It Could Be Paradise But It’s Only California
914Works, Syracuse, NY 2016
It Could Be Paradise But It’s Only California is the first piece of work made in America by Tom Hall. It explores some of the general preconceptions of America from across the pond. It focuses on his relocation across the Atlantic and reflects the great American ‘move west’ seen in the 1800’s. The installation is made from the cardboard boxes containing his family’s household possessions in the move to America. The artist has taken on the role of frontiersman to immerse himself into this new wild world and has built himself the basics to survive. The layers of meaning develop as the viewer walks through the installation. Much like the epic trail to the promised land (California) the audience picks their way through the references from cowboy to biker to explorations of contemporary conflicts. The essayist, Frederick Jackson Turner, wrote in 1893 the founding narrative, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” and this work echoes that story.
The title of the installation comes from a quote by Theodor Adorno, a member of the Frankfurt School, who also made a westward escape between the two world wars. This left-thinking German group focused a highly critical critique on the LA and Hollywood cultures that they found there. Tom Hall’s journey takes a fresh look at the American myth. He points to the false romantic past propagated by Roosevelt in his book, “The Winning of the West”, which romanticizes the reality of the wild frontier, to Reagan living out this cowboy dream in the movies, and then forward to George W. who recalls films as a child and half quotes on a news station, “I want Bin Laden smoked out, captured; dead or alive.”