In “Orange Dust,” artist Troy Gua imagines our national mausoleum, with pyramids of Doritos, mummification jars full of bullets and a bust of Nefertiti with a Marge Simpson hairdo.
Walk through the doors of Bonfire — architect Bill Gaylord’s new gallery space in the International District — and you’ll find yourself strolling through a dimly lit tomb.
At first, it appears to be an Egyptian tomb. But take another look and you’ll see it’s packed with American pop-culture twists.
Canopic jars filled with sugar, bullets, petroleum and pharmaceuticals are topped with the heads of U.S. presidents. Cartouches are covered not in hieroglyphics but emojis. A golden pyramid props up a baseball bat. A bust of Nefertiti, titled “Queen,” boasts a Marge Simpson hairdo.
Troy Gua: ‘Orange Dust’
Noon-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays through Jan. 28, Bonfire, 603 S. Main St., Seattle (206-790-1073 or thisisbonfire.com).
In “Orange Dust,” Troy Gua’s show at Bonfire, the Seattle artist grandly imagines “a future where the USA is a lost civilization and culture, a future where our societal aberrations have outweighed our audacity and we have fallen victim to our self-destructive nature.”
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What does Gua see as our fatal flaw?
“We expect more from our technology and our society than we do from ourselves,” he writes. “We search for happiness in a pill, in one-hour delivery, in binge-watching, in virtual reality, in memes, in the newest iPhone, in the quickest way to get to the ‘thing’ we think we deserve in order to be who we believe we are … but we no longer are.”
Gua may be sounding a Cassandra note here. But he’s also having fun as he transforms the iconography of the Egyptian Boy King’s opulent tomb into the most debased of currencies.
A small photograph in a junk-shop frame, for instance, depicts a desert landscape dominated by three desert pyramids — pyramids that, on closer examination, turn out to be three Dorito chips stood on end. The piece’s title: “Of Future History and the Love for Soft Living (Orange Dust).”
A two-liter plastic soda container, painted in gold and wrapped in an American flag, is dubbed “The National Nectar.” Swig enough of this, Gua suggests, and you may have a diabetic afterlife experience sooner than you intended.
Gua’s self-professed aim is to sound “a wake-up call to rewrite our future.” He wields an artful, satirical sting as he incorporates found objects — those flags, those bullets, that baseball bat, those Doritos (sometimes crumbled, sometimes whole) — into a small-scale, museum-like setting.
The most elaborate work in “Orange Dust” is a video installation that “Queen” stares at: “Just Overdo It,” in which flickering cartoon images of Sponge Bob and Cookie Monster are punctuated by photographs of shootings, traffic jams, fast-food pigouts and dozens of other hallmarks of All-American consumer appetites and craziness that come at you almost faster than the eye can see.
Stare at it long enough and — if it doesn’t trigger a seizure first — it will spur a heightened awareness of the thing that might do us all in: sheer sensory overload.
“Orange Dust” is enjoying a three-month run at Bonfire, and that’s in keeping with Gaylord’s agenda for the gallery, which celebrates its anniversary in January. He plans to mount three art exhibits annually while also making the space available for performances, workshops, nonprofit fundraisers and other events. During its downtime, Gaylord — who, in 2013, retired from Seattle architectural firm GGLO to pursue “a more artistic direction” — will also use Bonfire as his own design studio.
His stated aim on the gallery’s website is to integrate “art, culture and design through services, exhibits, advocacy and community events.”
“I want to challenge myself,” he says, “to be open to all sorts of ideas of how it can be used.”