private screener available soon.

from the exhibition brochure:

Carnelian, like Brown’s live performance “soap operettas” Focacciatown (2017) and Focacciatown Reloaded (2019), riffs on the structure of a popular theater form. The songbook and multi-act format of the musical undergird this new multichannel video installation, which features songs cocomposed by the artist and Samuel Beebe.

In three acts—“Dawn,” “Afternoon,” and “Dusk”—three characters, Orachrysops, Necyria, and Bicyclus, await the imminent arrival of a cataclysmic event, referred to as the “Boom.” Brown’s treatment for Carnelian sets the action on “Earth,” its narrative unfolding “sometime after the Industrial Revolution and within the horizon of extinction.”

The work looks critically, and with humor, at the conditions of contemporary life marked by climate disaster, imminent extinction, authoritarian political rhetoric, and an oversaturated media landscape of endless digital content, including twenty-four-hour news media, often from dubious sources. The effects of media on forming attitudes and political ideology at the individual level, particularly the psychological effects of the news, are a recurring theme in Brown’s work.

In Carnelian, for example, a character frets over the arrival of “the Script,” which, at first, viewers believe to be a fourth wall– breaking reference to the script for the performance but is later revealed to be the name of a fictional news podcast to which he devoutly listens—and which informs his decisions on how to conduct his daily life.

Throughout the work, all three characters contend with how they define and relate to power, whether through political, natural, or technological means. Distinct from many of Brown’s earlier performances and videos in which the artist herself appears (often as multiple characters), the roles in Carnelian are performed by actors. Each video channel features a performer in a painterly tableau of an interior that they inhabit for the work’s duration—mise en scènes that constitute aspects of the characters’ psychological worlds.

Brown based the characters (Necyria, Orachrysops, and Bicyclus, and the Auctioneer) on archetypes associated with the animistic qualities ascribed to fire, earth, air, and the void, respectively. These elements are personified in the cosmologies of many cultures, and Brown’s reinterpretations form protagonists that, in her words, “exist somewhere between human, figurine, and muse.” (Their Latin monikers also beckon associations with classical mythology but are, in fact, the names of moth and butterfly genuses found in Afrotropical and Neotropical realms— zoological regions of sub-Saharan Africa and South America.)

Through Brown’s savvy use of archetypal characters, Carnelian addresses how issues like the climate crisis and extremist ideologies exert themselves on individuals and are mediatized, and asks, in the artist’s words: “How does our humanity endure, in spite of itself, through these existential threats?”

- selby nimrod, mit list center