Phantom Work
Oscillating Elevations
Erupting Depths

Diamond Head Diving Man
Aeolian Processes #1 , #2
The Shrine of the

A Little Larger Than
The Entire Universe


Airliner 4
A Strange Weather
The New Horizon
Black Ships Ate The Sky
Total Realm
Bent 003
Wake X!
Terra Incognita






Kurt Müller
Nobody's Property: Art, Land, Space , Princeton University Museum , catalogue text , 11-2010

Emre Hüner’s Juggernaut begins idyllically, if not optimistically. The video opens with a live-action sequence, based on archival images of Russian aviation clubs of the 1930s, in which young men encamped amongst forested ruins handle model rockets, search with binoculars, and wait, presumably for some airborne event. Their gear is immaculate and their mood hopeful.
Their anticipation, however, remains unanswered as the video cuts to another series of live-action sequences and then to a montage of archival footage. Scenes of late-middle-aged men examining handheld models of wing shapes jump to mid-century cartoons of space capsules and then to early footage shot from actual NASA space capsules. Hüner’s video includes full-screen presentations of each clip as well as views of the men seated around a V-shaped table, watching the clips as projected filmstrips. The image of one such film reel, finished but still spinning, signals the conclusion of Juggernaut’s introductory passage. At this point, the soundtrack changes from jazzy to menacing, and the video’s dreamlike progression takes on a nightmarish trajectory.
Juggernaut proceeds ominously, contrasting visions of aeronautical aspiration and invention with images of technology’s violent application and destructive results. Simultaneously, Hüner mixes documentary and dramatic forms, suspending the narrative between fact and fiction. The video’s next sequence is emblematic. Here, seven gentlemen—including those seen previously—converse excitedly (if not smugly) in the windowless viewing room. Hüner’s camera pans across an adjacent table covered with architectural models, including the spire-like Trylon and ball-shaped Perisphere from the 1939–40 World’s Fair in New York City. The view then cuts to animated and documentary footage of both structures, as seen in To New Horizons (1940), a filmic tour of General Motors’ Futurama fair pavilion. “Come, let’s travel into the future. What will we see?” intones the portentous voiceover.” Hüner’s video responds with hyperbolic portrayals of assembly-line world war from two Disney propaganda cartoons, Stop that Tank! (1942) and Victory Through Air Power (1943)—a parade of militarization that captivates at least one of Hüner’s protagonists. The spectacular montage asserts that the promises of flight, mass production, and mechanized life—if not the motivating ideals of modernity itself—have coalesced into a juggernaut.
Derived from the Sanskrit for “Lord of the Universe,” the term juggernaut refers to an uncontrollable, destructive force and connotes inexorable violence, stampeding momentum, and collateral damage. Sociologist Anthony Giddens recently employed the term to characterize the perpetual, erratic, and profound change of contemporary society. Equally foreboding, Thomas Pynchon’s 2006 novel Against the Day invokes the juggernaut as a personification of capitalist drive. Hüner’s Juggernaut similarly utilizes its name to convey ruinous social development. In deference to Giddens, the video presents the advances of modern, industrial civilization as double-edged; they are as likely to fulfill utopian ambition as to provoke global cataclysm. Hüner also counts Pynchon as an influence, and Juggernaut, like the novelist’s writing, spins an allusive and cryptic but critical fiction. The video as a whole poses a series of questions: What is the driving force of modernity’s juggernaut? Who is directing it? And to what horizons is it taking us?
Rather than delivering decisive answers, the video depicts the acts of dreaming and investigating—ventures which, following Giddens, are themselves suspect. Hüner’s gentlemen are likely culprits in modernity’s crimes, but they are also potentially its forensic investigators. Diverse in appearance and accoutrements, they suggest various origins and occupations—bureaucrat, entrepreneur, scientist—while sharing an analytical investment in twentieth-century visions of the near future. These representations, and the video itself, however, take on an increasingly troubling tone. The young men in the forest reappear, with gliders instead of rockets, and the scene then shifts back to the bunker, where the gentlemen doodle, smoke, and ruminate listlessly. Finally, near the end of Juggernaut, a live-action sequence captures a ragtag group of men and women lingering despondently in an abandoned quarry.
Together, these three episodic narratives could be interpreted chronologically—as an evolution towards apocalypse, for instance—or they could be read synchronically, as a series of simultaneous yet different worlds. Hüner’s archetypical characterizations and frequent crosscutting foster a sense of temporal ambiguity. Jumping between historical pictures, documents of the future-past, and contemporary images, the video disrupts the viewer’s attempt to place its narratives precisely within the timeline of the twentieth century, or indeed in any linear story line. One cannot determine whether the gentlemen, isolated in their chamber of representations, are reflecting on past events, witnessing events as they unfold, or fantasizing about the shape of things to come. Despite the pretense of scientific rationality—one of Juggernaut’s ostensible subjects—the video subsumes the sequential thinking of cause and effect to a more rhizomic, if not chaotic logic of association and conglomeration.
Juggernaut can likewise be understood as a sort of cabinet of curiosity, a structure Hüner has explored previously. In his 2005 animation Panoptikon, for instance, the artist assembled an inventory of worldly objects, including nautical gadgets and anatomical parts, all drawn by hand. He then animated this Encyclopédie-like archive, creating a fantastical world of biological and technological conflict that evokes the Ottoman miniatures of his Turkish heritage. Juggernaut’s own wunderkammer is distinctly videographic, and it exclusively displays artifacts of modernity. Besides representations of experimental aircraft (the Russian Ekranoplan, the American XB-70 Valkyrie, a flying wing plane), the video’s protagonists consider dazzle camouflage from World War I, the East German propagandist textbook Weltall Erde Mensch (Universe, Earth, Man) and even octopuses. In a cartoon, the sea creature appears as a globe-smothering monster, a personification of imperialism, while in a live-action scene, it is reduced to a biological specimen, the dead carcass of modernity picked over by one of Hüner’s analysts.
The persistent looking, watching, and probing in Juggernaut imitate the concept of “reflexive modernization” espoused by Giddens and fellow sociologist Ulrich Beck. In this phase in the development of modern society, institutions recognize and confront the failure of their systems of rationality. Beck’s Risk Society, in particular, considers the global hazards spawned by our imperfect mastery of technology, which is only compounded by our attempts to compensate for them. Hüner’s video reiterates the fallibility of progress: Dirigibles appear as both urban transport and city bombers, and the skyward-looking promise of the depicted futures is contrasted with views of a neglected earth. By the same token, martial invention, through resourceful adaptation, can lead to humane achievement, as in the case of the V-2 rocket, developed in Nazi Germany but later adapted to the Saturn V superbooster.
Likewise, the relationship of Hüner’s gentlemen (and Juggernaut’s viewers) to their objects of study is not quite cynical. Their conclusions and judgments might invariably instigate negative effects, but they might also engender positive futures and reformative solutions. As a result, Juggernaut’s final comment, appropriated from the Futurama display, has a realist as well as ironic tone: “And so we see . . . A world with a future in which all of us are tremendously interested. Because that is where we are going to spend the rest of our lives. In a future which can be whatever we propose to make it.”