A Once in A Lifetime Odyssey
“At some point I realized the fractured self is the true self, and that to go by the script society gives, telling you that you only have this one road that you can go down, is actually the antithesis of the American dream.Trenton Doyle Hancock, Interview with Katy Henriksen, in the Creative Independent, 2017
To walk into Building 5 in MASS MoCA is to walk into a carnival of consciousness. Installed in a football field sized space is Trenton Doyle Hancock Mind of the Mound: Critical Mass. It is the culmination, taking over ten years in the making, of a 21-century opus dedicated to the anthropological culture we inhabit.
As you descend the steps into the gallery, you are guided by primary colored squares set in the cement floor similar to a game board, but you and the other viewers are the game pieces. This chromatic twisting trail leads you through a mythical tale of good versus evil, race, religion, and the moral and intellectual cross examination of authority. The first indication this is not a completely cheery romp through an ethereal afternoon in a museum is the demon expelling cross jutting out from a replica of Hancock’s grandmother’s house on a Halloween night. The trick-or-treaters introduce central figures in Hancock’s odyssey. The Bringback, Torpedoboy and Painter.
The Bringback is a humanoid black and white stripped creature that brings humans to Junior, a mound creature who devours them. Torpedoboy, Hancock’s alter ego, is a superhero savior who screws up from time to time, while Painter, represented by color and, similar to the Christian Holy Spirit, is a kind, divine energy. The protagonist is the Mound, a hybrid plant/human, environmentally conscious, creature residing deep in the forest. The enemies of Mounds are boney Vegans. The Vegans are mutants that survive on tofu and attempt to kill Mounds at every opportunity, spilling as much Mound blood as possible. The Mound represents the accumulated experiences both collectively and individually that is amassed over lifetimes.
This pilgrimage through our contemporary and historical civilization is brought to life in this installation through paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints, videos, popular toys, and excerpts from Hancock’s graphic novel, displayed on banners reminiscent of the Barnum & Bailey Circus. The paintings, too numerous to individually focus on, are gems reflecting on Hancock’s prowess and courage as a painter. Each work is a nerve center of experience, history, imagination, and scrupulous deliberation of consciousness.
Trenton Doyle Hancock’s inspirations are as vast as his installation. Born in Oklahoma and raised in Paris, Texas, his parents were active evangelical Baptist ministers and missionaries. His stepfather was an accomplished martial artist and sensei (master teacher) and instructed Hancock in the Kamishin Ryu style of Karate. These formative influences, along with comics, TV, Greek mythology, and sci-fi and horror films, cemented his quest to search for and create a contemporary mythology.
His paintings bring to mind historically significant artists such as Hieronymous Bosch, as well as the late 20th century extraordinaire, Philip Guston. Gary Panter, set designer for Pee-wee’s Playhouse, titans of comic illustration, such as Art Spiegelman and R. Crumb, and films such as Repo Man, and are just a few of the popular cultural references.
Mind of the Mound: Critical Mass cannot truly be appreciated unless you are immersed with in it. It is fortunate that it will be on view for several months because returning frequently will be required to fully grasp what you are encountering and how it reflects on your own life, experience and attitudes. It will lead you to begin to think you see connections Hancock intended, or maybe you are just getting carried away and harkening back to your own experiences.
Questions might plague you once you leave. For example, is Torpedoboy a Christ figure? Is he named Torpedoboy, since a torpedo is another name for a heavily laden meat sandwich, also know as a hero and submarine sandwich, or is he just a young hero in the same vain as the Japanese character, Astro Boy. This exhibit is similar to a theatre production or film. It is funny, sad, infuriating, and makes you question everything at every turn. First, there was Homer, then James Joyce, and now, Trenton Doyle Hancock. Go to MASS MoCA. Go several times. Be part of the odyssey.