Inspired

An Ancient Middle Eastern City Destroyed by a Meteor May Have Inspired the Bible’s Tale of Sodom and Gomorrah, a New Study Says


New research suggests that the ancient Bronze Age city of Tall el-Hamman, in modern-day Jordan, was destroyed by a meteor—and that the catastrophic event could have inspired the Bible’s tale of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The city, located in the southern Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea, reached its zenith some 3,600 years ago. At the time, about 50,000 people lived in the valley’s three major cities and surrounding regions. Tall el-Hamman itself was home to some 8,000 residents, who lived mud brick homes of up to five stories.

An airburst meteor explosion appears to have been the city’s downfall, according to a new paper published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

An asteroid blew up into a massive fireball about 2.5 miles above the Middle Eastern city, instantly killing the town’s 8,000 residents as temperatures on the ground skyrocketed to 3,600 degrees, according to the news site the Conversation. The explosion would been followed in seconds by a 740-mile-per-hour shockwave with the force of a nuclear weapon, reducing buildings to rubble and instantly transforming the thriving metropolis into a smoking wasteland.

If that is how Tall el-Hamman met its end, it would have been similar to the destruction of the two sinful Old Testament cities in the Book of Genesis.

Researchers stand near the ruins of Tall el-Hammam's ancient walls, with the destruction layer about midway down each exposed wall. Photo by Phil Silvia, Creative Commons <a href=https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/4.0/ target="_blank" rel="noopener">Attribution-NoDerivs 4.0 Generic</a> license.

Researchers stand near the ruins of Tall el-Hammam’s ancient walls, with the destruction layer about midway down each exposed wall. Photo by Phil Silvia, Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 4.0 Generic license.

“Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens,” the Bible reads. “Thus He overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land.”

The paper’s authors contend that winds from the blast also would have impacted the nearby city of Jericho, knocking down its walls and setting it afire. The Old Testament also recounts the Israelites’ conquering of Jericho in the Book of Joshua, with the city’s walls falling after the army marched around the city four times and sounded their trumpets.

Solving the mystery of what happened took 15 years of excavation and careful study, with 21 archaeologists, geologists, geochemists, geomorphologists, mineralogists, paleobotanists, sedimentologists, cosmic-impact experts, and medical doctors collaborating on the final paper.

Archaeologists studying the ruins Tall el-Hamman found what they called the destruction layer: A mix of charcoal, ash, and melted pottery that was five feet thick—the kind of devastation that comes from superheated temperatures of a firestorm, ruling out human warfare and other natural disasters such as a volcano, earthquake, fire, or tornado as its cause.

The extent of the cosmic airburst at Tunguska, Siberia (1908), superimposed on the Dead Sea area. Image by Phil Silvia, Creative Commons <a href=https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/ target="_blank" rel="noopener">Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic</a> license.

The extent of the cosmic airburst at Tunguska, Siberia (1908), superimposed on the Dead Sea area. Image by Phil Silvia, Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license.

The team used the online impact calculator, a tool developed by impact experts, to model scenarios that matched the physical evidence, compared to the effects of known impact events and nuclear detonations. Of the 17 observations, only a meteor matched all the data.

A cosmic airburst sounds like an otherworldly event, but other instances have been documented, such the explosion over Tunguska, Russia, in 1908. Such explosions are rare, with thousands of years between known events. Tall el-Hamman is the second-earliest airburst to be identified, after one in Abu Hureyra, Syria, which experts believe was destroyed by a comet some 12,800 years ago, and may represent the first written record of such a catastrophic event.

The Tall el-Hamman meteor was probably larger than the one that struck Tunguska, but no bigger than 200 to 250 feet across.

“Otherwise, the object would have hit the ground and created a large crater like Meteor Crater in Arizona,” study coauthor Allen West, of the Comet Research Group, told Forbes.

Spherules made of melted sand (upper left), palace plaster (upper right) and melted metal (bottom two) found in the ruins of Tall el-Hammam. Photo by Malcolm LeCompte, Creative Commons <a href=https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/4.0/ target="_blank" rel="noopener">Attribution-NoDerivs 4.0 Generic</a> license.

Spherules made of melted sand (upper left), palace plaster (upper right) and melted metal (bottom two) found in the ruins of Tall el-Hammam. Photo by Malcolm LeCompte, Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 4.0 Generic license.

The team behind the research was quick to clarify that their discovery was not definitive evidence that the Bible account was based on a true story.

“All the observations stated in Genesis are consistent with a cosmic airburst,” study coauthor James Kennett, professor of earth science at U.C. Santa Barbara, said in a statement, “but there’s no scientific proof that this destroyed city is indeed the Sodom of the Old Testament.”

Nevertheless, the evidence is compelling.

Furnace experiments indicated that the melted mudbricks had reached temperatures of 2,700 degrees. Tiny melted spherules found in the destruction layer were made when vaporized iron and sand reached 2,900 degrees. There were melted metallic grains of iridium (which has a melting point of 4,435 degrees), platinum (3,215 degrees), and zirconium silicate (2,800 degrees).

Electron microscope images of numerous small cracks in shocked quartz grains found in the ruins of Tall el-Hammam. Photo by Allen West, Creative Commons <a href=https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/4.0/ target="_blank" rel="noopener">Attribution-NoDerivs 4.0 Generic</a> license.

Electron microscope images of numerous small cracks in shocked quartz grains found in the ruins of Tall el-Hammam. Photo by Allen West, Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 4.0 Generic license.

Other signs indicating there had been a massive explosion included tiny grains of shocked quartz that only form under 725,000 pounds per square inch of pressure, and carbon in the form of tiny microscopic diamonoids, each smaller than a virus, that likely came from plants exposed to super high temperatures and pressure.

The area around Tall el-Hamman lay fallow for 600 years following the blast—possibly because the explosion also impacted the nearby Dead Sea, scattering its salty waters across the Jordan Valley and making the formerly arable land sterile. To this day, excavators found that salt would leach out of the destruction layer into the morning dew, leaving a white crust atop the ruins each day.

“Any survivors of the blast would have been unable to grow crops and therefore are likely to have been forced to abandon the area,” the study said.

We can expect similarly destructive cosmic events to happen every few thousand years, the paper continued: “although the risk is low, the potential damage is exceedingly high.”

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Archeologists Find the Hidden Original Form of Arthur’s Stone, an Ancient Structure That Inspired the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’


For the first time ever, archaeologists have excavated sites near Arthur’s Stone, shedding new light on the origins of the mysterious Neolithic structure, which dates to around 3700 BCE—a full millennium before the construction of Stonehenge (2500 BCE). Based on the new findings, the famed rock tomb in Herefordshire, England now seems to have been part of a region-wide community of shared burial rituals.

According to the archaeologists from the University of Manchester and Cardiff, the hulking Stone Age tomb can now be understood in relation to the 6,000-year-old “halls of the dead” discovered nearby in 2013, which were used to store bodies before they were moved into individual chambered tombs. The researchers discovered the burned remains of the halls, which they said were intentionally set alight, and later incorporated into burial mounds.

Based on the new excavation’s findings, Arthur’s Stone was actually built in two distinct phases of construction. In its first incarnation, it was based on a large mound of stacked earth pointing southwest and surrounded by wooden posts, which ultimately decayed—similar in form to what is known of the “halls of the dead.” Later, it was rebuilt with larger post pillars, two rock chambers, and an upright stone facing southeast, according to Current Archaeology.

Excavations near Arthur's Stone. Courtesy of the University of Manchester and Cardiff.

Excavations near Arthur’s Stone. Courtesy of the University of Manchester and Cardiff.

Professor Julian Thomas, part of both the new excavation and the earlier finds, explained the significance of the new findings on the University of Manchester website. Because of the similarities between the previously hidden first phase of Arthur’s Stone and the recently identified “houses of the dead,” “the block of upland between the Golden Valley and the Wye Valley is now becoming revealed as hosting an integrated Neolithic ceremonial landscape.”

The excavation was part of the Beneath Hay Bluff Project, which is dedicated to investigating Neolithic structures in southwest Hereforshire.

The 2013 discovery yielded artifacts similar to others found in Yorkshire dating from 2600 BC. This led scholars to believe that the site remained an important venue for ceremonies 1,000 years after the halls were initially built, strongly suggesting links between communities in Hereforshire and East Yorkshire over many generations.

Arthur’s Stone, a UNESCO-listed heritage site, served as inspiration for the “stone table” in C.S. Lewis’s fantasy book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, where it was imagined as a table built by lion king Aslan’s father. Though Lewis’s version consists of a large slab of rock supported by four smaller rock pillars, the real-life structure is actually composed of nine standing stones supporting a 25-ton hulking quartz capstone.

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The Art Angle Podcast: How Britney Spears’s Image Inspired Millennial Artists


Welcome to the Art Angle, a podcast from Midnight Publishing Group News that delves into the places where the art world meets the real world, bringing each week’s biggest story down to earth. Join host Andrew Goldstein every week for an in-depth look at what matters most in museums, the art market, and much more with input from our own writers and editors as well as artists, curators, and other top experts in the field.

 

I’m sure you’ve heard it: For the past few months, the U.S. news media has been following the saga of pop star Britney Spears and the unusual conservatorship arrangement that prevents her from controlling her own finances or life decisions, put in place more than a decade ago after a very public breakdown. In June, Spears spoke out for the first time in court, asking for the conservatorship to be terminated. On the eve of this episode’s release, in fact, Britney is stronger than yesterday… yes, her father Jamie has agreed to step down from controlling his pop star daughter, after months of public pressure.

What, you may ask, does this have to do with art?

It turns out that long before the #FreeBritney movement had people poring over her Instagram for clues, or the New York Times documentary Framing Britney revisited what her story said about the media and misogyny, she’s been a surprisingly potent symbol for artists—in fact, maybe more than any other recent pop star. They’ve used her image to talk about sexism, about fame, about consumerism, and about the dark side of the 2000s.

Why Britney in particular? And does today’s reckoning with the recent past change the way that pop art takes on pop music? In a recent essay for Midnight Publishing Group News, LA-based art journalist Janelle Zara looked at artists’ fascination with Britney Spears, asking these questions and a lot more. This week, Zara joins senior writer Sarah Cascone to discuss the cult of Britney, and how she has become an unwitting inspiration to international artists.

 

Listen to Other Episodes:

The Art Angle Podcast: How the Medicis Became Art History’s First Influencers

The Art Angle Podcast: How Two Painters Helped Spark the Modern Conservation Movement

The Art Angle Podcast: The Hunter Biden Controversy, Explained

The Art Angle Podcast: Legendary Auctioneer Simon de Pury on Monaco, Hip Hop, and the Art Market’s New Reality

The Art Angle Podcast: 18-Year-Old NFT Star Fewocious on How Art Saved His Life, and Crashed Christie’s Website

The Art Angle Podcast (Re-Air): How Photographer Dawoud Bey Makes Black America Visible

The Art Angle Podcast: Tyler Mitchell and Helen Molesworth on Why Great Art Requires Trust

The Art Angle Podcast: How High-Tech Van Gogh Became the Biggest Art Phenomenon Ever

The Art Angle Podcast: How Much Money Do Art Dealers Actually Make?

The Art Angle Podcast: What Does the Sci-Fi Art Fair of the Future Look Like?

The Art Angle Podcast: How Kenny Schachter Became an NFT Evangelist Overnight

The Art Angle Podcast: How Breonna Taylor’s Life Inspired an Unforgettable Museum Exhibition

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Artist Delano Dunn Dishes Out His Family’s Secret Gumbo Recipe, Which Inspired His Latest Work


Making gumbo takes about six hours. Delano Dunn knows, because that’s about how long the video is for the Zoom cooking demonstration he did last May during his residency at Arts and Public Life in Chicago, preparing gumbo and sharing the family recipe for the first time.

“I had other artists who worked with food call in, and my mom called in, trouble shooting the gumbo as I was making it,” Dunn told Midnight Publishing Group News. “It was exhausting but it was a lot of fun.”

Dunn documented his gumbo recipe—named for his mother, Diane Mangle—from beginning to end as a way to complement “Roux,” a new series of mixed-media works inspired by the ingredients for the soup, a classic New Orleans dish featuring meat, seafood, and the Creole “holy trinity” of celery, bell pepper, and onion.

“Gumbo’s a huge part of my family,” Dunn said. “My experiences with it were sitting around in the kitchen, watching my mother clean shrimp, prepare the chicken, cut up the sausage, make the roux, stirring it forever to make sure it didn’t burn.”

“When I started the residency, I had just had some gumbo and was thinking about how important it was to me. I thought, ‘I’ll make a couple of works about gumbo—it will take me out of my comfort zone, because I don’t normally make work about food,’” Dunn said. “Then COVID hit and I couldn’t work on my other projects.”

In the end, “Roux” became a set of five collages and one half of the artist’s firstsolo museum show, “Delano Dunn: Novelties,” currently on view at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center in Vermont.

The works combine mylar, tape, wallpaper, vinyl, cellophane, and historical imagery borrowed from library archives that the artist scans and prints in high resolution. Dunn also incorporated a new material, aluminum roofing tar, in place of his typical shoe polish, which serves as a reference both to African American shoe shine boys and its use in blackface makeup.

Delano Dunn, <em>Untitled (Sassafras)</em>, 2020. Courtesy of Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, Vermont.

Delano Dunn, Untitled (Sassafras), 2020. Courtesy of Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, Vermont.

“I wanted to bring in material that had a history as a form of protection that I could still manipulate like I do with the shoe polish,” Dunn said. “Silver roofing tar deflects heat. It protects the inside environment so it doesn’t get too hot and the bills don’t go up.”

The final piece in the series is Untitled (The Bear). “I just wanted to think about my aggressive nature when it comes to the gumbo,” Dunn said. “I think I’m some kind of protector, preventing cultural appropriation.”

Delano Dunn, <em>Untitled (Flour)</em>, 2020. Courtesy of Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, Vermont.

Delano Dunn, Untitled (Flour), 2020. Courtesy of Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, Vermont.

But the series isn’t meant as a grand statement about the legacy of African American cuisine in Southern cooking traditions.

“I try not to think of the Black experience as a monolithic experience,” Dunn said. “I usually focus specifically on my experience as an aspect of the Black experience.”

 

Diane’s Gumbo

serves eight

Shrimp Stock

2 white onions
2 celery stalks
2 jars oysters
shells from 2 lbs shrimp
2 packs of dried shrimp
2 packs of ground shrimp

Gumbo

1 red bell pepper, diced
1 bunch of green onions, diced
7 garlic pieces
3–4 white onions
4 celery stalks
parsley
2 bay leaves
black pepper
red pepper
salt
oregano
Creole seasoning
filé powder
2 cups of vegetable oil
2 cups flour
2 packs of chicken breast and/or wings
12 blue crabs (alive)
King, Dungeness and/or other crab
10 lbs shrimp (2 lbs with heads on)
4 types of sausage (andouille, kielbasa, ect.)

Making the shrimp stock

The night before, combine packets of dried and powdered shrimp, onions cut in quarters, celery cut in quarters, garlic, cleaned shrimp heads, and the oysters (and their juice) with cold water in a large pot.

Boil and then let simmer as long as possible for a richer taste. You may add water during the summering process as needed.

Strain and cool stock and then refrigerate.

Making the gumbo

Cook chicken and sausage in separate skillets. This can be done a day in advance and refrigerated.

Heat up the stock in a large pot.

Heat oil in a large cast-iron skillet and add flour, stirring constantly, careful not to let it burn.

After roux reaches the color of milk chocolate (45 minutes to an hour), add the bell pepper, onions, and celery. Lower heat and cook until vegetables are soft. Continue to stir constantly.

Add sausage and chicken to hot stock. Cook for 20 minutes.

Add roux mixture to the stock and season with the bay leaves and powdered ingredients (parsley, black pepper, red pepper, salt, oregano, and Creole seasoning). Cook for another 20 minutes.

Add filé powder and let the gumbo thicken. You can always add more roux if your gumbo is not thick enough, or a little chicken broth or bottled oyster juice if it’s too thick.

Add green onions. Add shrimp and crab. Cover and cook for a few minutes.

Taste and see if you need more salt, pepper, etc. Serve over rice.

“Delano Dunn: Novelties” is on view at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, 10 Vernon Street, Brattleboro, Vermont June 19–October 11, 2021. 

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Britney Spears, Allegory of the 20th Century? How the Misunderstood Pop Star Has Inspired Visual Artists as an Avatar of the Early Aughts


In Because of You, French painter Claire Tabouret’s 2016 solo gallery debut in the U.S., the titular works were a pair of portraits of Britney Spears, mostly shorn, with the remnants of a brunette mane still hanging from the back of her scalp. In soft washes of oil paint, the canvases tenderly immortalized the infamous moment in 2007 when the pop star had shaved her own head, as well as the obsessive, particularly cruel media circus that followed. 

That episode was the first Tabouret had ever heard of Britney—but she was instantly struck by the singer’s removal of her own hair, a quintessential symbol of femininity. To her, this was an act of re-appropriating one’s image, a powerful rebuttal to the suffocating demands of unrelenting public scrutiny.

“These are themes that are often present in my work,” the painter told Midnight Publishing Group News, “the representation of the female body in public spaces and the politics of body language.”

Tabouret is not alone in her fascination with Britney’s image. Its undeniable potency recently reentered the headlines with the viral success of Framing Britney Spears, the New York Times documentary on the ongoing battle to #FreeBritney from her father’s conservatorship, followed by Spears’s own explosive testimony in a recent court appearance.

Claire Tabouret, <i>Because of You (Green)</i> (2016).

Claire Tabouret, Because of You (Green) (2016).

Like Tabouret, Framing Britney Spears also reflects on the media obsession with a star who regularly went viral before the invention of the term. It revisits the early aughts, when tabloids responded to the public’s insatiable appetite for Britney by paying up to $1 million for a single photograph, fomenting a spectacularly ruthless and constant invasion of her privacy. 

As Framing Britney Spears and the copycat documentaries that followed examine this startlingly toxic behavior, they join a project that artists had already started: a kind of cultural reckoning where Spears’s likeness becomes a vehicle of serious cultural critique.

Over the years, across painting, digital collage, and other media, Tabouret and others have used the star’s image to pose questions of media ethics; the role of technology in representation; authenticity versus artifice; and above all, pointed instances of sexism that were deemed perfectly acceptable in the very recent past. 

Looking to the past with a fresh pair of eyes, what emerges is an unlikely transformation: a former teen pop star turned allegorical symbol.

#FreeBritney activists protest at Los Angeles Grand Park during a conservatorship hearing for Britney Spears on June 23, 2021 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images)

#FreeBritney activists protest at Los Angeles Grand Park during a conservatorship hearing for Britney Spears on June 23, 2021 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images)

Pop in the Age of Digital Retouching 

In (Pop) Icon: Britney, artist R. Luke Dubois’s beguiling 2010 work of digital animation, clips from a DVD box set of Spears’s greatest hits morph from one scene to the next in a glowing, almost ethereal haze. Throughout the never-ending sequence, her eyes are unwavering, locked in position within an elaborate gilded frame. Her vocals are haunting, having been digitally hollowed-out to match the acoustics of Italy’s San Vitale Basilica, one of Western Europe’s most important sites of Byzantine iconography.

DuBois presents Britney as an icon in the original sense of the word—an object of religious veneration—while touching on the disruptive technologies that had emerged alongside her career. “She was the first pop star to exist entirely in the age of AutoTune and Photoshop,” he said, having taken digital audio and visual retouching to dramatic heights in his piece. 

R. Luke DuBois, “(Pop) Icon: Britney,” 2010 from bitforms gallery on Vimeo.

The work also references the popular obsession with catching Spears at her most unvarnished and unretouched, an “incredible violation of privacy” that she faced on a day-to-day basis. “I wanted to recontextualize [the media frenzy] in the broader framework of surveillance capitalism and surveillance culture,” he said, noting that the never-repeating imagery of (Pop) Icon: Britney is generated by a facial-recognition software that the U.S. military had developed in 2002, during the ascent of Britney-mania.  

The religious framing alludes to the fact that “Spears’s entire media management ecology was setting her up to maximize the Madonna-whore dichotomy in really gross ways,” he added. The Freudian theory suggests that men can view women as respectable virgins or objects of sexual fulfillment—but never both.

Sexism on a Popular Culture Scale

Although Britney is a talent in her own right, artists have looked less to her creative output than her place in a particularly fraught period in white American culture. Having dropped her first album in 1999, her most active years bookend a mythologized era of starry-eyed Americana: Below the glossy veneer of neoliberal optimism, rhinestoned trucker hats, and teenage romantic comedies (recall 1999 as the year of Cruel Intentions, American Pie, and She’s All That), it was the era of George W. Bush, the rapid expansion of the military industrial complex, and an encroaching economic collapse. Within a decade, the nadir of Britney’s career would coincide with a global recession. 

“The early 2000s seems to me almost the crescendo, the high point, the most dramatic version of sexism on a popular cultural scale,” says artist Casey Kauffmann, whose online practice of digital collage looks back at that period with both nostalgia and contempt.

Casey Kauffmann, <i>#dumphim</i> (2015), iPhone collage. Courtesy of the artist

Casey Kauffmann, #dumphim (2015), iPhone collage. Courtesy of the artist

She layers images of MTV sensations, including a young Britney in bedazzled short-shorts, between princess clip art and sparkling rainbows, the kind of superficial, candy-coated aesthetics that were prescribed to young girls during Kauffmann’s adolescence. On her Instagram feed, a space where women have recently found control over their own images, Britney, Paris Hilton, and other former teen idols appear to revel in the absurdity of each collage, but upon closer inspection, express exhaustion, frustration, and dread.

To Kauffmann, the recent Britney documentary was particularly hard to watch; she was struck by the cavalierness with which grown men could ask a young woman about the status of her virginity, her fitness as a mother, and the size and authenticity of her breasts.

All of this connects to the much longer history of male authorship in the representation of women, she said, which came to a head during the relentless paparazzi culture of the early aughts. According to Kauffmann, “You cannot disconnect Britney Spears from that era of deeply personal exposure, of extreme sexism with only a hint of agency.”

Artifice and Authenticity 

In Christophe Rohan de Chabot’s solo show at Gaudel de Stampa in Paris last year, the artist mounted two identical, close-up portraits of Britney across from two identical paintings of human skulls. Between them, immaculately combed “semi-natural” blonde wigs lay on the floor, suggesting she had been stripped of some synthetic veneer all the way down to her bones. 

“She’s always appeared somehow to me as a product, not simply as a human being,” Rohan de Chabot said, recalling the nervous anxiety he felt as a 13-year-old boy when Spears first appeared on his T.V.

In contrast to Tabouret’s description of Britney in terms of female empowerment, “that was not my vision of femininity,” he recalled, but rather of commercial export—an aggressively over-manufactured, over-sexualized version of the all-American girl. 

Christophe de Rohan Chabot, <i>BRITNEY/SKULL</i> at Gaudel de Stampa, Paris, 2020. Courtesy the artist and Gaudel de Stampa, Paris. Photo: Aurélien Mole

Christophe de Rohan Chabot, BRITNEY/SKULL at Gaudel de Stampa, Paris, 2020. Courtesy the artist and Gaudel de Stampa, Paris. Photo: Aurélien Mole

The reality of who or what Britney truly is gets lost somewhere between these polarized extremes of public opinion. “It’s easy to project on her,” DuBois said, especially given the proliferation of imagery taken without her consent.

Even as Framing Britney Spears critiques the distortions and lack of agency in the singer’s public image, director Samantha Stark admitted that Britney had zero participation in the documentary’s production.

“Since Britney has such a tight circle around her,” she told Entertainment Tonight, “journalists haven’t really been able to interview her freely.” (Britney later condemned the hypocrisy on Instagram, although fans fervently debate how much control she really has over her own feed.) 

What remains is a kind of symbolic abstraction that sits apart from reality, pieced together from snapshots that amount to literal seconds of Britney’s life. But as is the case for any allegorical figure, the accuracy of the depiction is less noteworthy than how it channels the cultural values of a specific time and place. As artists have used Britney’s image to confront various forms of cultural toxicity over the years, their wide-ranging sentiments span compassion, nostalgia, derision, and shame. 

Laura Collins, Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton in a Car. Image courtesy of THNK 1994 and the artist.

Today, arguably almost a decade since her last hit single, Britney’s ongoing place in the headlines affirms her enduring appeal, the scale and divisiveness of which have been met by few others. 

“Lady Diana was kind of similar, right?” DuBois wondered, recalling how media obsession eventually ended a princess’s life. But for him, the Britney phenomenon is truly singular.

After the commercial and critical success of his work (Pop) Icon: Britney, which is now in the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery, he and his dealer briefly discussed creating an entire series with other celebrities. DuBois ultimately declined, realizing that Britney’s virality is unparalleled.

“I would have had to come up with a whole other reason, another visual language for other people,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense with anybody else.”

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