All things evil at Pterodactyl – All Along the Watchtower

(Chip visits a show about villainy and finds that the concept can be a slippery one.–the artblog editors)

In Star Wars: A New Hope, Obi-Wan Kenobi calls the spaceport of Mos Eisley a “wretched hive of scum and villainy.” Curators Jon F. Allen, Mary Coyle, Brian James Spies, and David E. Williams call their Pterodactyl exhibit All Along the Watchtower, but the same notion stands. The show includes more than two dozen artists who turn their attention towards the dastardly and the vile, with occasional counterpoints of the benevolent or heroic.

Rogue’s gallery of famous faces – villains and heroes

Avdo Babic's wall of familiar faces we love to hate.
Avdo Babic’s wall of familiar faces we love to hate.

In a gallery of expressively-painted mugshots, Avdo Babic’s lineup of (in)famous dictators, politicians, and militarists reads like a who’s-who of the well-known and oft-disliked leaders who shape today’s world events. From portraits of the unequivocally wretched, including Joseph Kony, Osama bin Laden and Kim Jong-il, to those of contemporary fence-staddlers like Vladimir Putin and Hu Jintao, the artist makes little artistic distinction.


Tossing in Bashar al-Assad, Hugo Chavez and the recently-retired Pope Benedict along with a couple of American presidents – Barack Obama and George W. Bush – Babic encourages us to see these figures objectively. Exactly how relative is the idea of evil? Could someone with a different perspective view the ‘bad guys’ here as luminaries or freedom fighters? The business of assertive leadership quickly becomes a study in the pandering, greedy and violent human tendencies that we attempt to keep at bay.

Taking on religion

Adel Souto, "Frienemies."
Adel Souto, “Frienemies.”

Adel Souto takes a dig at something some would consider untouchable, following a long tradition of artists that blaspheme, bash, and belittle the revered in the name of skepticism, progress, and maybe a little plain old fun. The two assemblages that Souto includes utilize holy books as their primary material. Instead of actually lighting the Bible aflame, the artist sets the text ‘on fire’ with layered construction paper.

By depicting the ‘Word of God’ in flames, Souto challenges religious assumptions without the violent overtones of actively defacing the Bible; he could at any time remove the attached paper. In “Frienemies,” Souto wields a slang term for people who associate superficially as friends while in reality are adversaries. Here, the blazing Bible strikes the Book of Mormon with a Zeus-like lightning bolt, exposing the strange and uneasy relationships among certain faiths.


Who wants to be a millionaire?

Timothy Allen, "Losers."
Timothy Allen, “Losers.”

With a seemingly banal take on the sinister, Timothy Allen collages expended lottery tickets from Powerball, Pick Six, Omega Millions, and other obnoxiously-named state-funded contests of chance. Everyone (hopefully) knows that the lottery is a gamble hardly worth taking, but nonetheless, countless individuals continue pouring their money into the hype. Allen very appropriately titles the piece “Losers,” but whether he is referring to the tickets themselves or the duped masses is anyone’s guess.

Holocaust memorials

Matt Soko contributes lucid and gripping work intended as a pair of memorials to the Holocaust.“Buchenwald” is a poem written in ink on sheets of yellowed paper. Amidst the unsettling written imagery, one word is repeated over and over: ‘forever’. This repetition is akin to a mantra or a prayer and certainly directs us to offer our sincerest thoughts to those who suffered under the organized horror of the Nazi movement.

Matt Soko, "Saccharine Brain Death 1: Beginning (Cross of Lorraine).”
Matt Soko, “Saccharine Brain Death 1: Beginning (Cross of Lorraine).”

Beside the poems, a triptych finds a window between two red and white reliefs. Entitled “Saccharine Brain Death 1: Beginning (Cross of Lorraine),” the image to the left depicts a cross in red surrounded by symbols which reference the identification numbers tattooed on victims of the camps. To the right, the twisted cross of the swastika offers contrast, surrounded in each quadrant by the letters INRI from the Christian crucifixion banner. The two opposing crosses are actually created from sugar cubes dyed with what the artist describes as “color/blood/rust,” drawing an even more visceral reaction from viewers of this challenging work.


A local hero/villain

Jonathan Canady and Suzie Assault Rifle, "Composite Rizzo."
Jonathan Canady and Suzie Assault Rifle, “Composite Rizzo.”

Jonathan Canady and Suzie Assault Rifle piece together a montage of printed photographs for “Composite Rizzo,” a mixed media examination of the Center City statue of the much-loathed (and admired, in some circles) former Philadelphia mayor. An audio component provides garbled sound bytes while the pictures themselves have been scratched and slashed with circular, gestural motions. The effigy portrays the late Frank Rizzo in a larger-than-life fashion, although not necessarily for the better. Angry scratch marks near the statue’s face indicate a clear distaste for the politician, and in a show documenting villainy it’s safe to say that this is indeed a mockery, albeit perhaps a rather mild one.

From the truly disgusting to the ambiguously evil and even the completely mundane, All Along the Watchtower sifts out the grittiest parts of our world and exposes them for all to see.

“All Along the Watchtower” is up until October 25th at Pterodactyl, 3237 Amber St, Philadelphia PA 19134.