“The most difficult thing to do is to make art during civil unrest and the collapse of capitalism in the world,” says artist Jacolby Satterwhite. And yet he has still managed to make art —a lot of it. In 2019 alone, Satterwhite, who specializes in the creation of futuristic, Hieronymous Bosch-like dreamscapes, held two solo exhibitions: one as the artist-in-residence at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia (a title previously held by the likes of Louise Bourgeois, Carrie Mae Weems, and Chris Burden), and another at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn, a showstopper that featured expansive works reworking recordings and drawings from his late mother, who suffered from schizophrenia.
And now, at the tail end of 2020, Satterwhite is gearing up for yet another solo show at New York gallery Mitchell-Innes & Nash, a multimedia experience called We Are In Hell When We Hurt Each Other. A central piece of the show features a video and virtual reality installation that serves as a tribute to Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old Louisville EMT who was murdered in her home by the police.
“It feels kind of gratuitous to make things right now,” says Satterwhite. “For the first time in my life, I was in reactionary mode in the studio, and so the work may feel that way.”
Satterwhite–whose practice incorporates VR, performance, sculpture, and digital animation–defies easy categorization. But he is primarily a worldbuilder, someone who uses the language and visual codes of gaming to create immersive mixedmedium works. He plans to produce his own game within the next two years.
“I feel like conceptually, the overarching ideas in gaming reflect our current times more than ever,” he says. “All of the tropes, variables, and ideas that overwhelm our society right now–the pandemic, ‘Fake News’–sound like a survival game. I feel like I’m playing Mario Bros. all the time, jumping across barriers and dipping and looking for these secret codes. So to be irreverent and funny with my aesthetic, I felt like leaning into this idea to intersect with my other interests, which are painting and composition and light and space.”
Satterwhite has a crystal clear understanding of society now, but he doesn’t intend to predict the future. “No one knows what’s next,” he says. “The bittersweet thing about this year is that it really destabilized certainty. So I’m not trying to resolve anything–I’m just making the art objects that I’m obligated to make.”END
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