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

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."
Apr 5th 2020
EXTRACT: "Rarely has an architectural experiment aroused such extremes of ire and admiration. One side is convinced the house is a masterpiece. The other expresses brutal condemnation of the entire project (leaky roof, danger of flooding, too-hot, too-cold interiors depending on the American Midwest weather).........Farnsworth encapsulated her personal ambiguity in her comment to a Newsweek interviewer: “This handsome pavilion I own is almost totally unworkable.” She told one journalist, “ … all I got was this glib, false sophistication. The conception of a house as a glass cage suspended in air is ridiculous.”
Apr 1st 2020
Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Effects of Good Government fresco, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena.
Mar 29th 2020
EXTRACT: "The coronavirus crisis has forced us to look at our behaviour in a way that we’re not used to. We are being asked to act in the collective good rather than our individual preservation and interest. Even for those of us with the best of intentions, this is not so easy."
Mar 23rd 2020
EXTRACT: "In March 2020, my sister Nancy and I did something that, as scholars, we had never done before: we wrote about ourselves, comparing our own experiences receiving cancer care on either side of the Atlantic. As we recently reported in the BMJ, much of our experience is similar. As twins, we both have the same form of cancer. Both of us received excellent treatment in well-established university teaching hospitals. Both of us are now in remission. But there is a glaring difference. Nancy lives in the US, covered under a good private healthcare scheme. I live in the UK, covered by the NHS."
Mar 21st 2020
EXTRACT: "In philosophy, individualism is closely linked with the concept of freedom. As soon as restrictive measures were imposed in Italy, many people felt that their freedom was threatened and started to assert their individuality in various ways. Some disagreed with the necessity of cancelling group gatherings and organised unofficial ones themselves. Others continued to go out and live as they always did. We often assume that freedom is to do as we choose, and that is contrasted with being told what to do. As long as I am doing what the government tells me, I am not free. I am going out, not because I want to, but because that shows I am free. But there is another route to freedom..........."
Mar 12th 2020
EXTRACT: "Repeated stress is a major trigger for persistent inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation can lead to a range of health problems, including diabetes and heart disease. The brain is normally protected from circulating molecules by a blood-brain barrier. But under repeated stress, this barrier becomes leaky and circulating inflammatory proteins can get into the brain. The brain’s hippocampus is a critical brain region for learning and memory, and is particularly vulnerable to such insults. Studies in humans have shown that inflammation can adversely affect brain systems linked to motivation and mental agility. There is also evidence of chronic stress effects on hormones in the brain, including cortisol and corticotropin releasing factor (CRF). High, prolonged levels of cortisol have been associated with mood disorders as well as shrinkage of the hippocampus. It can also cause many physical problems, including irregular menstrual cycles."
Mar 12th 2020
EXTRACT: "It’s important to do things that make you happy or content as you are doing them – and doing them for yourself. Research has found that picking recovery activities you find personally satisfying and meaningful is more likely to help you feel recovered by the next morning."
Feb 22nd 2020
EXTRACTS: "A recent study of nearly 3,000 physicists found that a scientist’s most highly cited publication had an equal probability of being published at any point within the sequence of papers the scientist published.........Creativity is not the prerogative of the young, but can occur at any stage in the life cycle...........there is not a single kind of creativity, but that in virtually every intellectual discipline there are two different types of creativity, each associated with a distinct pattern of discovery over the life cycle. The bold leaps of fearless and iconoclastic young conceptual innovators are one important form of creativity. Archetypal conceptual innovators include Einstein, Picasso.......very different type of creativity, in which important new discoveries emerge gradually and incrementally from the extended explorations of older experimental innovators.......The single year from with Paul Cézanne’s work is most frequently illustrated in textbooks of art history is 1906 – the last year of his life, when he was 67."
Feb 22nd 2020
EXTRACT: "As our global population is projected to live longer than ever before, it’s important that we find ways of helping people live healthier for longer. Exercise and diet are often cited as the best ways of maintaining good health well into our twilight years. But recently, research has also started to look at the role our gut – specifically our microbiome – plays in how we age."
Feb 16th 2020
EXTRACT: "In an increasingly polarised political landscape, we see differing political views challenged, not through debate and discussion, but through tribal behaviour. We often consider the groups that we belong to as worthy of empathy, respect and tolerance – but not others. What’s more, recent research has identified that we reward our leaders for being naysayers – negating, refuting or criticising others – rather than empowering them."