As head of the Aurora-Rhoman Institute of Archaeology and Cultural Relics, Dallas-based artist Joshua Goode travels the world uncovering evidence of the Aurora-Rhoman Empire. It's an ancient Texas civilization centered around property in Northeast Texas that's now owned by Goode’s family. Since the Aurora-Rhomans migrated to Texas from Europe, remnants of their culture have been found in several countries in Europe as well as right here in Texas.
If you happened to be in South Dallas on Feb. 18, you might have witnessed an archaeological dig on the property of The MAC’s new location in the Cedars. Led by Goode under the supervision of Dr. Ashley Lemke, a sociology and anthropology professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, a group of UTA students uncovered a number of Aurora-Rhoman artifacts. They were found under the grinning visage of the Outhouse Oracle, a massive, sphinx-like figure with the head of a man and the breasts of a woman that, yes, straddles an outhouse.
If you missed the dig, the artifacts found at the MAC will be on view at the MAC through March 11, alongside an array of previously discovered Aurora-Rhoman artifacts.
The Dinosaur Bone Fertility Shovel, a previously uncovered shovel embedded in a plaster base, hangs directly behind Baby Mammoth Tusk Orthodontic Corrective Headgear, a set of plaster-enclosed headgear with a hand-crafted leather and bead strap. In display cases to the right, a series of drawings on paper illustrate some of the icons and figures central to Aurora-Rhoman mythology. Examples are encased in bell jars adjacent: otherworldly figures with snake-like heads, a headless winged horse and a six-headed dinosaur.
There’s a great history of artists creating elaborate imaginary worlds. In case you hadn’t caught on, the Aurora-Rhomans are fictional. Just like science-fiction writers, artists Joshua Goode, Matthew Barney and Mai-Thu Perret — the latter of whom recently created an installation for the Nasher — spend hours defining every last detail of the worlds their art will exist within. Goode went so far as to write a novel about the history of the Aurora-Rhoman Civilization.
Goode’s work is both farcical and sincere. He is interested in archaeological hoaxes such as the Piltdown Man, Charles Dawson’s “missing link” between ape and man, but each sculpture is also highly personal. The Outhouse Oracle is an early 20th century outhouse found on his parents' property that has been reassembled on-site at the MAC, while the gold-painted figures seen throughout the exhibit are reinterpretations of figurines that belonged to Goode in childhood. They have been a consistent part of Goode’s oeuvre for a number of years.
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Other pieces at the MAC, such as the Pygmy Bull Mummy, a plaster enclosed “mummy” of a floppy-eared Aurora-Rhoman creature called the pygmy bull, contains a toy that belongs to his daughter. The Dinosaur Egg Tomb blends the histories of multiple generations in Goode’s family by including references to himself, his great grandfather and his children.
Despite the sense of remove often encouraged by the fantastical, Goode's civilization is a thinly disguised way of telling and preserving his own story; a story that began with his parents and sister, but has evolved as he’s grown older to include his wife and children. By approaching his story with an imaginary historical lens, Goode is able to grant it a sense of legitimacy. With the exhibit, he also calls into question the way history is written, since he leaves traces of himself on the artifacts.
Cultural artifacts, whether they're validated by museums or not, are imbued with an inescapable mythology that owes itself to time, place and the stories we tell and retell. By re-contextualizing his own objects as belonging to myths through the use of mummy and sphinx imagery, and putting them on display, Goode argues for greater consideration of our own lives.
In our celebrity-obsessed culture aren't we learning anyway that individual people, in all their everydayness, are what truly interests us? Goode’s memories and the seemingly trite objects he mythologizes — toys, headgear, creatures from childhood movies such as The Neverending Story — are the things that actually make up a life. Why aren’t these things in the gallery? Why aren’t these things a part of history?