Alex Jackson’s Mythologies of Survival

Alex Jackson’s
The House of Asterion (For Borges) (2023) features the first pages of a U.S. passport for the Minotaur, the Greek mythological creature with the head and tail of a bull and the body of a man. On the passport, we read the animal’s given name, Asterion (or “star”), and nationality, Labyrinth, written against a background of the American national seal and red and white stripes of a waving U.S. flag — all detailed airbrushed and painted with painstakingly naturalistic precision. Jackson’s reimagining of the passport renders the object and its nationalist iconography just as mythic and constructed as a half-man, half-bull creature. The artist’s intervention illuminates the mythology inherent in national borders and regulatory documents used to summarize, identify, and track individuals and their movements. 

The House of Asterion appeared in Jackson’s solo exhibition Easy Victor, on view at Peep in Philadelphia from April 29 through June 3, 2023. The show featured painted and drawn infographics and instructional documents for the fictitious airline, Daedalus Airways. In Greek mythology, the architect and inventor Daedalus and his son Icarus designed a labyrinth in Crete to keep the monstrous Minotaur trapped. The creature is eventually slain by Theseus, who uses a ball of thread to navigate the maze and a hidden sword to kill the Minotaur. Like the story, the works in the exhibition reflect tensions between safety and danger, movement and captivity, and authority and dissent. In the painting, the Minotaur poses for his passport photo, unsmiling with eyes open, his portrait appearing alongside two images of eagles, the national bird of the U.S., which remain flightless on the gallery wall. The painting itself, measuring just under seven by ten inches, defies and extends the scale of its document of inspiration.  

Jackson cheekily signs the work at the bottom, his name appearing as an official line on the passport’s machine-readable barcode. This name, along with a fingerprint (perhaps Jackson’s own?), might prompt us to wonder, is Jackson, himself, the Minotaur? Are we? Are we the makers of the maze or those trapped within, or perhaps both? The fingerprint alludes to forensics, biometrics, and means of human classification and surveillance in relation to crime and arrest, prompting the question: does the passport enable our travel or our capture? 

This image shows two Alex Jackson's works, Daedalus Airways, 2023, Acrylic on Panel, 5 x 16 inches on the right; and on the right is Departure Points (Preparatory Drawings/Instructions/Guidelines for Future Works), 2023, Ink and Graphic on Drafting Vellum.
Right: Alex Jackson, Daedalus Airways, 2023, Acrylic on Panel, 5 x 16 inches. Left: Alex Jackson, Departure Points (Preparatory Drawings/Instructions/Guidelines for Future Works), 2023, Ink and Graphic on Drafting Vellum, thumbtacks, various sizes. Image courtesy of the artist and Peep.



The work’s title The House of Asterion (For Borges) pays homage to the Argentine magical realist and fantasy writer Jorge Luis Borges, who explored themes of labyrinths and mythology in his short stories and essays. Borges wrote the short story “The House of Asterion” in 1947, reimagining the fable from the perspective of the Minotaur and challenging notions of monstrosity. Like Borges, Jackson explores myths and mazes, confronting systems of categorization to question how we see and envision individuals, worlds, and means of worldbuilding. 

On an adjacent wall from The House of Asterion is the painting Daedalus Airways (2023), which reveals a maze in thin lavender and red lines against a mauve background and a teal logo reading “AIRWAYS” framed by two small, orange stars. After Theseus slays the Minotaur, Daedalus and Icarus are suspected of treason and imprisoned in the labyrinth. Daedalus fashions wings for him and his son to escape, but Icarus flies too high. The sun melts his wings, and Icarus falls into the ocean and drowns. Daedalus the painting and Daedalus the craftsman give us both the maze and the air, the promise of escape and the threat of freefall. Spending a few minutes with the painting, one soon realizes that the maze is not solvable and does not allow for departure. Despite the hope promised by stars and potential airways, and with or without a passport, Daedalus ensures neither flight nor liberation.    

This image is Alex Jackson's In the Case of Turbulence, 2023, Acrylic on Aluminum Panel, 37 x 60 inches.
Alex Jackson, In the Case of Turbulence, 2023, Acrylic on Aluminum Panel, 37 x 60 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Peep.


In the event of an emergency landing, those on board would suffer significant turbulence and trauma. The largest paintings in the show are titled In the Case of Turbulence and Water Evacuation, their imagery recalling the safety instructional pamphlets included in the back pockets of airplane seats. In the Case of Turbulence details various panels of images that appear almost legible, the words “oxygen” and “exit path” visible alongside icons of fire, seatbelts, cigarettes, and an airplane model. Jackson renders these words and images in thick, layered, dirty pastel hues and in stuttering duplicates, as if a printer errored in hiccups or ran out of primary colors. Though on an actual flight these emergency pamphlets most often depict white, faceless silhouettes or light-skinned figures with placid facial expressions, the people in Water Evacuation are of varying shades of darker skin and their faces reveal sadness, fear, and concern. In a series of non-sequential images, a caregiver and an infant evacuate a plane submerged in water. With orange life jackets and a baby bottle, wet pants and sneakers, they float at sea or in a yellow inflatable raft, their future uncertain.   

This image is Alex Jackson's Water Evacuation, 2023, Acrylic and Flashe on Aluminum Panel, 26 x 38 inches.
Alex Jackson, Water Evacuation, 2023, Acrylic and Flashe on Aluminum Panel, 26 x 38 inches. Image courtesy of the artist and Peep.


The Water Evacuation imagery recalls photos and film footage of the ongoing global refugee crisis in which millions of people are displaced from their homeland due to poverty, violence, persecution, and climate change. Additionally, the phrase “Easy Victor,” when used on a flight, alerts the crew to prepare for an evacuation of the plane. In this exhibition of pamphlets and a passport, Jackson rewrites official documents of restriction, access, transport, and control. Without the proper identification or with emergency pamphlets that cannot ensure a safe landing, survival reads like a maze along mythological borders. 

Alex Jackson’s exhibition, Easy Victor, on view from April 29 through June 3, 2023, at Peep, 1400 N American St. #109, Philadelphia, PA 19122; @peepprojects

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