P-R-I-M-E-R Jungle Battles

Storyboard for P-R-I-M-E-R (Jungle Battles), 2014

Mixed-media installation (book pages, image clippings, paper, black embossing tape, inkjet prints, pins); dimensions variable.


 to view, please arrow through the image sequence; image captions will present upon hover

images: installation details, Storyboard for P-R-I-M-E-R (Jungle Battles)

"Should you seek an execrable language to learn, this primer we leave for you to discern."

Storyboard for P-R-I-M-E-R (Jungle Battles) is a visual narrative of text-image pairings fashioned after a child's illustrated English alphabet primerA sequence of 52 photographs is captioned with rhyming and allusive text, and is prefaced by an excerpt from the 1912 novel Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs. 

I love great documentary photography, but my role as artist is to question it, to question how it functions. Considering this, I sought to devise a work that would not only ‘speak’ of such images, but in re-presenting them, point a way to how we, as rapacious consumers of images, might today re-read or understand them. I selected 52 images from the media, sequencing them and adding my own narrative, and I prefaced my selection with an excerpt from "Tarzan of the Apes", Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 1912 story of a boy raised in ignorance of his human heritage. In this excerpt, the young Tarzan comes across a child’s illustrated language primer. A feral child, Tarzan cannot comprehend the words on the page, but the pictures he sees exert a powerful force, one so mysterious and intriguing that he later is moved to try and understand the connection between the images he sees and the “scratchings” (writings) that appear below them – he is moved to learn to read. Contemporary readers may choose to dismiss a colonial-era tale of adventure and entertainment, but there can be no doubt that with this passage Burroughs was onto something, for we are now (one hundred years later) a technological society saturated with image flux, yet we still grapple with the questions of how language – pictorial or otherwise– is learned, and how meaning becomes attached to an image.

P-R-I-M-E-R's sequence of pictures from disparate strife, removed from original context and conflated together to be taken as a whole… one asks what might the struggle voiced here be about? What are they – and therefore “we” as implicated viewers – battling for? Consider the subtext posited by Tarzan’s illiterate condition and the ‘urge’ to overcome it as representing the white colonialist’s idea of horror at the idea of incomprehension – of savagery, of primitivism. What kinds of readers and lookers are we today, and is there anything like ‘the primitive’ as it existed then, for the post-European mindset – for us right now? What now might we be looking at as a condition of underdevelopment, in terms of civilizing values?  Is it computer illiteracy, web illiteracy, lack of social networking, lack of face-to-face interaction, lack of democracy, a decline of the West? And would our overcoming all or any one of these conditions make for “civilizing” values– if, in fact, they are “civilizing” values?  Are any of them "civilizing" values?  –MVD