Ken Adams

Sala Diaz, San Antonio

Through December 15, 2008
by Wendy Atwell

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      Ken Adams
      Terra Lucida, 2008
      Digital Collage
      Courtesy the artist and Sala Diaz

      View Gallery

      Enchanting psychedelia and shamanic journeying abounded in Terra Lucida at Sala Diaz, “psychedelic pictograms presented as digital animation and prints,” by Austin-based artist Ken Adams. Lured there by the artist’s website,, I went in search of what exactly might be an American satori—an American experience of this Zen term for enlightenment. I found ornate, multilayered and, in the case of the film, multi-sensory visual stories, a ticket for a Disney ride spun backwards, a tour through Space Mountain at the flow of molasses, a bricollage of imagery and unnerving alterity of sound.
      Many images could be predicted, things (for our culture) exotic and strange: lots of mushrooms, frogs, Eastern and Indian imagery, mandalas and the like, signposts of the universal hallucinatory experience. Adams collages these images together seamlessly in pictograms that hang in the first gallery and the film in the room next door opens with similar imagery. There, a hippie-like arrangement of assorted pillows and blankets lie on the floor, offering very comfortable reclined viewing.

      In the film, windows, or screens, of imagery slide away in a three dimensional black realm. The scenes depict ancient stone tablets, temples, nineteenth or early twentieth century photo albums, Buddhas and lotus flowers. We’ve seen this before, jaded as we are by the beauty of Photoshop and stock photography. This overabundance of imagery has a downfall; in economic terms it cheapens their value. Yet the true exotic in Adam’s work has nothing to do with the photographic content; the exotic is in a cyber graffiti that Adams performs over these stock images, much like the spraypainted designs seen along the moving side of a train car. These light paintings appear in and out of the photographs as they emerge and recede. The non-objective, abstract, pulsing lights resemble medical and biological imagery, neurons firing, thoughts blazing. A huge starburst clump glows and then flakes away like an invisible lover picking the petals off of a rose.

      The accompanying soundtrack plays a vital role in Terra Lucida, because the sounds and lights/images appear to organically move together, forming a synesthetic experience. Artist Steve Marsh provided futuristic and distorted sounds made from a handmade electrodyne device; these are combined with a relatively archaic, slowly strumming string instrument.

      In and out of this soundtrack comes the “spoken word” taken from “trance recordings” by Terence McKenna (1946-2000), world traveler, shaman, mushroom farmer and renowned advocate for the mind expanding qualities of hallucinogens. McKenna’s voice can be quite creepy sounding at times, especially when it takes the form of incoherent gibberish and startling, maniacal laughter. But it is not creepy at all when he slowly narrates and reiterates revelatory truths: “Everything is made of light,” and “Astonishment is the proper response to reality.” During these moments, McKenna sounds like the spiritual leader that he was and the revelations he shares are part of the package of this art experience. “I am speaking from the Imaginatrix, domain unknown…this is the place that shamans have known for millennia, they’ve passed through the portals reserved for dead souls. There’s a technology and an understanding that you can barely imagine. This is the idea behind the secret of magic.”

      McKenna’s implication is that computer technology and the internet are akin to a kind of psycho-spiritual retreat, a portal into Heaven. Colorful morphing imagery gathers out of the black, growing and then diminishing, at its peak bundled together like a synthetic but sophisticated version of childhood’s sugarplum dreams. The film’s amazing beauty stems from the gorgeous, colorful abstract imagery, colored light, liquid paint, that shimmers and reflects like water in response to the soundtrack. McKenna proceeds with his tantalizing dream, offering promises and salve to parched mortality, “the richness of reality folded into itself; infinity in a grain of sand, time out of time.”

      Some may dismiss McKenna’s theories as crackpot and half-baked but they are one of many feathers in mankind’s hat of religion, the ideas crafted to to adorn life’s mysteries and cap off eternity. Adams’s art leads viewers into an alternative realm of delight, surprise and the bizarre, a generous offering of clean hallucinations for the apprehensive and (probably) of deeply resonant experiences for those who authentically engage.

      Wendy Atwell received her M.A. in Art History and Criticism from The University of Texas at San Antonio.


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