The Bacchanalian Ones is the newest chapter in internationally acclaimed, multi-media artist Federico Solmi’s ongoing exploration into the archetypal myths and ideologies that makeup the American social imaginary. Combining the latest virtual reality technology, video game engines, 3D printing and digital animation software along with the more traditional media of drawing and painting, Solmi has created his own version of commedia dell’arte that reflects on the moralizing, judgmental social airs and graces of our times.
Inspired by ancient mythology, modern myth, and contemporary celebrity culture, The Bacchanalian Ones compares the historical myth with a satirical mash-up of the powerful self-absorbed who preen and wallow in a banal spectacle of their own creation. The Los Angeles premiere of The Bathhouse, Solmi’s masterful five-channel video installation best illustrates this. In a fantastically opulent setting of unrestrained hedonism, political, religious, and military leaders with ghoulish, bouffonesque appearances are surrounded by social elite sycophants like the devotees of the cults of Bacchus and Dionysus.
In her catalog essay for Solmi’s recent solo exhibition at the Rowan University Art Gallery in Glassboro, NJ, Eleanor Heartney writes, “Solmi’s recurring themes are the corrupting effects of the quest for power and the disastrous consequences of the mass media’s ability to manipulate popular sentiment through appeals to our worst instincts. His works spare no one. Infamous historical tyrants and despots like Genghis Khan and Benito Mussolini, more ambiguous figures like Napoleon Bonaparte and Montezuma and generally lauded heroes like George Washington and Socrates join in raucous spectacles of debauchery, greed, and megalomania. Nor does he absolve us, his audience. The sound of roaring crowds accompanying his videos also indict a populace immersed in celebrity worship and consumed with politics as entertainment.”
Solmi’s video-paintings, comprised of digital animations using gaming software and set within painted borders, draw on the much older tradition of history painting. Yet, as an artist whose process evolves as technology offers new ways to communicate, Solmi goes beyond traditional narrative-driven painting and video techniques using historical protagonists as narrators while questioning their veracity and reliability.
A presentation of recent drawings reveals Solmi’s acumen including new works that reinterpret the digital skeletons and virtual architecture of his 3-D renderings into white pen and ink and gouache drawings on black paper. In essence, he reverses the digital process by bringing the hand back to reveal what is beneath the video image created using animation software. Its political subject matter aside, the quality of line Solmi achieves in these drawings displays the intricacies of Paolo Uccello and Albrecht Durer’s drawings, and the chiaroscuro of a Goya painting. This series of large-scale drawings bring a rarely seen aspect of his work to this exhibition – his first in the gallery’s new location.
Lastly, Solmi’s phantasmagoric world of whirling space, jerking movement and oscillating facades that strive to overwhelm the viewer’s visual field is pushed to extremes in a new interactive Virtual Reality installation. This work, presented in its own gallery, invites the visitor to enter the Bacchanal by donning a VR mask and manipulating two hand-held controllers in order to pick the perspective of one of his historical avatars. Newly empowered, and emboldened, the visitor is able to control the narrative, allowing them to experience the debauchery up close and personal through their embodiment of the avatar.