There is imagination and then there is Trenton Doyle Hancock imagination, where wild things are.
Characters named Junior Mound, Bringback, Torpedo Boy, Baby Curt and Shy Jerry roam from his mind into galleries at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, wreaking a quiet havoc, realized in drawings, prints, sculptures and — a first for Hancock — a video.
"EMIT: What the Bringback Brought" was created as a result of Hancock's winning the Greenfield Prize in 2013, awarded by the Greenfield Foundation and the Hermitage Artist Retreat. The prize includes $30,000 and a requirement to produce a new work within two years.
Hancock certainly delivers on the commission.
The video, about seven minutes long, is the centerpiece and stands alone but becomes richer with the inclusion of preparatory studies, collateral materials and props and costumes. His framed, eight-page letter to the selection committee, part of the exhibition, opens the door to Hancock's project. It's hand-written in beautiful script "because I come from a family of teachers who insisted I learn penmanship," he said in a recent conversation. He describes to the judges his fascination, from childhood, with horror and science fiction movies and how they have inspired and informed his own art.
"I have intense dreams," he says. "For better or worse, I remember everything, so it's a constant effort to categorize or archive things in my memory."
Hancock is also a lover of toys, calling himself "a huge collector," and his art reflects his fascination with popular culture.
His synthesis of the whimsical with the disturbing makes sense because he does so within a mythology he has created.
Bringbacks are described in the show's catalog as "a humanoid creature covered in oscillating black and white fur bands. They generally have no mouths. ... Bringbacks are the minions of a Mound named Junior (They) apprehend and abduct 'usually' unwilling people, bring them to the Junior Mound for consumption."
Hancock casts himself as one of those "unwilling people." When the film begins, he has already been eaten by Junior Mound and is inside his cavernous body in a transitional state, wearing a tight-fitting mask with colored platelets that Hancock says are fashioned after the tile floor in his grandmother's house. (It actually resembles a leather bondage mask.) He sits at a table facing a Bringback. They're separated by a cone through which the Bringback pushes an empty plate that emerges on Hancock's side as a plate of unappetizing-looking shrimp. He can't eat them because he has no mouth. The plate of shrimp references a quote from the 1984 cult film Repo Man and a character's description of "the lattice of coincidence." (An aside: Hancock loathes shrimp.) The next scene shows the mask being removed to reveal Hancock transformed into a Bringback. And the video ends with him as a Bringback, playing with toys he has created.
I still don't have a complete grasp of the ideas Hancock is exploring but I can't stop thinking about the video images. Hancock is a black man, and racial issues can be read into them. The fur patterns evoke both prison stripes and black-white contrasts, for example. His individual identity being submerged into a roboticlike army of Bringbacks is a cultural pushback.
An important aspect of the exhibition is Hancock's art, aside from any ideas in it. His style hews to comic book and graphic novel styles with Baroque-gone-wacko nods as well. The University of South Florida's Graphicstudio did a terrific job translating his drawings into three-dimensional objects, most of which are toys used in the final scene.
The show was curated by Matthew McLendon, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Ringling, who worked with Hancock while he was developing the show.
"That was exciting to me," he says, "having a depth of understanding of the artist's practice."
Hancock describes the project as "the heart of a much larger body. I want to explore its fullness, perhaps as a trilogy."
I hope he does and that it finds its way back our way. That would be a good bringback.
Contact Lennie Bennett at [email protected] or (727) 893-8293.