The Providence, Rhode Island-based artist and musician Carlos Gonzalez came up with the general concept for his feature-length movie Forgotten Worlds while on a long tour performing music at underground venues across the United States. “For whatever reason [the tour] was rough for me psychically or mentally,” Gonzalez told me over the phone this week. “Just kind of feeling this detachment or something from what I was doing that was a little bit demoralizing.” The film, which will screen in part this Saturday at the Chinatown gallery Bridget Donahue, obliquely expands on this disillusionment.
Made between 2013 and 2015—mostly in Providence, but also in locations as far flung as Reno, Nevada; Oakland, California; and the artist’s home state of Florida—Forgotten Worlds stars Gonzalez as a Western-wear-clad dentist who abandons his local practice and takes his skills on the road. Gonzalez described the main character as “kind of a drifter type, sort of this Western drifter. But he’s got this trade that he can do pretty much anywhere.” The film’s loose plot follows the protagonist running into a variety of characters and “doing dentistry on them, and that being open to abstraction, just kind of staring into people’s mouths,” Gonzalez continued. “He’s already going through a rough patch, and he kind of sees the dark side while he’s doing this dentistry.”
Forgotten Worlds, which was recently released as a limited-edition VHS tape by the Pleasure Editions imprint, was shot on VHS and DV cameras and edited entirely onto tape using a rudimentary outboard video mixer. It moves in and out of dialogue-focused scenes and more ethereal passages. Some moments resemble canonical video art, while others bring to mind the mystery of a found thrift-store tape. The acting is often funny, and allusions to touring life are present. “It’s been a part of my whole adult life, pretty much,” Gonzalez said, of DIY touring, “and like anything, when you invest a lot of time and energy into something, and it’s starting to pay low dividends spiritually back to you, it can be kind of rough, you know?”
Emerging from the 2000s-era American underground, Gonzalez has been making music and art for well over a decade, earning legendary status within certain niche communities along the way. He is a prolific comic artist, known for his Slime Freak series as well as the graphic novel Test Tube, released by Floating World Comics. As a musician, under the moniker Russian Tsarlag, he trades in a singular brand of stark, downcast pop, and he was a member of the cult Providence punk band Dynasty. Around four years ago, Gonzalez showed some videos at Tomato House, the now-defunct Brooklyn space run by artists Matthew Thurber and Rebecca Bird.
With that said, this is his first screening at a Manhattan gallery. In addition to Forgotten Worlds, three new short films will be shown. One of them, titled Buy This Car, deals with a used-car salesmen who gets diagnosed with a blood clot in his brain. “Before he has that final aneurysm, he has this motivation to make sort of the ‘perfect pitch’ for used cars and combines his salesmanship with abstraction to make the final plea to buy some of the cars that he has,” Gonzalez, who plays the car dealer, said. “I thought the idea of the ‘pitch’ and using a car advertisement as a medium for something more abstract just seemed like it was pretty rich.”
Gonzalez is currently working on another graphic novel for Floating World and will have a new self-released Russian Tsarlag cassette, titled Drifting Down the Road, available for sale at the screening this weekend. “There’re certain images that I’m attracted to and end up reusing without really meaning to,” the artist said, when asked if there were any connecting properties that run across his many disciplines. “It’s all home-spun, you know,” he continued. “It’s all fairly crude, but it all seeks to give off some kind of a feeling, whether it’s emotional or just abstract.”