In "Untitled Video (A Mother's Prayer)" by PICA artist-in-residence Matthew Day Jackson, the artist's mother appears in a small clearing at the edge of a river, engaged in a "ritual blessing of the art of my son Matthew." Dressed in a T-shirt, jeans, and a pair of New Balance sneakers, she hardly looks the part of a priestess; only a purple batik sash wrapped around her signals her elevated role. As she stammers and pauses, seemingly making up the words as she goes along, she haphazardly weaves together elements of Native American ceremonies, phrases from Judeo-Christian liturgy, and a generous helping of New Age spirituality. She even deifies art in her blessing, explaining, "We need art to carry us through the dark times." While the video is hardly the most arresting work in Paradise Now!, which also includes sculptures and photographs, it is the best illustration of the show's tangled and diffuse meanings.
With Paradise, Jackson imagines a post-apocalyptic setting in which the scavenged remnants of the old world are redeemed through re-signification in the new. Thus, in the prayer, splinters of several forms of spirituality are chewed up and spat out in a kind of cannibalized religion. Shaped by adaptation and survival, it's a process of creation—or perhaps it's better to call it evolution—that seems distinctly Darwinian. But throughout the rest of the show, Jackson's vision of the future is complicated by a palpable sense of fatalism and futility.
In "Cannon," he creates a Revolutionary War-era rolling cannon using diseased wood—including a pillar taken from the Jackson family's rotting homestead in Malmo, Nebraska. It's a strange effect, seeing an object that calls attention to itself as an artifact replicated in the present, all the more displaced because it is composed of decaying materials. "Procession (with a Happy Ending)" consists of a dead tree dragged from the Willamette River, propped up from the floor by a series of carved fists. Stretching more than 30 feet across the gallery floor, it comes across like a preserved specimen in a museum of natural history, but, within the context of Jackson's dystopia, it's another commentary on extinction. And yet, as the fists lift the tree, Jackson never loses sight of hope—even in the face of inevitable entropy.