail, Caesura, Fence, Hotel, Liber Feminist Review, Manhattan Art Review, Overland, and others. She is based in New York.

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