An Empire of Dystopia
By: Edrie | Categories: Kudos, Spectacles

ZENITH AMERICAN TeLe-SEER as it appeared on New Years Eve 2009 at Boston Symphony Hall

ZENITH AMERICAN TeLe-SEER as it appeared on New Years Eve 2009 at Boston Symphony Hall

“I was locked inside this box naked, and nearly blind and deaf, for the duration of the performance. I did not exit the box ’til all had left…

Empire S.N.A.F.U. Restoration Project is described as a “feverish mélange of Dystopian technology, sexual obsolescence, & implied religion; painstakingly assembled from dead animals, obsolete military hardware, broken toys, human excrement and fire;” it is curated by E. Stephen.

E. Stephen, as Curator for the project, claims dystopia for our default state, yet all created systems (even Empire S.N.A.F.U.) are necessarily utopian in structure, and his practice is not only an utopian technology, but also an utopian present which represents the past.

The art claims weird language constructs, strange capitalization schemes, and self-styled acronyms as part of its purview; adding an opacity which is necessary to the impossibilities of perfection/utopia, but also one that clouds perception of the Empire for the viewer.

S.N.A.F.U. hides within the machine of its own construction while it dreams dreams that only the Curator can know. Yet E. Stephen, as Curator, is exhibiting and writing and trying to communicate — reaching out to us, through performance, exhibits, the internet and scraps of paper through an impenetrable interface; all while the Curator is naked inside his box.

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Portrait of E. Stephen by Robyn Gesek

Portrait of E. Stephen by Robyn Gesek

Edrie: Does dystopia ever reach utopia in Empire S.N.A.F.U.?

E. Stephen: Utopia is never attainable. We must strive constantly just prevent everything from going to hell. Dystopia is the default setting. To improve the future, we must recognize the false presumptions of the present. Those who consider themselves hardened realists are often worst deluded by Utopian magical thinking. For instance, the idea of an ever-expanding free-market economy, with constant population growth and bountiful cheap resources, violates the same rules of physics as any perpetual motion machine. There will always be misery and sacrifice, but by being conscious about what we sacrifice now, future misery may be minimized. When viewing S.N.A.F.U.’s NIDUS MONAD, bear in mind: S.N.A.F.U. was afflicted with visions of Empire S.N.A.F.U. in 1974, and subsequently constructed THE NIDUS MONAD as a medicinal catalyst to avert the eventualities IT foresaw. I personally became involved with Empire S.N.A.F.U. Restoration Project, in the 1990s after S.N.A.F.U.’s death. By that time, aspects of S.N.A.F.U.’s work, which might once have seemed allegorical fancy, had unfortunately become plausible tomorrows. From the vantage point of 2010, THE NIDUS MONAD may be seen as a definitive requiem for the U.S. Empire and 20th century. The wind has turned. The ship has sailed. Etc. Yet even now, by honestly understanding our past downfalls, there is hope we may slow our descent and sustain human civilization a bit longer yet.

A SymbiotE gOes ouT And aBout by Empire S.N.A.F.U. Restoration Project

A SymbiotE gOes ouT And aBout by Empire S.N.A.F.U. Restoration Project

Edrie: How does the THE NIDUS MONAD coexist with the likes of Twitter and FaceBook?

E. Stephen: How did Stonehenge coexist with the printing press? How did the Sistine chapel coexist with the telegraph? THE NIDUS MONAD is a real physical temple filled with devices and living performers to engage the seven senses of those who make the pilgrimage. It is a temple without a permanent home which has periodically occurred, and which I hope will continue to occur whenever/wherever location and opportunity coincide.

Chylds N-GYn of ProgressiOn by Empire S.N.A.F.U. Restoration Project

Chylds N-GYn of ProgressiOn by Empire S.N.A.F.U. Restoration Project

Edrie: What were peoples’ reactions to “Zenith Tele-Seer” as shown at the
Boston Pops NYE show with Amanda Palmer?

E. Stephen: First: brief explanation for those who were not there. The “Zenith Tele-Seer” is a willfully obtuse fortune telling apparatus, a recalcitrant oracle into which revelers feed small slips of paper inscribed with queries. I was locked inside this box naked, and nearly blind and deaf, for the duration of the performance. I did not exit the box ’til all had left, thus describing their reactions would be supposition on my part. For persons under the age 60, the most common question was, “Will I get back together with [insert name here]?” For those over 60, it was, “Will I survive to see my grandchildren born?” Most of the other received questions were vague pleas to be told how to live properly.

ZENITH AMERICAN TeLe-SEER as it appeared on New years eve 2009 at Boston Symphony Hall

ZENITH AMERICAN TeLe-SEER as it appeared on New years eve 2009 at Boston Symphony Hall

Edrie: What of the future of the Empire S.N.A.F.U.?

E. Stephen: As to my future plans, I do as best I can. I labor in solitude, mending and maintaining S.N.A.F.U.’s legacy. Currently I have neither the space nor budget to display the work. It remains stored in crates in a moldering, vermin infested barn that is likely to collapse soon. Every day my body aches more. Memories fade and options recede.

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In addition to Symphony Hall in Boston, The Empire S.N.A.F.U. Restoration Project has done installations and performances on street corners, in an old barn, in a brick boiler room beneath horse stables, an abandoned mental hospital, storefront galleries, former slaughterhouses, old squash courts, in a rusted ship that had been raised from the bottom of the ocean, empty strip malls, underground loft spaces, at a symposium for the physically altered in Vienna, Austria, and in popular nightclubs alongside popular musical performers including The Dresden Dolls, Walter Sickert & The Army Broken Toys, HUMANWINE, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Vulagris, Reverend Glasseye, and Members of DEVO, to name a few. S.N.A.F.U.’s work has also been displayed in prestigious NY galleries alongside original works by Picasso, Ernst Fuchs, and H.R. GIGER.

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Artists in residence archive.

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Raised on a farm in North Dakota, Edrie never thought her Lawrence Welk accordion skills would come in handy. Now from heifers to the Hynes Convention Center and everywhere in between; follow Edrie as she tells you about her life and her Army of Broken Toys.