Et in Arcadia ego

We’ve reached the 400 ppm mark in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and the wild-fire season has started in Southern California. It was 100 degrees today in Arcadia.

Arcadia, California, sits at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains and is the site of the Santa Anita Park racetrack(1) and home to the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden.(2)  In 2010, Bloomberg Businessweek named Arcadia as one of the ‘Best Places to Raise Your Kids: 2010’ for the second year in a row.”(3)  Wikipedia

(1) Santa Anita is the oldest racetrack in Southern California built by the gold prospector Lucky Baldwin in 1904. From 1942 to 1944 the racetrack was used as a Japanese-American internment center where a young George Takei spent the war years.

(2) “Three thousand years ago, the homesite of the earliest inhabitants of today’s Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden was known as Aleupkigna, ‘the place of many waters.’ With the arrival of the Spanish in California some two hundred years ago, the residents of Aleupkigna became known as the Gabrielino (in reference to the mission responsible for their conversion), and the land upon which they had lived before removal to the Mission became Rancho Santa Anita, an agricultural outpost of Mission San Gabriel. Hugo Reid, a Scotsman with Mexican citizenship, married to a Garielino woman, became the first private owner of Rancho Santa Anita and in 1840, constructed his adobe house next to the lake.  When Elias Jackson “Lucky” Baldwin purchased Rancho Santa Anita in 1875, he acquired not only the natural lakes and cienegas on the property, but water rights in both Big and Little Santa Anita canyons just north of his homesite…” Some of the films made at the LA County Arboretum include “Tarzan Escapes,” “The Buccaneer,” “Devil’s Island,” and more recently, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” “Anaconda,” and “The Lost World: Jurassic Park.”

(3) Many new immigrants have also become Arcadians. In 2009, Arcadia High School was 65.87 percent Asian, 10.31 percent Hispanic, and 19.41 percent White (non-Hispanic).

In Architecture of Death, Richard A. Etlin describes Poussin’s painting above, Et in Arcadia Ego (c. 1635-1636), or “Even in Arcadia, I hold sway,” first with a reference to Panofsky’s description of an earlier painting: “Guercino’s picture turns out to be a medieval momento mori in humanistic disguise–a favorite concept of Christian moral theology shifted to the ideal milieu of classical and classicizing pastorals.”

In Poussin’s first version of this subject, however, he “set his scene in a softer landscape,” rough stones are replaced by a “classicized sarcophagus,” and the “shepherds, dressed not as the seventeenth-century peasants of Guercino’s painting, but rather as true inhabitants of Arcady” and are joined by a woman.”

With Poussin’s second version, everything “conveys a deceptive serenity as the meaning gradually unfolds to the Arcadians while revealing itself fully only to the viewer at the end of the visual narrative. The composition is presented almost frontally with a simple tomb replacing the Baroque curves of its predecessor. The shepherds are not seen suddenly discovering the tomb but rather as engaged in a careful and perhaps lengthy consideration of the inscription. Finally, even the diminished death’s head has disappeared [death represented by the tomb itself]. [The shadow across the tomb] is a representation of the spirit or soul; the classical shades, or manes. The third figure has already begun to understand and is about to convey his partial realization and perhaps question the placid goddess who, while resting one hand on his back, appears absorbed in the deepest reflection. Her wisdom is shared only with the viewer, who completes the cycle with the full realization that death is even in Arcadia.” Richard A. Etlin, The Architecture of Death: The Transformation of the Cemetery in Eighteenth-Century Paris, MIT Press, 1984

Landscape with Added Surprise and Impact #1, 2013, ink-jet on fabric with bleach and acrylic paint, 7 x 9 in.

Taken from a vintage postcard of Mt. Ranier National Park, Spray Lake, “the Queen of the Cascades from this picturesque Lake, early morning vapor provides a ‘mystic’ painting effect.” Our internalized Arcadias are complicated by emotion, nostalgia, and cultural mythologies. Added Surprise and Impact satisfies our human need for dramatic narratives, breaking news, confirmation of our worst fears… our fears and desires reflected through the image of death.

Landscape with Added Surprise and Impact #2, 2013, ink-jet on fabric with bleach and graphite, 7 x 9 in.

Taken from a postcard of Albert Bierstadt’s Valley of the Yosemite, 1864, oil on chipboard, 11 3/4 x 19 1/4 in. Scenes of Manifest Destiny, the picturesque garden writ large: “Death occurs in the very midst of delight.” Arcadia is that mythic, unspoiled, harmonious wilderness that the Hudson River Painters took as their subject (see the post, Monuments: Water Follies).

Added Surprise and Impact is a cartoon graphic, a representation of an unreflective need for an emotional jolt, a thrill, a manufactured adrenaline high.

I started with the idea of the Self-Annihilating Kitty Quilt with its faux dimensionality as a folksy crude parody of Tron and computer gaming paired with an ironic reference to the current popularity of cat videos on YouTube and ended with Et in Arcadia ego, an Arcadia more fun-house arcade than elegiac landscape.



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