Some speculations on the work of Jud Turner
I have theories about the Oblivion Factory.
I’ve seen the prosaic publicity photographs, of course, and I know for a “fact” that on this phenomenal wavelength, the locale so named is an unassuming cube of workspace in the wilds of Oregon, inhabited and operated by sculptor Jud Turner.
I’ve studied images of the artist at work, manipulating heaps of haunted debris and rust-ravaged prima materia, coaxing the trashy fragments until they coalesce into a harsh ecology of atavistic machine dreams and apocalyptic cargo cult fetish objects. He is attended always in his experiments by Pigg, his grunting porcine familiar, and the tinkerbell glint of a man making mischief. Melting. Welding. Grinding. Grafting. Overalls and a gas mask in hissing clouds of canned color.
But then I see the finished work, these impossible objects that reconcile the mechanical and the visceral, the divine and the desperate, the primordially human and the profoundly alien, and my seventeen secret senses start tingling, and I feel like the heroic myth of the master builder (laboriously drawing form from chaos) cannot adequately explain the beauty of these monsters. Something in their wholeness suggests an organic evolutionary process, a ferocious natural alchemy that ascends through levels that add up to life. Something goes on in that factory that draws these forms into ruthless metallic manifestation...from elsewhere. Some metaterrestrial dynamic has been engaged, surely.
I don’t live in Oregon anymore, so I can’t go creeping around the workshop’s shuddering perimeter to supplement or unplug these theories with the evidence of my senses and an all too human rational faculty. At this distance, I only have this collage of snapshot sculptures to contemplate and the chakra-chafing Otherness they exude to drive me in my oracular ponderings. So I go swimming in these junkyard skullscapes and reefs of barnacled hydraulics. I swim in them and I speculate.
I sometimes wonder if Jud isn’t some semi-reformed supervillain from an alternate Earth, hiding out here or planted here by some macrocosmic witness protection program. The Oblivion Factory would be a fitting secret HQ for such a being. He builds wind-up miracles and skull-studded dream generators, struggling against the limits of physics on a wavelength where the laws of nature are just a little too strict. Another mad scientist driven into art by the bigotries of the academy. And yet he seems to have such a sweet nature. Maybe all the local realism has mellowed his mania. Ever so slightly.
But at the first sign of the garish heroes who hunt him through the timestreams, he’ll throw a wicked switch and all the restless razor-laced lovebombs will go off at once: the bicycle-blue heron awake at last and hacking passing pedestrians to pieces, the many-lensed angel of surveillance rising through the shimmering chaos of a shattering gallery skylight and instagramming all matter and memory into shrieking collage.
The thinking tree will emit intoxicating steams and hypnotic whistles and its mechanics will distill the dreamstuff of the meaty beings who sit in its skeletal shade. Its chromatic owl will emit little music box codewords that make all thinking flow sideways to feed its crooked roots with delirium. Etcetera.
Until that day, he disguises his doomsday tools as art objects.
The Great Work insists on perpetual revolution, even on Earths where supercrime is impossible. Or... impractical at present.
He’s an alchemist, at the very least. Maybe when the press conferences are over, the factory’s interior reverts to old school alchemical décor, a glassy labyrinth of retorts and alembics and athanors, etcetera. Blackboards aglow with diagrams that indicate a feedback loop between the energies of chemistry and metaphor.
I can picture him walking solemnly out of that tesla-coiled strobing storm of a laboratory with a hovering globule of alchemical quicksilver in a bell jar, making a metaphysical pilgrimage to the junkyard, to pay tribute through creation to the gods within all gods. Amongst the scrap heaps and the ruined machines, the artist climbs the loftiest tower of wreckage and releases the mercurial teardrop, the hypersperm, scientifically distilled from the material filth that occludes our luminous liquid essence, the elixir that animates all created and uncreated things.
The globule floats there and throbs for eight pregnant seconds and then plummets to splat and slither deep inside the cog-encrusted crevices and mossy circuit boards of the junkyard church, which unfolds, once fertilised, into a junkyard garden, then a junkyard universe. Encoded in that vital elixir are the patterns, the mazes and motifs and archetypes that reverberate through life and mind at every level. As the derelict machines in this cluttered wasteland receive the demiurgic code, the ruins clank and twist and spark into mournful dreams of the primeval systems that emitted the mammals who abandoned them.
This explosion of monuments and effigies is not a warning against a world that’s coming. There’s nothing as vulgar as satire or social commentary at work here. These artifacts and avatars have the gravitas of objects smuggled here from a parallel universe where the worst of all possible worlds has already come to pass: the catastrophe complete, the final solutions already calculated and mythologized. In their mechanics I see the death of an alien species, some garden of expired delights devolving into a busy cemetery where the ungovernable spark of absolute life has passed from flesh into the vehicles and processing plants the species built to facilitate their appetites, their consumption. As if the trash they left behind remembers them and reflexively replicates the shapes they made in their ceaseless struggle to pleasure, punish, and reinvent themselves.
The scrapyard spirits grow trees like the trees we used to live in, preserving nostalgic little patches of wilderness in cloud-bound airship ecologies and artificial islands that burst from the bacterial sludge of repurposed submarines.
Animals erupt from makeshift incubatoriums, beasts of every epoch mashed up with the instruments we make to mimic their aptitudes, each creature stripped to its skeletal fundamentals and made to behave with an imitation of will according to clockwork schematics that throb and tick in the soft circuitry of every aluminum lily as it unfolds to host and feed the local nanomites, every funereal steel lotus that feeds on time until its spherical silver belly is emptied of reflections.
Baboon bits spliced with bicycles.
A condominium prisonplex where dolls indulge in fruitless solitudes, never knowing Otherness, never looking inward.
Navadurga the avatar of god-death, the fallen god-form that refuses to rise, the embodiment of slaughtered concepts, on each petal the iconic glyph of a faith it makes to soothe the pains of slavery and lure the lesser mecha towards the ultimate annihilation that is latent at the dream-threshing heart of absolute industry.
Will our abandoned toys develop their own speculations, their own vendettas and jihads without ever knowing that heaven and hell are merely psychotropic by-products of the big machine’s digestion?
Are these devices mineralised repetitions of our delusions and dark delights and death-wishes or are they solemn tributes to the meaty egg from which a self-aware, people-free technocracy came crawling?
Sloughing the organic pretensions of technologies that curved always under the narcissistic mammalian gaze, this planet-eating plague of ouroboric commerce has assumed an aesthetic that sacramentalizes the sacrifice of a barely remembered mankind even as it flaunts its pseudoVictorian smokestacks and conveyor belts and dark satanic mills, the already rusting refinery chic of its earliest birthdays.
Amongst the exhibits, wherever this body of work is unleashed, you can almost always find a die-cast map of the Oblivion Factory itself: in its purest state, studio corridors bending and extending from level to level, leading nowhere, processing nothing, unstaffed and somehow ancient. Genesis in between production cycles. There’s something hieroglyphic about this particular microcosmos.
Imagine a factory where Oblivion is the product, where every innovation brings us closer to communion with a world that has survived us, a world of jewelled ruins in which we do not exist and maybe never did.
I’ll never know for sure if Jud Turner is in “fact” a bona fide alchemical magus or a transdimensional fugitive with a hunger for havoc or a time-travelling smuggler who specialises in religious technologies from the end of time.
Maybe the rumors are true and Jud is just an inspired and industrious human being, ecstatically aware of the encroachments of personal mortality and the abundance of dead wreckage that accrues between the cracks of a culture in its turbulent twilight, using the thoughtforms he sees in our debris to celebrate our human visions and our vanities in a time of radical mutation.
Maybe it is just his own end that drives him, knowing that there are finite hours in which to craft transfigured trash into harsh and beautiful forms that will give the humans pause, make them stop and smell the rust and maybe make some mythic jungles out of their own twisted fragments.
Each work in Turner’s menagerie is made up not just of repurposed matter and virulent concept clusters, but also our projections and speculations. Even if this sculptor is just a sculptor and the Oblivion Factory is just a place where sculpture occurs, all these other things I’ve dreamed into that cube are true too.
Through these technologies, we learn by heart the chemistry of metaphor and the perfumes exuded by wild blossoms on the brink of extinction. These ruins can taste our futile gazes. These factories are resonant with the echoes of our theories. The machines will rumble on as the echoes ebb and flow and dim at last into entropy.