Closely related to Hartung’s recent videos The Bible and The Lesser Key of Solomon, King Solomon’s Mines further explores the deep-rooted influence of Abrahamic religions in contemporary thinking and notions of the other. Central to Hartung’s new work is the mythology of King Solomon and tales of his coveted riches, as well as exoticized views of the Middle East and the Northern Sahara.
An installation of figurative sculptures represents ‘jinns,’ or demons. The Testament of Solomon, a pseudepigraphical text written in the early 1st millennium CE, describes Solomon’s conjuring demons—often associated with foreign peoples and traditions—to build his kingdom and the Temple of Jerusalem. Jinns have captured the imaginations of practitioners of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam alike; their characteristics often correspond to each religion’s wider-held prejudices that encourage ethnic, racial, or religious rifts.
Much of King Solomon’s Mines is set in the Tibesti Mountains in Chad, a former French colony and a region teeming with both Western tourists on safari and rampant human trafficking. Legacies of colonization and construction of historical narratives through popular media are recurring themes in Hartung’s work. In the video, Hartung accentuates found travel footage of the people and landscapes of Tibesti with the laborious process of rotoscoping, layering hand-drawn animation frame-by-frame on top of the digital video. This technique comes out of early photographic manipulation that was typically used to create hoax images in film. Tibesti is presented through a pseudo-futuristic sci-fi lens that presents the local population through the distanced, privileged vantage point of the camera.
Combining multiple narratives that rely on myth and magical thinking, and further complicated by deeply held cultural views of religious, ethnic, and racial differences among peoples, Hartung lends a satirical lens to embedded notions of the foreign, and to the power structures that benefit from the demonization and subjugation of entire communities of people.
Tommy Hartung (b. in Akron, OH, 1979) received his MFA from Columbia University in 2006, and his BFA from SUNY Purchase in 2004. Hartung’s work is currently the subject of a solo exhibition at the Rose Art Museum in Waltham, MA, and is included in the 2017 Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, NY.
Hartung’s hour-long video work, THE BIBLE, was the focus of a solo exhibition at On Stellar Rays gallery in 2014 and was featured in subsequent presentations at the Bonnefanten Museum, Maastricht, the Netherlands (2015); the Rose Art Museum, Waltham, MA (2015); the Flint Institute of Arts, Flint, MI (2015); and Hammer Projects: This Is the End, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA (2015). Hartung’s works have been shown in exhibitions at the University Art Museum, State University of New York, Albany, NY (2016); the Jewish Museum, New York, NY (2015); White Flag Projects, St Louis, MO (2012); Greater New York, MoMA/PS1, Queens, NY (2010); Queens Museum of Art, Queens, NY (2008); and screenings at the Rotterdam Film Festival, the Netherlands (2011), Anthology Film Archives, New York, NY (2008), CRG Gallery, New York, NY (2007), and Elizabeth Dee Gallery, New York, NY (2007).
His work is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art (New York, NY), the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY), the Hammer Museum (Los Angeles, CA), the Rose Art Museum (Waltham, MA), and the Dimitris Daskalopoulos Art Collection (Athens, Greece). Hartung currently lives and works in New York. Hartung was the recipient of the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Biennial Award in 2015 and the Painters and Sculptors Grant from the Joan Mitchell Foundation in 2011.