"Heaven Ship" is a direct translation of "Himmelskibetl." The first space opera, the Dutch silent film that premiered in 1918—the midst of World War I. At the time of its English debut, 20 million people had been killed in WWI. With the even deadlier World War II—and the invention of nuclear weapons as well as genocides across the world that were yet to come—who, or what, the film seemed to ask, was "the future" for?
A century later, in the grip of a devastating pandemic, a global recession, and a terrifyingly hazy horizon, Clark Filio returns to those seminal questions, as well as their sci-fi bent. A Queens-based artist whose figurative oil paintings engage in acts of world-building, Filio draws upon fantasy illustration and building narratives influenced by television, film, and autobiography. The centerpiece of this tight 3-work show is the 12-foot-wide Children of Gont (2020) [pictured]—the name of an island from Ursula K. Le Guin's series "The Earthsea Cycle" (also an island in World of Warcraft) and Balthus's The Mountain (1937). In a bucolic pasture strewn with wildflowers, three figures share the field with a trip of goats. The goats look to the horizon over the sea, but the people train their eyes elsewhere: a pair look intently at a spot in the grass, while another looks blankly out at the viewer.
Though steeped in sci-fi, Filio's world-building is evidently of this world. He calls out Marc Glimcher, the founder and president of Pace Gallery, for issuing an urgent statement against racial violence in America, while wielding his influence during a trip to meet Ivanka Trump and Steve Mnuchin—only to lobby against capital gains taxes. The American right, Filio alleges, is specifically skilled at this with the speculative world-building of white nationalism. He sees his work as a counter-effort: As the artist states within the exhibition text: "This is how we design the future: it must first be envisioned."
Clark Filio, Children of Gont, 2020. Oil on canvas, 98 x 144 inches.