Whitney Biennial | Dial #7 if you feel you already know the answer — Flaunt Magazine
By Vanessa Blasi
Endless winding roads, turns and obstacles, red lights and stop signs fill our minds, but Jacky Connolly depicts our imagination’s demanding desire to run wild, our inclination to escape reality whenever and wherever we are. Freedom in the mind exists quite differently from freedom on the ground. Yet this Brooklyn-based artist designs an alternate reality, satisfying the adventurous and impulsive parts of us that are waiting to break free. Connolly’s animation, “Descent into Hell” is based on Doris Lessing’s novel, Briefing for a descent into hell (1971). The work portrays a character as valiant, lost and dangerous as our minds can often yearn to be. Similar to Lessing’s novel, this story transports viewers to an alternate timeline along the broken, dystopian city of Los Angeles in which anything is possible.
A graduate of Bard College in Simon’s Rock, Connolly returned her acorn in 2011 with a BFA in Photography, Art History and Critical Studies. Continuing her studies, she also earned an MFA in Computational Arts and an MLIS from Pratt Institute in 2016. in exhibitions such as the Whitney Museum of American Art; Interstate Projects, Brooklyn; Kimberly-Klark, Queens; et al., San Francisco; Land and Sea, Oakland; and Bus Projects, Melbourne.
Illusory, harrowing, seductive and liberating – “Descent into Hell” bridges the cavernous gap between knowledge and imagination. By portraying the quintessence of a fantastical life, she downplays the concept of existence on a pixelated screen, while more deliberately expanding the possibilities of a “happily ever after”…or not.
In your opinion, where does this feeling of meandering, of lost feeling come from?
As the world has felt so alien and groundless over the past few years, I too have become a bit of a wanderer for the duration of creating this work. I moved from upstate New York, moved back to New York and now live in Amsterdam (NL). I started “Descent into Hell” in the fall of 2019. I had been living in a small house in the Catskills for a few years, after a decade in the city. When I lived in New York, I was drawn to virtual sets (with The Sims games) that mimicked the suburban-rural world of the Hudson Valley, where I grew up. Living in upstate seclusion, I was drawn to the opposite; I found myself working in virtual environments that captured a sense of urban alienation and dissonance.
Of course, 2020-2021 only heightened a sense of separation from society, as I spent the weeks “roaming” virtually in a simulation of a world that had suddenly ceased to exist. I also found myself voyeuristically reading an online forum for “vagabonds”; people who live like modern bums and vagrants, jumping on trains or living in a van. Feeling so housebound during the pandemic definitely ignited my pre-existing fascination with people who disappear or give up and live an entirely different existence.
In the summer of 2020 we had a fire in our Catskills home and lived in a hotel for a while. It was the second house fire I have experienced in my life (the other was during my childhood); much of the fire (and water) elemental images in the videos are from this experience. Simultaneously, the world was literally on fire in parts of America, some of the worst wildfires in US history. So, in my virtual California, the world is on fire and people are strange and disconnected from each other.
Do you think video games, virtual reality, etc. are doing some sort of interuniversal journey?
I think the experience of virtual teleportation exists, in a sense. I only spent a few weeks in LA – I didn’t know the city geographically through real, lived experience. But the precision of GTAit is [Grand Theft Auto V] LA’s virtual map is striking. When I flew in the middle of creating this work, from the moment I arrived at LAX,
I recognized every detail of the roads, the location of the trees along the highway, and the passing landmarks. Definitely a strange experience. I will say that virtual “travel” has a kind of aura, especially the way virtual light hits certain surfaces can evoke a sense of place for me. But I think that feeling pales in comparison to the actual experience – of actually feeling lost in a real, unfamiliar place. For me, game worlds cannot compare to real-life experiences of mystery and wonder.
Do you think this idea of “reality shifting” is a coping mechanism or an addiction? Is it something we choose to do or something we are nurtured by?
I think Gen Z’s trend of reality shifting is fascinating, but I also see a lot of darkness in it. It’s a form of fantasy or gaming, but most of the realities it’s popular to “transform” into are some kind of fan-fiction universe – Hogwarts, for example. The message seems to be: hypnotize yourself into some kind of psychosis and commune with these mass cultural artifacts in this “other” place. But perhaps no more psychically unhealthy than watching social media every two hours, or gambling. animal crossing for 8 hours a day…
How does this work connect to the familiar language of the Biennale: Quiet as it is kept? Is there a secret present in the work?
There are secrets, puzzles that lead nowhere and mysterious events are left unresolved. The majority of my avatars still present themselves as silent vessels, witnesses staring speechlessly at the wreckage of the film. Although there is a moment when a character “breaks through” and finds a voice that I’m particularly happy about, but their vocalization is more of a guttural scream.