Created in response to Tate Modern's relatively new space (The Tanks, which are galleries within the old converted oil tanks from the power station) British artist Jeff Keen's multiple screen cinematic montage work, Gazapocalypse – Return to the Golden Age, is delightfully disturbing and epitomises the whole life and career of the experimental artist. It now stands as a homage to Keen's life, after he passed away in June this year.
Standing within an imposing, cylindrical screen, you are surrounded by Keen's signature projections of twentieth century pop culture images. This evocative piece explores in equal turns the highs and lows of the last century, with a celebration of the cultural and technological progressions offset by the images of combat and destruction. War images are amalgamated with consumer culture, such as mid–twentieth century cars and video clips from television and film. It recalls the Beat generation, of which Keen was an active member through his poetry, and draws upon 1960s counterculture and hallucinogenic drug use; indeed, after a while of sitting in the middle of the installation, the rapid–fire images and fluorescent colours make you feel as though you are in the middle of an acid trip.
Because Keen was also a veteran of the Second World War, memories of combat are intrinsically present throughout each image and sound in the installation; machine gun fire, for example, is played loudly on a loop, drowning out any other sounds from the room and echoing around the large Tanks space. Even his soundless animations, created in a quintessentially DIY style from eggs and plastic dolls, evoke the noise and violence of a conflict zone. In fact, the use of everyday objects to recreate wartime scenes adds a more sinister edge – indeed, the image of "egg" explosions and the subsequent melting of Barbie dolls, although playful, could be seen as the destruction of innocence that the two world wars engendered. The movies play on a loop like the repetitive psychological chaos of post–traumatic stress disorder.
It's incredible how all of the symbols of western culture in the twentieth century are fused together and exaggerated to extremes; sex, make–up, war, and consumerism all flash around the room simultaneously, completely enveloping the viewer in a melange of twentieth century paraphernalia. The highs, such as gender liberation and technological progression, are dramatically juxtaposed against the lows – namely, the violence, the destruction, the terror and the fear that has been a given aspect of life as lived through a multitude of wars, and the development and abuse of nuclear weaponry. The films seem to be a disjointed melange of pop culture, surrealism, 1960s counterculture and the Beat generation, that seems to epitomise the violence and insanity of the century.
Literally on top of these multi–screened video projections, slideshows of Keen's photographic works are shown, as well as a collection of his early drawings. This enhances the catastrophic feel of the installation, as the addition of these earlier works add to the surrealism of the piece as a whole. The drawings in particular are overtly sexual, which are distinctly postmodern in the way that they are coupled with the videos' explicit explorations of modern sexuality and the sexual revolutions that have occurred since the 1960s.
This work does not attempt to make sense of the last century's intense social developments, but to embrace the cacophony and the incredible whirlwind of the contemporary era. Through its flux, its constantly looping film footage, its cyclical shape and its intimidating, imposing sound, Keen's Gazapocalypse – Return to the Golden Age is an unsettlingly poignant representation of the social, cultural and technological developments – and also, therefore, the chaos – of the twentieth century.