John Bono, - topia; 3 channel video, running time variable, up to 10 minutes; Courtesy of the Artist
“-topia” is a piece about place. The ancient Greek word “topos” (τόπος) literally means “place.” By transference, in classical Greek rhetoric the term comes to mean a commonplace, a standardized way of constructing or treating an argument: sayings, memes, “topics.” But for the place-bound Greeks “topos” never really lost its sense of particular place, despite its tendency toward philosophical generalization into words, concepts, ideas. In 1516 the English humanist Thomas More, writing under the impetus of the discovery of the new worlds of the age of exploration, famously published his Utopia, a prose puzzle speculating on the existence of an idealized island state, at once “good place” and “no place.”
At the center of it sits a sharply stylized black sun, an allusion to French theorist Julia Kristeva’s well-known meditation on melancholia as itself a dominant trope of creativity. But the 13 bolts and stars which radiate from the sun are also taken from the flag of the City of Buffalo, where they reference our place as one of the original thirteen colonies, our front ranks in the deployment of electrical power, and “the love and admiration which Buffalonians have for their city.” In my video I have put this already- dynamic image into multiple motions, and also given it an historical dimension. The bolts and the stars rotate in opposite directions against each other in response to any winds in the environment, like the gears which powered our old industrial economy or the windmills which power our new blue and green economy. The background image is a changing sunset over Lake Ontario shot from the American side; the bull’s-eye image a changing sunset over Lake Erie and the Buffalo sky-line shot from Fort Erie, Canada, so that through them the viewer speculates about the extent and the past and future of our border region. Thinking back to the French and Indian Wars or the War of 1812, or realizing that it was most signally the defensive response to 9/11 that prevented a creative solution to our current border problems, do we want a reign of terror or the rooted and home-grown response of a water-blessed terroir?
Flanking the dynamic central image are two matched static images of a thin golden rondel on a stark black background. These golden circles are notched, at once resembling a gear and suggesting the corona the sun sends out during an eclipse. Across them is printed the emblem for the work as a whole, the famous existentialist quotation from Albert Camus’ The Stranger, “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.” Appropriately, then, for the wintry climate of Buffalo, we are, and, I hope, will continue, to find our own invincible, creative, artistic summer within, and not take refuge, as the image might also suggest, in a flag-based nationalism.