Andrew Roberts' multimedia practice draws from critical research and speculative fiction, materializing devices that incisively trace a genealogy of possessed images and spectral spaces. Roberts understands both categories as representational systems and geopolitical sites in tension and instrumentalization by colonial and imperialist agents. In this sense, his forensic approach to archival materials, popular film genres, and video game mechanics reveal a closed-loop system where image and trauma feed off each other.
Tank is the intersection of two parallel investigations on the ocean as a hyper-object subjected to industrial violence and its incarnation in science fiction. The sea transmuted into a war platform and its fantastic allegorization into cultural artifacts dates back to the first European ships that landed in the Americas. Legends about aquatic monsters plagued the imagination of explorers and with it began the otherness of all living beings on this continent, including its natives. The mythical creatures quickly found their place in propagandistic etchings, official chronicles and cartographies of the time, thus becoming tools of conquest and genocide. It would be impossible to recognize the ocean as a theater of operations without first understanding the myths that shaped it.
This relationship between bodies of water as fields of blood and their rendering through artifice extends to current times. The 90s brought with it the opening of Baja Studios —a filming tank owned by 20th Century Fox— on the coast a few miles south of the US-Mexico border. Located on the outskirts of Tijuana, the artist's hometown, the studio saw the production of movies like Titanic, Pearl Harbor, Tomorrow Never Dies, and Deep Blue Sea, known for their rhetoric about military interventionism and the ocean as a space of dangers needed to be tamed. As fossil fuel was being drained from the seabed in the Gulf of Mexico, the US film industry insisted on portraying the sea as an amusement park for extractivism.
The exhibition presents us with an immersive environment. Three large scale sculptures inhabit the space, composed of silicone elements, 3D prints and metallic devices. Each work transits the threshold between the props of a film and an archaeological object. Maritime illustrations are transformed into tattoos, bestiaries are configured to chrome bas reliefs, and chronicles take the form of monstrous sea creatures with silicone skin. A new video piece, created in Blend, a software used in the development of video games, shows us through a digital animation the origin of these creatures.
I ate his meat. My hands were covered by his salty and slimy white membrane. I had found in his crying an amazing lullaby, and like a stranded cetacean I took his entrails as my shield. For a brief moment I felt his desire. Our body had become one. Me inside his skin, his organs inside mine. I thought of the tragedy of my life tied to the platform, servant to its desire for dark blood. I felt so blissful here in my new home. Food. Lover. For the last time I closed my eyes: I let the blows of the tide on our precarious boat lull us to sleep.
I felt the flare on my face illuminating my eyelids like two screens. I was there again on the platform. My coworkers, now ghosts, ran with ashes detaching from their skin, and a disturbing screeching —timid alarm— that marked the disintegration of their bones. The pipes had burst. The oil melted with the liquid in their veins. It made them empty shells, integrated into the structure like gears, mutating their muscles into machines. A second explosion threw my body into the sea and as I descended, losing consciousness, I felt his body embrace mine.
I woke up in a blue tank. Two paramedics took me by the arms towards the surface. I expelled the water from my lungs and when I looked up the white lamps suddenly blinded my sight. I was here again. Out of focus, I recognized his silhouette at the other end behind the cameras, collapsed on a table. I ran towards him only to find a group of engineers and makeup artists mutilating his limbs. Cables were hidden under his fingers and motors barely moved his fins. My friend was dead. I stayed with him until everyone had left the place, and at last alone again I entered his cavernous depths of metal and silicone.
- Andrew Roberts