Step Inside 'The Garden of Emoji Delights'

Middle Panel. All Images Courtesy of Artist. 

Emoji can be more than a way to liven up your digital conversations, especially for new media artist Carla Gannis. With The Garden of Emoji Delights, Gannis reconstructs Hieronymus Bosch’s famous triptych for the digital era, experimenting with new ways of redefining identity and its forms of representation, both virtual and physical.

By replacing religious vocabulary with secular and contemporary digital symbols, Gannis reconstructs the powerful iconography at the core of Bosch's landscape in The Garden of Earthly Delights. Her stunning, pop art 2.0 digital collage explores and critiques consumerism and modern society through the three emoji-fied realms of Eden, Hell, and Earth.

Although the physical work currently resides in the Kasia Kay Gallery in Chicago -- with the piece officially premiering today -- a digital version will also debut in NYC with an Emoji-themed Halloween reception on October 31st. A large-scale animated projection looped on 12 screens will bring to life Gannis' triptych as a costumed audience parties through the night at the King’s Tavern in Brooklyn.

To prep for this launch, we asked Gannis a few questions about the genesis of this project and creative process. 

The Garden of Emoji Delights Triptych Animation from Carla Gannis on Vimeo.

The Creators Project: How would you define Emoji and why did you end up choosing it as an essential element for this work?
 
Carla Gannis: I’ll preface this convo with the fact that I used to work in UI design, and I spent a lot of time creating interface icons that are meant to communicate in a didactic and functional way. Emoji are a contemporary glyph system which offer an emotional shorthand for virtual expression. The pleasurable stylizations are ubiquitous worldwide and across generations. Transcribing visual symbologies of an earlier era using emoji makes perfect nonsense-sense to me, particularly with Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, in that his own visual style was so idiosyncratic and remarkably distinct in contrast to his peers. His transgression of the codified religious iconography of his day, his humor and irreverence, appeal to me most, and feel “modern.” So, why not revisit an epic story depicting human folly and earthly debauchery with the cute and virtual signs (symbols) of our times? 
 
             Right Panel Detail.
 
You've said “emoji adds a new flatness to the iconography of the past, emptying it of controversy and replacing it with something akin to Murakami’s Superflat aesthetic questioning the “sins” of our contemporary consumer culture.” Can you expand on this? 
 
Sabin Bors has just written a tremendous essay on my work, "Digicalyptic Realities Or, The Frolic of the Flat," soon to be published on Anti-Utopias, so I’m going to let him “speak” for a moment:
 
“Like with Murakami, the flattened forms in the work of Carla Gannis are an expression of the shallow emptiness that defines consumer culture. They, too, reflect the consumerist pop culture, sexual fetishisms and underlying desires that are prevalent in today’s society by appealing to distorted images and grotesque scenes impregnated with the jolly yet most often empty emotionality we’ve become so accustomed to using in our daily expressions.” …. “What makes the Garden of Emoji Delights unique is that the visual communication language it manipulates is deeply rooted in our reflexive and ordinary communication. A double subversion thus takes place: the subversion of visual communication languages, and the subversion of art history.” – Sabin Bors, 2014
 
Left Panel Detail.
 
Is there a particular reason why you chose this triptych to experiment with your work and what were the interesting elements?
This triptych, Bosch’s most ambitious work, has been a favorite piece of mine for a long time, and I’m not alone in my admiration. It’s funny though, I’ve never seen it IRL, in the Museo del Prado. I only know it from countless reproductions. There are about 3,440,000 results for The Garden of Earthly Delights. Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel only returns 249,000 in comparison (I’ve seen it for real), and even a search for emoji comes in only at 2,340,000 results. I suppose my having a relationship with the piece always as a reproduction, most often as a digital one, mixed with its epic popularity, has made it more enticing to re-create an emoji version as “real” – in the exact same dimensions
as the original, 7' 3" x 12' 9”.
 
Middle Panel Detail.
 

Can you tell us about the workflow for The Garden of Emoji Delights? What was your creative process? 
I’ve created an entire image bank of hi-res digital emoji/Bosch characters. Making my garden to the scale of the original has taken quite some time. Emoji-fying the triptych and then animating it has taken 1000s of hours working in Photoshop and After Effects, along with some work in Scultpris, and DAZ 3D. My studio assistant Rafia Santana must get a shout here, for sticking with me on this project.
 
Also, I’ve collaborated with artist Everett Kane, on Escape Pod for The Garden of Emoji Delights (#GED) shows upcoming. We’ll be showing a 3D print of the piece at Kasia Kay Art Projects in Chicago this Friday and the turntable video of the 3D model with TRANSFER in Brooklyn next Friday.
 
Kane and I got inspired to revisit the "Tree-Man," in Bosch’s Hell panel (some claim it’s a self-portrait). We worked in ZBrush and Maya and with a Dimension 3D Printer.

 
There have also been flirtations with other emoji/Bosch pieces, like this datavis sketch done in Processing or this fake promo ad for a Garden of Emoji Delights iOS app, but I’m not sure if I’ll go further with them.
 
Escape Pod, 2014
 

What does the animated version add to this work?
One intention of the triptych was to mash up classic and contemporary sign systems, and to diversify and expand the emoji lexicon through this process. The large static piece is an homage to Bosch, and deeply tied in scale and physicality to the original. The subsequent animations I’ve produced allow me to be more dynamic with this hybrid visual vocabulary, and I can play more (and at times critique more), across time, with the slippage of signifiers. 
 

when Hell freezes over from Carla Gannis on Vimeo.

Can we expect you to revisit other classics? Any other projects in sight?
I’ve been thinking about what’s next, and if I’ll revisit any other works from the Western canon. I made a more photographic appropriation of Hitchcock’s Rear Window a few years ago, and throughout my work I reference “classic” films, artworks, games and literary works. 
 Most recently I’ve been thinking quite a bit about Marcel Duchamp’s Box in a Valise. In the age of versioning and infinite reproducibility, what might an internet version be like, or a suitcase filled with gifs on tiny screens.




Do you already know which Emoji costume you will dress for the screening of Halloween? Give us a clue 
I’ll be honest the smiling poop emoji is my all time favorite -- a perfect metaphor for life, you know? But after working with hundreds upon hundreds of Emoji for the past year, it’s hard for me to select a single emoji identity. I’m thinking right now as going as an emoji phrase or pun...
 
     
 
Catch The Garden of Emoji Delights at the Kasia Kay Art Projects Gallery until November 15th, 2014.
 
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