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Conspiracy theories and aliens among us: The art of Dasha Bazanova

BY ROMAN KALINOVSKI | Aliens recently landed on the Lower East Side! In March, Space 776 gallery, at 37-39 Clinton St., was occupied by UFOs, aliens and cryptids, like Bigfoot, for Dasha Bazanova’s solo show “Aliens R Us.”

Bazanova uses paint and ceramic to create characters and narratives inspired by sci-fi and conspiracy theories. Alien characters have long been used in sci-fi as proxies for real-world issues. This goes back to the early era of sci-fi, with works like H.G. Wells’s “The War of the Worlds,” featuring a Martian invasion that served as a commentary on Victorian-era society and British imperialism.

“Lizardman” (2023), oil paint on wood in ceramic frame.

Bazanova’s work continues this sci-fi tradition, with her painting “Usurpation” (2024) depicting UFOs hovering over the U.S. Capitol building and lizard-like creatures scaling its walls — an “alien” invasion standing in for the events of Jan. 6, 2021. The attack on the Capitol involved a conspiracy to overthrow an election and was not carried out by an external alien force but rather by homegrown radicals.

Some of Bazanova’s paintings play with the “ancient astronaut” conspiracy trope — the idea that megalithic monuments, like Stonehenge and the pyramids, were built by visitors from outer space rather than through human ingenuity. TV shows like the History Channel’s long-running series “Ancient Aliens” promote pseudoscientific theories about how such monuments were built.

“Rum Runner / Interrupted Party” (2023), ceramic, glaze.

Bazanova’s painting “Stonehenge Construction” (2024) shows UFOs building the megalithic structure, moving stone blocks into place with beams of light as strange lizard-like creatures look on from the grass. For those who subscribe to “ancient astronaut” theories, the idea that aliens visited Earth and built such monuments seems more plausible than the notion that prehistoric humans had the ingenuity and skill to construct them independently. Many consider these theories problematic, minimizing human achievement and favoring outlandish conspiratorial explanations. Bazanova’s parodic paintings show how bizarre this line of thinking can be.

Bazanova’s artworks are hybrid forms: painterly and sculptural at the same time. She encloses her paintings, executed in oil on wood, in elaborate ceramic frames. The frame surrounding “Stonehenge Construction” extends the painting’s colors and imagery, with the foreground’s grass and cattails escaping the picture plane and threatening to creep onto the gallery wall.

“Lizard Ramones Fan” (2023), ceramic, glaze.

“Lizardman” (2023) is set in a gold ceramic frame that recalls the ornate gilded picture frames of the Baroque. Covered with botanical motifs and twisting serifs, the frame is as much a work of art as the image it surrounds — in this case, an image of a lizard/human hybrid wearing a black suit.

The paintings and sculptures featured in “Aliens R Us,” like many works of sci-fi, use the theme of the alien to reexamine the familiar. Bazanova uses alien characters to poke fun at outlandish conspiracy theories while examining serious issues. Ultimately, the show’s title rings true: The aliens are us. In the stories we tell and the narratives we consume, our desires and anxieties are reflected back at us through the character of the alien.

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