06.01.2019 — 08.24.2019
Kavi Gupta is proud to present Uchronia, a solo exhibition of new works by Inka Essenhigh that envisage a hypothetical, idyllic future for the inhabitants of Earth.
Will our species adapt to the challenges of the late Holocene? Or will we follow the path to extinction forged by countless other species as our Goldilocks zone transitions in preparation for the next apex predator? Imagining the multitude of plausible realities towards which we might be headed, Essenhigh wonders: “Can painting a beautiful future help make it come true? If we have a picture of what we want, can we head towards that?”
It is a Uchronic vision.
What Utopia is to place, Uchronia is to time—a speculative epoch of perfection that never was, but might yet be. Essenhigh’s Uchronia suggests a beguiling hereafter, in which the descendants of contemporary humans have taken responsibility for the stewardship of nature and successfully addressed all ecological threats to their survival. Presented as relics from the past, the paintings ask us to imagine ourselves as enlightened, Post-Human viewers 2500 years in the future, winsomely looking back on images of the beauteous, bygone era when we transcended our demons and realized our potential.
Like ancient, Roman murals, whose fractured scenes remind us that violence and mysticism was part of our past nature, Essenhigh’s Uchronic images show our progeny living in harmony with nature in a blazing world, re-telling the human story to affect our imagined destiny.
This postulatory future may be far from perfect, however.
“The paintings do not show a complete picture,” says Essenhigh, “but rather fragments where we have to wonder how much is symbolic, how much is abstracted, or how much is literal. In The Living Room (2019), two children romp around what initially looks like an outdoor scene reminiscent of an Etruscan mural, but do they not have mouths? Was this a mutation? An improvement? Did something grotesque happen? It could look like a stylized person, but to someone in the future this could be exactly what they want to look like. This Uchronia may have problems. All these paintings show is that the biggest threat to our survival—ecological extinction—has been solved.”
Contemplating ourselves as those who will see this hypothetical future as their history, we might wonder: how did—or how could—such a verdant, refined providence manifest?
“I’m not posing these pictures as definitive answers,” says Essenhigh. “I’m posing them as possibilities—a way to begin the conversation about what we want our future to look like. Some of the paintings are presented as relics, as if to implant a memory in the viewer’s subconscious. The question is, do we believe it?”
Inka Essenhigh (b. 1969, Pennsylvania, US) employs a mix of automatism, imagination and “inner vision” to translate the visible world into arabesque enamel paintings that reveal the unseen worlds of energy, feeling and mystery that lurk beyond everyday life. Complex and always enchanting, her work explores contemporary culture and nature in ways that evoke in viewers something magical. Recent exhibitions include a site-specific wall drawing at the Drawing Center in New York (on view through June 2019), Inka Essenhigh: a fine line, at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, as well as exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Royal Academy of Arts in London, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Miami, the 2nd Berlin Biennale in Berlin Germany, and the Bienal de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil. Works by Essenhigh are included in the collections of the Tate London, the Denver Art Museum, the Museum of Modern Art / P.S.1, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Seattle Art Museums, among others.