Funk Dancing for Self Defence, Exhibition Text by Andrea McGuire
Everything is hard. But Lily Taylor is here to make us laugh, with sparkling dystopias and no more polygons than necessary. Taylor already Pivoted once during these Unprecedented Times, making a move from painting/illustration towards paper-mâché. Now, in “Funk Dancing for Self Defence,” Taylor continues her pandemic exploration of all things 3D. The entirely virtual exhibition (a first for Eastern Edge, decided on during the winter’s variant) features digital images Taylor created using Blender—a free, open-source program for making 3D computer graphics.
Taylor also coded the exhibition, designing controls for everyone scrolling through. Her images slowly magnify at the hover of a mouse, approximating the feel of walking up and looking closely in a gallery. Some images loop; some are static. And unlike many physical installations, Taylor’s is pretty definitively linear: it runs from top to bottom. Knowing this, I wondered how strategically Taylor ordered her pieces. Did she realize no one could rightfully scroll by Jay Leno the submissive horse (riding under the whip of a leather dominatrix) without actually laughing out loud, and did she place it first for that reason? Funk Dancing for Self Defence—against the void, the virus, the variants, everything keeping us apart? What’s a Simpsons reference, and what’s a deeply resonant personal mantra?
In FDFSD, the questions multiply: where do we go from here? Will the next big thing get exponentially weirder forever? Also, what’s fun to look at? “Alien Nose Job” offers answers in the guise of a post-op alien glam shot—a selfie, possibly, in an age of extraterrestrials getting surgery on TLC. Sparkles float by the alien’s cranium, serving as a glimmering through-line in Taylor’s work. In fact, Taylor used Blender to carry over the alien’s sparkles from the ones emanating from Mr. Sparkle (Homer’s double) in “Can’t You See That I Am Serious?” If you look carefully, you’ll see: same sparkles.
Thanks to Instagram filters, sparkles can feel very right now. But as I’ve learned, these filters are actually a ‘90s throwback thing. Throughout her collection, Taylor imagines futures rooted in what childhood felt like for a lot of us in the ‘90s—claymation reruns, pixelated games, watching The Simpsons with your siblings. Doing double-takes of the Folgers can in the kitchen, with its strangely Martian landscape and precisely splintered sunrise. A glittering aesthetic you mostly forgot about.
Everything semi-old is new again, and then again. But in FDFSD, nostalgia is never melancholy. What if the future feels like being a kid *and* slides into something more and more surreal? What could that look like? And on the more sinister side of things: what are we going to need to remain entertained? Lily Taylor’s trying new things, having fun, making us laugh. Every dystopia needs a good escape.
Andrea McGuire is a freelance journalist, emerging audio producer, and musician living in St. John’s. She’s published her writing with the Newfoundland Quarterly Online, CBC NL, The Coast, and Halifax Magazine, and has an MA degree in Folklore from Memorial University. Andrea plays bass in Lo Siento and accordion at her cats. She’s currently collaborating on a puppet film with her partner and making a radio documentary about a language inventor for CBC’s Atlantic Voice.