CONLON & HARKER
THURSDAYS + SUNDAYS at 09:00pm
Berlin / NY / Shanghai Time
About Donna’s work:
Donna Conlon, a biologist turned artist, delves into and exposes the quirky, contradictory, ironic aspects of human behavior and contemporary society by viewing objects and social conventions through a self-crafted lens of informal anthropology.
About Donna and Jonathan’s work:
Donna Conlon and Jonathan Harker began collaborating in 2006. Their videos playfully explore the intrinsic properties of found objects to generate incisive and poetic social criticism. The works combine a painterly treatment of color and composition with a meticulous handling of rhythm and sound.
Urban phantoms is a video made at the dawn of the speculation-driven, money laundering-fueled real estate boom in Panama City, the repercussions of which are still being felt. There has been no urban planning whatsoever, very little updating of infrastructure, and development for its own sake has taken over the local character of the city. In 2004, it was obvious that the city was at the onset of a precarious phase, represented by this vision of empty nature within a jumble of wobbly plastic towers.
The Garbage Dump
Tropical leaf-cutter ants live in agrarian societies with millions of individuals. As in any other society, the ants have to dispose of their garbage, which consists of bits of exhausted plant material no longer useful in their fungus garden and also dead or dying ants from the colony. Made in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, The Garbage Dump shows leaf-cutter ants dropping ant-sized one-dollar bills onto their rubbish pile, along with their regular detritus.
Coexistence takes advantage of the natural behavior of leaf-cutter ants, common tropical ants that cut small pieces of leaves and carry them to their underground nests for use in cultivating the fungus they use for food. The video, made in response to the 2003 United States invasion of Iraq, depicts a trail of leaf-cutter ants carrying ant-sized and shaped flags of United Nations countries and peace signs in order to pose questions about the existence of peace among and within nations.
In an ironic twist to cleaning up garbage in nature, Natural Refuge shows pieces of long ago discarded rubbish being lifted from the forest floor only to reveal that the garbage has become so incorporated into the environment that it has become shelter for insects and other small animals.
Under the Rug
We have all swept things under the rug. It’s so easy, so convenient: the filth and mire quickly disappear under an orderly, uniform surface. We do the same collectively, when we hide the most terrible episodes of our histories under a blanket of silence and obscurity. "Nothing to see here." The Panamanian nation was founded and developed through furtive maneuvers, designed to conceal their vile, immoral, and humiliating nature. Perhaps that is why we are so good at erasing the past and evading the present. Ruben Blades sings "no forgetting allowed", but the Panamanian national anthem roundly contradicts him, imperiously proclaiming that "it is necessary to cover the past, the calvary and the cross with a veil."
In Capapults Conlon and Harker comment on mass consumerism, pollution, and the disconnection between our actions and their consequences. Using disposable spoons as catapults, they shoot thousands of plastic bottle caps at a hole in a concrete platform. The platform was once part of a U.S. military installation during its occupation of the Panama Canal Zone, and is now an observation deck in a natural park. As the video comes to an end, the viewer discovers that the bottle caps that fall through the hole accumulate on the forest floor, forming a giant mountain.
Invisible Hands addresses social and financial power structures and the symbolic nature of money. The video shows the artists' hands engaged in a series of shifting interactions centered around a collection of Panamanian “balboa” coins, named after Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, a Spanish conquistador credited with "discovering" the Pacific Ocean, and since ironically appropriated as a national icon. Each balboa is worth a U.S. dollar, the official currency in Panama. The coins were minted once, in 2011, when forty million were put into circulation without retiring the equivalent number of dollars. Panamanians nicknamed them "martinellis" after Ricardo Martinelli, then ruling president, who was infamous for his corrupt, imperious style. After an initial fascination with their novelty, the populace soon deemed them a currency of lesser value.
In Tropical Zincphony, Conlon and Harker play with a typical scenario in Panama: a mango falling on a corrugated zinc roof. The mango in the video goes on a fanciful sensorial journey, rolling haphazardly through an abstract zinc landscape. At one point during its travels, the lone mango is overrun by a stampeding pack of wild mangoes, conjuring up notions of collectivity, individuality and solitude. Color, texture, sound and rhythm are used whimsically to explore the roles of unpredictability and improvisation in life in the tropics.
(Video) Game #5
This piece is the fifth of a series of seven invented games recorded on video that were eventually presented as a multi-channel installation. Each (video) game relies on its own logic – partially derived from the codes and rules of conventional games ¬– to comment on problematic issues in Panamanian society. Conlon and Harker created these games using objects found in the ruins of houses demolished during the recent Panamanian construction boom as chips, markers and game boards. (Video) Game #5, an argument between “me” and “we” addresses the common conflict (on interpersonal and societal levels) between interests of collective good and individual gain.
In Summer Breeze, a fence, rattling in the unseen wind, becomes a canvas for a colorful abstract painting of plastic chip bags, paper cups, and other garbage. The percussive nature of ordinary stuff playfully creates aleatory soundscapes, reminiscent of the random rhythmic patterns generated by falling rain and gusts of wind. The video was conceived as a counterpart to Dry Season, and is a meditation on climate, consumption-driven accumulation, and the ironic beauty of our refuse-filled landscapes.
In 2006, Donna Conlon and Jonathan Harker made Dry Season, their first collaborative video. The idea for the video emerged spontaneously from a joint visit to a local recycling and glass fabrication center, where mountains of shiny, green glass are set in perfect visual counterpoint against the hills of Panama City’s periphery. The video reveals a downpour of green glass bottles onto a landscape of green glass, and combines Conlon's preoccupations with the conflicts between the natural and the artificial with Harker's sarcasm and inclination toward the absurd.
Lotteries conjure up ideas of chance, destiny and the remote possibility that one’s circumstances could change drastically from one minute to the next. But Panama’s National Lottery possesses an additional layer of mystery and intrigue because numbers are hidden within the lottery balls, which are chosen and twisted open in elaborate and highly ceremonial public drawings. In Lottery, Panamanian National Lottery balls double as turtle eggs, mothballs, pearls, pills, Chinese dumplings and fruit, the spherical mystery objects propelling the interwoven dreamlike sequences inhabited by two anonymous characters. In each sequence, one or both characters encounter white spheres in uncanny and strangely unsettling circumstances. As the parallel stories unfold, they realize that the spheres are, in fact, lottery balls, and come closer and closer to discovering the secret hidden within them. A symbolic framework begins to emerge, linking the formal and iconic properties of the enigmatic spheres within a meta-narrative flux about existence as a continuous and unpredictable gamble between life and death.
Historical architecture in Panama City is not appreciated, and is usually replaced with shopping malls and high-rise condominiums. Development for development’s sake seems to be a process that, once set into motion, cannot be stopped, like a chain reaction of dominoes toppling. One exception to this phenomenon has been the Casco Antiguo, the old quarter district located on a small peninsula in the Bay of Panama that has been protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2003. Its World Heritage Site status was put in jeopardy because of the construction of a government sanctioned multi-million dollar marine viaduct around the peninsula. In its frenzy to tear down and re-build everything for a quick buck, the government even tore up the old cobblestone streets only to re-pave them with new, inferior bricks. In Domino Effect, Conlon and Harker create a domino-like chain reaction through the neighborhood’s streets. The dominoes themselves are the discarded antique colonial era bricks that were ironically used as landfill material in other parts of the city. As in previous collaborations, this video results in a pointed and poetic social criticism.
Text by Donna Conlon and Jonathan Harker
Image Credits: Donna Conlon and Jonathan Harker, Capapults, video, 2012