Culled from hundreds of hours of archival footage including that of doomsday cults, iconic political figures and global fundamentalist movements, Robert Boyd’s synchronized 4-channel video installation, Xanadu, tweaks, condenses, and re-frames modern events into seconds-long image bites, representing a history of apocalyptic thought as a series of MTV-style music videos within a setting reminiscent of a discotheque.
Having peaked in the late 70s at a high point of Carter-era optimism, disco was formed from an amalgam of black, Latin, and gay subcultures. Vilified at the time for its seeming promotion of male effeminacy (i.e. homosexuality), its embrace of a proactive female sexuality, and its racial non-distinction, disco, with its voracious capacity to sample and reshape excerpts from multiple musical genres, had the ability to reduce “everything to its surfaces [...] so that the profound and the inane have an equal opportunity to stimulate.”* The Xanadu installation exploits the duality that disco provides and combines it with the organizational structure of disco’s visual reincarnation—the music video—to dramatize recent social and political events.
The choice of disco reverses the classic 70s punk vs. disco dichotomy, in which the harbingers of “no future” were clearly the self-disenfranchised punks. In the videos, supported by extreme and often violent footage meticulously gathered over the course of several years, we see a current worldview in which mass annihilation and the Apocalypse are solidly in the hands of those empowered by their people. The choice of dance music suggests a volatile segue from the “feel good” generation of the late 70s to the current “feel bad” generation of the 00s. Taken as a whole, Xanadu insinuates that humanity is not apathetic about its own demise but, on the contrary, is furtively engineering it through a form of collective self-destruction.
* Tom Smucker, “Disco: a soundtrack for communal ecstasy,” The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, 3rd ed. (New York: Random House, 1992).
In installation, the individual video works that together form Xanadu, are synchronized to play in progression, one after the other, culminating in the climactic grand finale. The video, Exit Strategy, serves as both prologue and epilogue for the installation and is shown as a separate projection.
XANADU has been exhibited at: Santa Maria della Scala, Siena (2018); Moderna Museet, Stockholm (2016); Moderna Museet, Malmö (2015); ZKM, Karlsruhe (2014); Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt (2012); C/O Berlin, Berlin (2011); Deichtorhallen, Hamburg (2010); Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong (2009); PinchukArt Centre, Kiev (2008); The Sundance Film Festival, Park City, UT (2008); Context Galleries, Derry (2007); Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, Indianapolis (2007); Julia Stoschek Collection, Düsseldorf (2007); Zilkha Gallery, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT (2007); PKM Gallery, Beijing (2006); The Hospital, London (2006) and Participant Inc., New York, NY (2006).