By Jessie Eikmann, Assistant Features Editor
With all of the modern dependence on machines, it is not difficult to imagine that the world is headed toward the futuristic scenario envisioned by science fiction writers, one where robots are as ubiquitous as humans. University of Missouri—St. Louis alumnus Landon Ruan, in his new exhibit at Gallery Visio, extends his vision even farther than the futuristic.
The title of Ruan’s collection tells that he has created a “New St. Louis.” He explained his concept in this way: “Before this world was happening there was what I would call the futuristic St. Louis, with everything created by powered machine and mechanical things, and there was almost no nature. Everything was robots and cyborgs. Then 1000 years later something happened and people tired of that, so they wanted to bring the nature back.”
His new version of St. Louis is a vibrant, diverse world where humans, animals, and robots all live together. This future society also brings back traditions and clothing that are reminiscent of the European Renaissance, lending a fascinating blend of old and new culture to his collection.
Ruan cites 2-D animation as an influence on his art. “My credits are Studio Ghibli, the Japanese animation company … and I also have a lot of references and inspiration from Disney films as well.” It is clear from the many character sketches in the collection that he takes after these studios’ ability to populate worlds with colorful characters. Two walls of the exhibit are devoted to sketches of a single character in a variety of facial expressions.
True to his idea about the harmony of “New St. Louis,” the characters are a mixture of people, animals, and anthropomorphic machines. Some of the characters are animal athletes that inhabit pictures like the football scene “Intense Match.” The comparable athletes in the character sketches have playful monikers like The Boss, Featherless Giant, Bursting Meteor, and Lucky Buddy. Other athletes are robots with nicknames like Metal and Iron Mask. Several of the human characters pay homage to the Renaissance aspect of Ruan’s world, including “Sir Murdock, Sir Ernisher, and the jester Jake Prat.
Ruan’s concept is unusual, but he manages to tie it together in an imaginative way. In addition to his sketches, Ruan includes story arcs and pictures of the different creatures interacting seamlessly. In a short series, he depicts preparations for a Disney-style ball, culminating in the piece “At the Banquet,” an intricate pen-and-ink sketch that features a human girl and her wolf-like dance partner.
Other pieces show the harmony in Ruan’s universe. “Jake Prat and Chickens” is a scene with Prat the jester playing with a large robotic chicken and several smaller chickens. “In the Park” intimates a similar harmony, as the robot floating in the water under the bridge seems content and a natural part of the scene.
Perhaps the most interesting part of Ruan’s concept is the way that the machines are portrayed. Many of them have eyes or animalistic features, even the ones that are not designed to be imitations of animals. He does this because, as he said, “I want to give life for everything, even the machines. An eye is something to observe the world around it. Even though they are just machines or not human, they can have a life.”
One example of this is in the piece “Riverhorse Ship,” where the seahorse attributes of an eye and orange “skin” are mixed with pipes, jets, and an elaborate propulsion and rigging system. The airships look both futuristic and classical. One of the ships hovering over the St. Louis cityscape in the “Riverside” sketch looks like a mix of a fighter jet and a ship, meshing well with the old-fashioned ships floating in the water toward the St. Louis shoreline. With these details, Ruan expertly straddles the lines between animated and mechanical and traditional and futuristic.
“New St. Louis” will be on display at Gallery Visio until February 26. The collection is open for viewing on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. To contact Gallery Visio, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 314-516-7922.