When Horses Were Coconuts
The collective 13BC makes moving image work shaped by extensive research and committed to histories that elude official representation and record. When Horses Were Coconuts specifically considers the ongoing legacy of the atomic bomb and the inextricable histories of warfare, mass-media spectacle, pollution, and public memory.
The silent and ethereal underwater footage of When Horses Were Coconuts was inspired by the 1951 CBS News coverage of an atomic bomb test in Frenchman Flat, Nevada. While cameras captured what became the first live televised footage of the bomb, no adequate sound was recorded. Instead, an influential Foley artist named Robert L. Mott reimagined the sound for television by sourcing an audio recording of a waterfall from the CBS sound library, remixing it backwards and slowed down. The deep rumble he fabricated not only aired the night of the live televised event, but set the template for the infamous sound associated with the atomic bomb to this day. When Horses Were Coconuts works in the shadow of this recording and its history — refusing the iconic image of the mushroom cloud and instead offering an analogical visualization of Mott’s mythologized roar. The result is a representation of an absent but all-too familiar sound, producing an image “to be heard with the eyes,” in the collective’s words.
The work was filmed with an underwater handheld camera, swimming towards a waterfall in an upstate tributary of the Hudson River. By flipping the river’s surface upside down, the artists have created an otherworldly effect; the camera seems to skim over a quicksilver sea churning with toxic neon, as light rays stream and air bubbles rush through a murky sky. At once peaceful and poisonous, this image distills the widely diffused ecological and social consequences of weapons testing and opens towards strange timescales of viewing, even prior to our contemporary situation of remote simultaneity. In the collective’s words:
“Televised events like atomic bomb tests, the moon landing, or more than a century’s worth of Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball drops, were not only massive media spectacles. They also marked a time of simultaneous yet atomized viewing, of millions of people around the world watching and listening to an epochal event from their living rooms. Here, displayed simultaneously on multiple screens, and silent amidst the noise of Times Square, a small stream 120 miles north becomes the glittering image of a sound that shaped a half century of atomic imagination, anxiety and threat.”
When Horses Were Coconuts is part of a larger project titled Fatal Act, originally presented at 80WSE in 2019, consisting of four video works that together plumb the history of nuclear warfare.
13BC is a research and production collective for moving images co-founded in 2015 by Vic Brooks, Lucy Raven, and Evan Calder Williams. 13BC’s solo exhibition Fatal Act premiered at 80 Washington Square East Galleries, New York University in 2019 and subsequently toured to Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin. Previous exhibitions and screenings include Modern Mondays: An Evening with 13BC, Doc Fornight 2020, The Museum of Modern Art, New York (2020); La Grand Balcon, La Biennale de Montréal (2016); Each Aspect of Life Is a Thing of Triad, mumok, Vienna (2016); Fade In: Int. Art Gallery - Day, Swiss Institute, New York (2016); Over You/You, 31st Biennial of Graphic Arts, Ljubljana (2015); and Random Acts, Frieze Film / Channel 4 Television, London (2015).
Lucy Raven (b. 1977, Tucson, Arizona) is an artist based in New York City. A co-founder of 13BC, her work is grounded primarily in animation and moving image installations. She has had exhibitions and screenings internationally, including at the Guggenheim Museum, New York; The Serpentine Gallery, London; MoMA and PS 1, New York; Portikus, Frankfurt; the Tate Modern, London; and the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. A new permanent public artwork will open this September at the forthcoming Bauhaus Museum in Dessau, Germany on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the school’s founding. She teaches at Cooper Union School of Art in New York.
Evan Calder Williams (b. 1982, Portland, Maine) is a writer, theorist, and filmmaker based in Shady, NY. He is the author of Combined and Uneven Apocalypse; Roman Letters; Shard Cinema; and two forthcoming books, The Negative Archive and Manual Override: A Theory of Sabotage. He is an editor of Viewpoint Magazine and the translator, with David Fernbach, of a new edition of Mario Mieli’s Towards a Gay Communism. His individual and collaborative films, installations, and audio works have been exhibited at the Berlinale, Mercer Union, ISSUE Project Room, the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma, and other institutions and festivals. He teaches at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College.
Vic Brooks (b. 1979, London, UK) is a curator and filmmaker based in Shady, NY. Alongside co-founding 13BC, she is senior curator of time-based visual art at EMPAC / Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, co-chair of the Contemporary Curatorial Workshop at Williams Graduate Program in the History of Art, and works with the Calder Foundation to commission artists working in moving image. Brooks has commissioned and produced new works in the expanded field of visual art, moving image, and performance with artists such as Charles Atlas, Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener, Martine Syms, Laure Prouvost, Ephraim Asili, Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, Clarissa Tossin, and Moved by the Motion (Wu Tsang, boychild, Josh Johnson, Patrick Belaga, Asma Maroof).