Cars? Cults? Consumerism? OH MY!

A thought piece on False Monarchy (January 24th – March 17th)

The Stamp Gallery opens its 2018 Spring season with a solo show by the Philadelphia-based artist Kyle Kogut . The show is titled False Monarchy and explores the many faceted impacts of the American automobile industry on the American psyche; the most notable being our pseudo-religious commitment to consumerism as this nation’s saving grace.

Growing up in the suburbs of a major U.S. city the idea of getting a license—of having the ability to drive myself to school or my friends’ houses,  being even a little independent—was constantly on my mind.  I was certainly not the only disgruntled teenager feeling such things in America. My search for independence was normal, if not cliche. That being said, I never stopped to think why that pursuit was so tied to a car. To this day I know very little about cars and have to be reminded how to check oil by my parents every time the little light pops up on the dashboard. It seems so strange upon reflection that having something so specific was tied to a feeling of power for me. Not only that, but why, then, is this industry presented as the backbone of the American economy in so many political messages? Walking through False Monarchy I find myself reflecting on the American fixation more than I ever have.

It may seem odd to say, but the pieces in the show, while dark and off-putting to a degree, make me want to laugh under my breath. Not because they are at all lacking, but instead, because they bring to light the ridiculousness that saturates our overwhelming need to consume material goods and the narratives that continue such practices in our nation. I recognize the objects in False Monarchy; everything from chunky, outdated televisions playing a combination of drone and doom metal to drooping black car-dealership flags enticing patrons to come in and buy into the show for a moment or two—I’ve seen it and I know it well. I am acquainted with the objects and icons (hood ornaments brought to life on chains and in hyper detailed illustrations) that sit around the space, but I feel like I shouldn’t be. I can’t help but feel anxiety over my familiarity with such things even though they are arguably symbols of wealth and prosperity. The ensuing dissonance is no doubt from Kogut’s creation of a bizarre mirror image of the American Suburban dream: a home, 2.5 kids, the latest tech, and of course, a car.

This mirror image of course uses the vocabulary of the thing it is critiquing. What does using the language of the system in order to criticize it, do? Perhaps it seems counterproductive at first. The curator of False Monarchy, Raino Isto, created a catalog essay about the show (available on The Stamp Gallery website) in which he touches on the concept of over identification as being a mode of criticism.  The way I deal with this concept is this: By seeing yourself or your culture or your ideals etc. outside of yourself in a different mode, being projected back at you, it can become hard not to recognize your world in a different way. False Monarchy acts like a mirror for Americana in that it presents the familiar but in a way where everything is off—even if just slightly.

When walking through the space, you get the sense that something has happened here. There is a looming presence of past rituals being clung to for dear life by believers—who those believers are is up for the viewer to decide.

Come experience the False Monarchy exhibition in The Stamp Gallery, happening now through March 17th, 2018. 

Written by Kat Mullineaux

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