Born in New York’s Harlem, on 148th St., Moby grew up in Connecticut and then returned to New York, where he spent most of his life. A few years ago, he moved to L.A., due to “its singular pre-apocalyptic strangeness”, as he declared recently. He lives in an old faux castle built in 1927 in the Hollywood Hills and enjoys the city’s uncanny mix of “banal suburban” (the cheap and tawdry strip malls with their crowds) and “really disconcerting, grand nature” (the ancient and stolid mountain ranges, the vastness of human inhabited desert or ocean). According to Moby, L.A. accommodates a sense of “experimentation and a grudging familiarity with occasional failure”, which are part of its ethos. All these life experiences inform his artistic photography. Moby was exposed to art since his childhood, being raised in a family of artists: his mother was a painter and an uncle of his was a sculptor. Another uncle, Joseph Kugielsky, who was a photographer at the New York Times, gave him his used photo equipment, so that Moby started taking pictures at the age of 10 with his first camera – an old Nikon F that had been in Vietnam. At university Moby had a double major, in philosophy and photography. He spent years and years in the SUNY Purchase College’s darkroom developing and printing for himself and for others. Although his passion for photography emerged early on, Moby’s first official shows happened only in 2010. A few others followed them, both in New York and L.A.
Moby’s latest series of photographs “Innocents”, now presented by Emmanuel Fremin Gallery, is based on the artist’s own theory that the Apocalypse has already happened. Tragic events influenced him. After September 11 – which coincidentally is also Moby’s birthday -, it was a global belief that “nothing will ever be the same again”, even if apparently most people’s lives didn’t radically change. Moby is interested in the potential shift in human perception. He considers that a post-apocalyptic consciousness invites people to add a new meaning to the common surrounding world: “Like a picture of a supermarket pre-apocalypse would somehow have a different significance post-apocalypse. Even though the supermarket itself would be the exact same thing.”
Starting from these premises, the artist imagined the “Cult of Innocents” as the world’s first post-apocalyptic cult. Unlike many historically recorded (pre-apocalyptic) cults, whose members prepared for the (upcoming) end of the world, trying to find a secret formula to protect themselves against it, Moby’s fictitious “Innocents” perform on a post-apocalyptic stage or even during the Apocalypse. As the artist confessed in an interview, in the creation of his characters he drew inspiration from The Source Family – the legendary and “benign” cult that was active in L.A. in the 1970’s. In his photographs, hybrid human-animal characters, with living human bodies, draped in white fabrics such as antique statues, and with skulls or animal masks instead of heads, populate a natural or artificial environment. They are reminiscent of both the magical atmosphere in “Alice in Wonderland” and the black humor scenes in “Tales from the Crypt”.
In Receiving, a monkey masked man, whose head coincides with the vanishing point of a fisheye perspective, is placed right in the middle of a generic supermarket’s aisle, looking straight ahead, toward the viewer. Flanked on both sides by multiple series of standardized mass-produced goods, neatly stacked on shelves, this strange figure with a fixed gaze calls to one’s mind the consumerist society of our time. Commonly related to a hidden identity, the mask motif could be considered as an alter ego. Nonetheless, Moby’s approach proves a cold pragmatism and a psychological interest: “Masks are scary for a lot of people, but they are inherently neutral. It’s just a molded piece of plastic. I want someone to look at it and have a conditioned reaction, and if possible even question where that reaction is coming from.”
At the other end of the leash, works like ‘Innocents’ and ‘A New Spring’ – also rendered in a curvilinear perspective, but featuring multiple ghost-like characters arranged in a seemingly ritualistic circle – address the issue of a possible return to a chimerical innocence, still present in the natural habitat of wild animals, but almost lost in the contemporary life of our fellows. In Moby’s opinion, the post-apocalyptic cult of innocence relies on the idea of personal and collective shame. His Innocents are ashamed because of “their role in a society and a culture that was just incredibly, unnecessarily destructive” and they “are doing everything in their power to conceal themselves”. Maybe that is why they are wearing masks. In this regard, the artist states: “there is a quality of innocence in everybody”.
Moby’s photographs are multi-layered. By using strange juxtapositions and decontextualized elements, the artist plays with the semiotic relationship signifier-signified in order to create works open to different interpretations. He only suggests a framework for each of his photographs and for the fictional narrative that connects them, but the conclusion – if there is one – belongs to the viewer.
From his mind-blowing music to his photographs related to self-directed videos, in terms of visual motifs, composition, and psychedelic colors, Moby defines himself as a multi-faceted artist, extremely emotional and rational at the same time.