Be Realistic Demand the Impossible - Glicee and Gouache on Reeves Watercolor Paper, 22"x30"

Allison Arieff’s Essay on “Visual Aides”

Be Realistic, Demand the Impossible: Carrie Marill By Allison Arieff Fragments of Carrie Marill’s fantastical Visual Aides series are as surprising to the eye as Obama’s uttering of “clean coal technology” is to the ear. What at first seems a bucolic glimpse into agrarian idyll reveals itself to be a mind-boggling mash-up: equal parts pre-industrial arcadia and post-apocalyptic terrain. Be Realistic, Demand the Impossible sounds like an awesome Tony Robbins affirmation: in visual form, this work by Marill seems to me a perfect illustration of our present-day realities (not to mention a spot-on assessment of the current political climate). The pioneer-era obsessions of America’s recession-weary urbanites— heirloom livestock, recycling, alternative energy and water conservation—co-exist tenuously with other, less-eco pursuits like pampered pets, exotic birds, and um, nuclear power. This motley assortment of quotidian elements seems to co-exist in a waiting for the other shoe to drop sort of way. Are those dark clouds encroaching or receding? 19th century British painters like John Constable and JW Turner celebrated their national landscape even as large swaths of it were rapidly disappearing beneath spreading cities and factories. Even back then, in the early days of the Industrial Age, dreamers were already nostalgic for a simpler time. Marill based the Visual Aides series on French illustrations unearthed at a flea market that were created to teach children about different aspects of the world (farming, industry, water), but the lapsed art historian in me sees clear echoes of Constable’s bucolic masterpiece, “The Haywain” (1821) here. Just add 19th and 20th century “advancements.” Those painterly Brits were no doubt suffering from solastalgia (though the name for the condition of psychic or existential distress caused by environmental change emerged just a few years ago)—and Marill feels it, too. She probably spends some sleepless nights, her mind whirring over the repercussions of what humans have wrought, yet it’s clear she retains a sense of optimism. Look how happily the pigs and chickens seem against the backdrop of quelled nuclear catastrophe! In Marill’s Hot Water, in which Hokusai’s waves seem to have lost a little of their momentum, what with all that’s working against them these days, we’re confronted with a microcosm of the myriad issues facing our oceans today. Visual markers of paradise (palm trees) and even recreation (scuba, parasailing) might still exist but just below the surface trash floats, fish battle for their very survival, species mutate, industrial and local vessels compete for limited resources. In Katrina, everything is similarly submerged—though under a different weight of water.  Though referencing catastrophe this work seems to be, at least in the foreground, lighter, more evocative of Dutch genre paintings, of Vermeer, de Hooch. Flying, Shipping, and Selling broadcasts the positivity of a Lester Beall graphic— growing GDP, military might, happy workers—at first. But again, closer inspection reveals the chinks in the armor. Is the air traffic controller on break? overworked? The unsettling feeling here as elsewhere in this series, is one of living on borrowed time. Site of all the Greatest Stuff distills the essence of Marill’s message: we remain deliberately oblivious in order to survive. But for how much longer will that strategy work? “Site of proposed don’t worry you won’t notice a thing toxic waste dumping area”—a euphemism for our troubled planet.