After 2012, when the ocean covers our runways, Ala Moana is drowned, beachfront hotels are flooded out and the state deficit yawns forever, a lot of people will leave these islands. The funny thing about the End of the World is that it doesn't occur for everybody. What will happen to those left behind? Susan Maddux, born and raised in Hawai'i but based in New York City, answers this question with a series of watercolors titled "Nostalgia For Inertia," visible online at www.nostalgiaforinertia.com.
Though not painted to explicitly address the impacts of climate change and economic collapse, these works forecast long-term effects of the local tendency to keep the moving in motion and the stuck immobilized: the yin and yang expressions of Hawai'i perspectives whether considering light rail, public education reform, recycling or reduction-in-force orders.
Maddux shows a dreamed future Hawai'i that has finally (unwillingly?) been dragged past the various deadlocks that characterize its modern culture. Though her world of car wrecks, feral sheep, abandoned architecture and fetishized consumer junk shows us that things will never be as bad as they are in Mogadishu, it will prepare us for the re-emergence of Hawai'i's long-repressed Third World personality.
And yet her forms and colors are not derived from dystopian urban visions such as Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner." Unlike the claustrophobia of Terry Gilliam's "Brazil" or the brutality of an opening sequence from the Terminator franchise, her frames are full of free circulation, space, and peace. She shows us that having no choice, life goes on, survivors coping heroically and innovating in the wreckage.
A single work shows her brush going from bleeding splashes to abstract realism to subtle photographic impressions, all without sky or ground. For these images are icons, portraying what may be right around the corner for us. The tourists are all gone and the military is no doubt hunkered down and minding its own business. Surfers ponder where along the new south-facing shores they'll find the best breaks. Perhaps they'll consider the research and mapping the ladies depicted in "Poly-sci" are carrying out for surely these new coastlines will be both full of treacherous underwater hazards and highly toxic. Maddux seamlessly integrates tones of vog-hazed skies, the broken teeth of urban profiles, industrial silhouettes and 1970s sunset palettes to evoke a new kind of South Seas idyll. For is there work (as we recognize it today) to be done in this future? Maddux's answers are ambiguous.
"Department of Transportation" depicts a woman and her goat on the hood of a 1962 Pontiac Grand Prix. She is bent over in the familiar posture of stand-up paddling, plying the future shallows of Kapi'olani Park? Maybe after putting in at the Kapahulu Avenue auto-marina. Significantly, this figure is not at all apocalyptic by the standards of "Road Warrior" or "Waterworld." Her hair and clothing indicate traces of civilization as we still enjoy it. She probably gets decent cellular service when she isn't being miserly about battery usage.
In "Good Kau Kau," the descendants of sheep escaped from the petting zoo are rendered down to their horizon-wide pupils. Though herbivores par excellence, they are posed amid and consuming a traffic cone, a computer cable, a rag. Is that an electronic musical keyboard in one's mouth? But maybe these sheep aren't eating. Maybe under the pressures of natural selection they're improvising with the remains of our culture. Then again, we might be the sheep, heads stuck in windows, our mouths full of plastic, waiting for an end or beginning that may never come.
On the project's Web site, Maddux has provided a quote from writer Octavio Paz: "Ought I to say that the form of change is fixity, or more precisely, that change is an endless search for fixity? A nostalgia for inertia: indolence and its frozen paradises." Though the sentiment stated here may be a bit more forceful than what these gentle watercolors actually transmit, it hints at the blade that Maddux hides behind her back. Like many people who must leave Hawai'i to pursue careers that are simply nonexistent here, Maddux knows that returning with her family would require a massive change in lifestyle. She may be hoping that Hawai'i changes while she's gone, and dreams up these loving landscapes of muffled Armageddon to make ready for the day they come true.
- David A.M. Goldberg