In his famous interpretation of Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, Hans Belting reminds us what Bosch’s work attempted in the first place: to establish “a form of art that had not existed before.”  While it is arguably one of the greatest works in the history of art, tantalising the fantasies of generations, its subversive fictional narrative continues to depict a world so different like no other: another era and another place. Bosch’s visual narrative avoids traditional iconography with such a remarkably modern freedom that the work continues to be enigmatic and suspicious even to the eyes of our times; and it remains almost unmatched by any contemporary endeavour to capture the imagination of an Age. An almost punctual contemporary of Leonardo da Vinci, Bosch’s paintings could not have been more strange to the predominant spirit of the Italian Renaissance, creating an imagery of unrivaled individuality still rooted in the Gothic.
What we have come to call The Garden of Earthly Delights was known in the late sixteenth century as Lust or Strawberry Painting, unveiling the millennial frailty and wickedness of humanity in an unprecedented way. Yet what set Bosch aside from any of the medieval artists is his vision over the symbology of the times, an unreal space rendered with new techniques of pictorial representation. Strange realities develop in front of our eyes, from human figures to burning buildings, from demons and unfitting objects to the most bizzarely tangible presences, all depicted with a tender precision and a sense of form that translates the artist’s unbounded imagination. But Renaissance painting marks the incipit of a fascination for the technically produced images of photography, cinematography and contemporary media. The differences from the images of digital media lie in the difficulty to produce pictural images, because part of the sociocultural conventions and codings are absorbed by the functioning rules of apparatuses before becoming technical rules. The Garden of Emoji Delights, however, is more than a mere contemporary interpretation of Bosch’s masterpiece; what sets it apart from the works of other artists who have reinterpreted the works of the ‘s-Hertogenbosch master is an underlying discussion of both the post-pictural medium and what signs, images and codes are in the actual use of society. The ‘truth’ of signs and images relates to the socio-cultural conventions that define the codings instituted by the physiological mechanisms of visual perception; it is their quality of socially and culturally coded signs that bestows prestige upon them.
In her 2011 panorama project Robbi Carni, Gannis had already anticipated the strangeness of the profiles in the Emoji Garden. A fifteen feet by three-quarter foot digital drawing created with a stylus and a tablet, Robbi Carni unveils a carnivalesque realm of freakish and deformed figures bursting out into the streets, where oppositions and hierarchies collapse: hybrid humans, street culture elements, robotic clowns and exo-skeletonized elephants, sexualized animals and predominantly technological objects commingle into a dazzling canvas where laughter and horror speak of a new state of being. Everywhere, human-balloons float above like demons flying over sceneries of technoculturalized environs. These intermingled objects and hybrid humans reveal our fascination for the power they hold over us, like a projected reflection of our most intimate fantasies affecting us from the outside. Nature and machine create a techno carnival culture – the feast of hybrid fools. Socio-political hierarchies and constructions are profaned here and overturned by the howling manifestation of object, hybrid and machine. While opposites are mingled, fools never become wise and kings never become beggars: everyone dwelves into the jolly celebration the profanity of which challenges our social, cultural and political status. It is a world of disoriented ontology and disharmonic metaphysics.
In the Emoji Garden, Carla Gannis refines this view by apparently simplifying the artistic expression. The use of emoticons appeals to a set of signs and codes that are simpler, more direct and, above all, are rooted in ‘emotional signification.’ By using the simplest most ubiquitous ‘visual language’ employed across digital platforms, Gannis unveils the possibilities these pictographs hold to re-codify a normative set of signs and expressions. It is nevertheless amazing how simple pictographs, with all their flatness and designed sleekness, can engage so many linguistic and visual contradictions, from references to art history to all the antinomies brought forth by new trans- and post-human philosophies. Could it be that the sheer simplicity of these pictographs has made them the perfect site for allegory, connotation, analogy, and metaphor? And so, like speech, can convey complex emotional states, more comfortably than the written word. One can also trace some of the artist’s declared influences in several of the scenes: inspired by Annette Messager’s humans disguising themselves and transforming their identities or the sculptures of Louise Bourgeois and her free use of sexual imagery; the mechanical paintings and animations of Yuliya Lanina or the colourful yet deeply disturbing sceneries of Ruud Van Empel; through all the fallacies in the art of Anthony Goicolea and wrapped up by the incredibly fantastic cinematic universe of Terry Gilliam – Carla Gannis reveals a new form of virtual art.
Does Gannis’s Emoji Garden actually reflect the myriad of social, moral, political and aesthetic concerns that new technologies pose? The piece celebrates the suspension of dogmas: religious, ethical, technological, reveling in iterative sexualities, anarchism and a cheeky paganism. It is, however, the digital animation and mutation of Bosch’s garden that reveals the dark unbalance present in even the most mundane gestures, emotions, and communicative acts. What are the limits of any technology’s affective reach? In the case of the Emoji Garden, digitally-based, iconographic language modulates movements, actions and affect, acting as what Stamatia Portanova has elsewhere called a “codifying mold.”  The Garden of Emoji Delights resists as much as it embraces the technological re-codifications of language, and the relation between expression and consumer culture.
Bosch’s masterpiece remains strangely unexplored by contemporary artists; its legacy seems to disturb even today. Among these artists, Raqib Shaw, Emily Erb, Lluís Barba and Ali Banisadr all share a taste for ‘hybridity’ with Carla Gannis.  In Shaw’s Garden of Earthly Delights series (2002-2006), a dazzling underwater world hides hybrid creatures entangled in sexual acts; in this turbulent world, vivid colors and mythological depictions make reference to the profound symbolism of antique carpets, yet the universe remains partly self-referential. As with Bosch’s and Gannis’s work, Emily Erb’s depiction of Hell is less a fantasy and more a mirror of an immediate reality: apes and humans have exchanged roles in a satirical tale of evolution and involution, all damnation scenes bearing the weight of contemporary referents. Lluís Barba’s work too, is a critique of popular and commercial culture: collaged in figures argue with Bosch’s characters, Kate Moss enjoys the innocent delights of Creation, while Madonna or Elton John is engaged in earthly sins. For all the fantastic hybrids, flesh-rending pictures of Hell, or plethora of sexually engaged nude figures, Barba captures but part of the spirit of our times and lapses again into self-referentiality. Of all these artists, none seems to be more closely related in spirit to the Emoji Garden than Ali Banisadr and his work Motherboard – not only because of the obvious Boschian inspiration, but also because of the cultural dimensions it involves and the interrogation over the state of painting/medium. Banisadr’s constant oscillation between the abstract and the figurative creates complex compositions that reflect on civilization and technology without the painter actually focusing on protagonists to unveil the narrative. His compositions are visceral and organic, reflecting the cultural clashes that affect human crowds, all seen through the “pitched angularities” (G. Roger Denson) that affect the illusion of movement. For all the criticism of Banisadr’s work , what makes his artistic vision extremely relevant is the way his “pictorial arrangements leap spectacularly across cognitive and cultural representations of great expanses of geography, time, and ideology” (G. Roger Denson)  and how the artist succeeds in emulating the various iconographies of painting masters from the Middle East, Europe, and the United States.
In her Garden of Emoji Delights, Gannis continues Bosch’s iconographic lineage: a mutated vocabulary of signs and digital symbols reflects the secular character of pop vocabulary. The one distinctive feature of the Emoji Garden lies in the flatness of the iconography Gannis uses to portray the ‘sins’ of contemporary consumer culture. “I’ve always been fascinated with Bosch,” says the artist, “and the cacophony of creatures and chimera that inhabit his works. What interests me most is the flatness, the way he uses religious iconographic style and tropes to explore the profane.” Bosch’s controversies are intensified here, especially in the case of the digitally animated triptych, while references to Murakami’s Superflat aesthetics are ‘corrupted’ by the visually distinct digital fabrics. As with Murakami, the flattened forms in the work of Carla Gannis are an expression of the shallowness that defines consumer culture. They, too, reflect the consumerist pop culture, sexual fetishisms and underlying desires that are prevalent in today’s society by appealing to distorted images and grotesque scenes impregnated with the jolly yet most often empty emotionality we’ve become so accustomed to using in our daily expressions. Digital creatures engaged in apparently sinful pleasures mimic what has become of our communication through text messages and social media. This flat visual language no longer expresses the conflict of one’s actual presence, as the Emoji promiscuity of happy sinners translates our growing inability to relate to one another. The deeper the gaze within the Emoji Garden, the darker the digital horrors and the bleaker our understanding of time, history, culture, and the other. The flatness of these signs reveals the actual operation of seeing in the libidinal economy of visual signs that has become our culture. It conceals no hidden message or enveloped meaning, but rather exposes a world made wholly of colourful surfaces, plain textures and découpage that retells a story well known throughout the history of art: that the eroticisation of seeing is signally technological.
Just like with Bosch, the musical instruments in the Hell panel turn into tools of torture, in reference less to the astrological alignments of our time, but rather to a new era of derailment. It is the emotional obscurity and ambiguity in communicating our feelings that the artist has sought to reveal, since the technological codifications of today’s language are a direct expression of how our gestures, actions and emotions have been subverted by consumer culture on the most intimate psychological level. What makes the Garden of Emoji Delights unique is that the visual communication language it manipulates is deeply rooted in our reflexive and ordinary communication. A double subversion thus takes place: the subversion of visual communication languages, and the subversion of art history.
Yet I would stress that by digitally animating the Emoji triptych, Carla Gannis gives birth to a new form of digital action painting. The layering of successive stages of representation brings forth an animated archaeology of codified gestures and emotions, as multiple representations overlap into a single animated image simultaneously. Through all the speed of the animation, the viewer is asked to actually take the time and reflect upon language and emotions as a witness to the unfolding of the oeuvre. Gannis emphasizes how culture and technological industry have claimed the most ordinary gestures and emotions while questioning art historical representations altogether.
The artist uses a digitally enhanced means of communication to revitalize and redefine the picture of how the profane has become our sacred language and emotional manifestation. The pictorial domination of Emoji over the infrastructure of communication is an expression of what in art and media underlines a shifted emphasis on (the mutation of) vision. There are numerous ideological, social and technocratic aspects that challenge the alternatives to mass media and cultural communication; here, the Emoji function and constitute the world in much the same way as religious, scientific, or political ideology formerly represented knowledge and world views. On the level of emotion-formation, the Emoji influence the perception of lifestyles and identities, affecting the established relations and the practical functioning of communication in the world. Unlike Bosch though, Gannis does not venture into the realms of pure imagination but instead breaches into our emotional communication to touch the desires that distort psychological and sociological realism. The viewer of the Emoji Garden is not only a voyeur into what these Armaggemojis reflect of culture today – she/he is a user and a participant altogether. It is not the liberty of fantasies and desires that Gannis depicts, but rather the fancies of codified communication that reflect an often empty emotional content.
The figures seem ridiculous; their absurdity depicts emotions closely related to our physical objectivity and to a certain violence where one can only be known if emotionally wrenched open. All these scenes evoke the habitudes that nevertheless mark the domineering efforts of social correction and normalization whereby ideal objects and figures are interpreted as ideal or even real emotions. The figurative disembodiment in the digital triptych of Carla Gannis is relevant to a view of how the virtual communication has moved from an era of text-based ‘chat rooms’ to the graphical spaces inhabited by avatars and emoticons. The figures are proud and narcissistic even in their most genuine humility and through their glorified humiliation. It is humiliation that actually creates tension in several scenes, as the subjects seem to frolic between subjectivity and object-status, between a strive for and the impossibility to achieve communication, understanding, affection and knowledge. Characters remain eager subjects: they are regarded and desired just as much as they are desirous.
As in the case of Bosch’s triptych, the Hell panel is a hyperbole of iconographical conventions. Yet unlike Bosch, Gannis inserts nature here all along permutated cultural and mental geographies. All three panels create a counter-image of contemporary culture while the digitally animated triptych depicts the pictorial becoming of the digital painting. There are no forbidden sexual desires, but a hollow emotionality that undermines even the surface pleasures of the flesh. All eating and copulating scenes seem to reveal our fear of time: the characters dwelve into continuous actions and emotions as if to forget the passing of time and the affective void it builds on the inside. Flat doll-like bodies are devoid of individual traits; their expression is but an image of codified jolliness and the normativity of affects under regnant piles of empty emotionality. In the jitter of the urban street, multifarious carnalities are seen in a nonsensical muddle of charmless extravagancy. Upon careful observation, one can also notice an almost exhibitionistic urge for humiliation and delight in unselfconsciousness. These unreal fictions never fail to show how we constantly fall prey to the wild ‘fruits’ of desperate reach, imagination and empty emotional communication. For, with Gannis, it is communication, rather than imagination, that reveals the irremediably flawed nature of human beings and their mendacious creeds. Should one search for an answer, it is not to be found in the contemporary wisdom of any Age: we have been biased and prejudiced all along the eras. But what the artist does try to portray is the possibility of a critical distance away from social-media saturation and the threat of irreversible sensory corruption. These highly detailed scenes explore the paradoxical obscurity and clarity of signs, their capacity to transform personal experiences and objects into abstract compositions of surface and depth, with implications that are spatial, temporal, and existential.
For all the horror it portrays, the Emoji Garden seems a rather cohesive and bright picture developing in front of our eyes. Cheery attitudes reflect Bosch’s symbolic language of eternal horrors, but the scenes are corrupted by the most ordinary signifying tools: ears and knives mix with TVs, tablets and phones creating a fairly universal language to be understood cross-culturally. Carla Gannis has thus transformed Bosch’s painting into an orgiastic digital degradation where horrors are portrayed most perspicuously. Her detailed digital rendering invites the viewer to scrutinize the depths of this Emoji world to reveal the horrors that joyfully come to light. Like with Bosch, it is almost impossible to discover a coherent linear narrative between the three panels; each individual motif is to be understood as a reflection of the disoriented perception upon the world. This seemingly paradisiacal harmony of fantastic landscapes, humans, animals and hybrids makes no reference to apocalypse nor utopia – it is the jolly digicalypse of our immediate reality, a reflection of how our use of digital signs and symbols covers our very own reality with a sense that no longer reflects the foolish, depraved or erratic wicked world but an empty emotional agency. Some enigmatic details reveal most fashionable depictions of today’s culture: from crashing planes reminiscent of post-9/11 traumas and imagery to the transience of sensual pleasures; from flesh-coloured visceral protuberances to metropolises, architectural landmarks, and unperching fantasies of our triumph over nature; from hybrid floras and faunas to the inter-changeability of figures, signs, attitudes, and habits; from office culture and fast food to fetishist bestiaries and sexual desires; and culminating with the most ordinary technologies we use in our daily lives to nurture our feelings of becoming independent beings – this visual encyclopedia blurs the boundaries between the real and the imaginary and exposes the emotive destinations so widely presented by recent digital practices.
Like with Bosch, it is the spatial perception that functions as a means of narrative in Carla Gannis’s Garden of Emoji Delights. The perspectival space is abandoned in favor of a multitude of discordant motifs the superposition of which unveils the intimate structure of the world. What we see in the Emoji Garden is a universal landscape that charts an emotional map of how these pictographs translate emotional states, inquietudes, and the stratification of actions. Five hundred years ago, Bosch had thus imagined the lands of the far East before they had been charted; but we have seen them all – what we cannot reach however, with all of our striving, with all of our media, is a deep understanding of what is it that we actually see and thus come to feel, fantasize and imagine. Landscape has mostly been a form of interrogative documentation of the world in which we live, expressing familiar relationships based mostly on vertical constructions. From the realms below to the surface of the earth and up into the sky, nature is being shaped by investigating and superposing the different levels that make for natural intersections. What Gannis portrays most accurately through her digital renderings is the development of landscape; the landscape as construction and not as wilderness. A certain homogeneity emerges within the graded configuration of the scenes, like an active matrix for actions and emotions that need not respond to the viewer yet influence and activate her/his perception. In Dutch landscape painting, for example, it is the consciousness of human freedom that is expressed whenever a subject becomes aware of the possibilities and encounters that take place in the landscape setting. But then what do the constructed settings in the Emoji Garden reveal? How do these hallucinatory digital scenes negotiate both the spatial exhaustion and the invitation to recontextualize the emotive elements so as to reach an understanding?
As the viewer approaches the digital painting, the familiarity of elements outlines a radiantly physical three-dimensional, yet radically strange scene. For a culture obssessed with fabricating environments and creating spaces that compete with the real, this passive reflection serves to instantly throw the viewer into a performing role, to discover the body and emotional double in communication. The Emoji Garden is thus a site that bears the scars of identity for both the ‘avatars’ and human beings behind their use. The Emojis perform ideologies just as paintings, sculptures or movies do in real life, thus being rhetorical constructions. Escaping the normativity of objective representation, the digital imagery of Carla Gannis reveals the emotional subjectivity rooted in both human vision and the technological rhetorics. Like landscape painting or 19th century English gardens,  the space in the Emoji Garden reveals the amalgamation of the virtual and the real that is neither simulacrum, nor reality – a nonessential construction that organizes the reality of experiences in series of ordered perspectives. The garden as such is a ‘phenomenal body’ where the mix of existing physical environments or scenes and the virtual affects and emotions experienced by the viewer translates the convergence and virtualization of natures. This artificiality amid reality helps the viewer understand the ideological function of this space, for it has less to do with the representation of nature or affects and more to do with the creation and construction of a social frame that subverts the various layerings of discourses. The Emoji Garden is thus the digital re-creation of an ideological ‘place’ out of the virtual and affective ‘space’ similar to de Certeau’s assertion on the “imaginary totalizations produced by the eye.”  By digitally animating Bosch’s painting though a new visual language, Gannis spatializes the site of today’s human interaction and transforms it into a theatrical setting in which the viewer explores the performance of actions and emotions and the hidden psychological debris of human interaction within technologically mediated communication.
What the Garden of Emoji Delights reveals, on the other hand, is how technologies of vision can constitute, reproduce, subvert or alter the social arrangements of power in both the politics of nature and the politics of desire. As the virtual world becomes a real space, the interactive canvas in Gannis’s digital animation reveals how virtual constructions of ‘nature’ impact our perceptions of real-world spaces and emotions, but they also make possible an imaginative immersion whereby the viewer imports nature and emotions into highly artificial constructions to make them (seem) more ‘natural.’ For presence is a process where our thoughts and feelings converge to create a sense of place; it is part of a continuum of space and lived experience, though bound by technology.
If Bosch’s work is a painted utopia, the Garden of Emoji Delights is a digital counter-utopia – a digital counterworld where the various codes express the mysteries of an Age in transition. Hans Belting has rightly remarked that Bosch’s imagery “is the product of a crisis in the visual representation of the world”  and nothing could be more true in the case of the digital imagery of Carla Gannis. The visual syntax in the Emoji Garden is a venturing into the informational and emotional space of networked experience where representational debris and our data trails translate the metropolis of social media. Far from being a finished work of art, the Garden of Emoji Delights underlines the dark processes and metamorphoses of the communicative flows, as movement, metamorphosis and transformation are the defining traits of digital art as an “intermediary art.” The additional relevance of Gannis’s work also reflects the post-medium debates in “an era after medium distinctions […] a condition of artistic practice that fuses digital into traditional media.” (Christiane Paul)  This condition is also reflected in two details, one from the Garden of Emoji Delights, one from the Robbi Carni panorama: the film camera placed in front of the TV in the first, and the blonde girl wearing 3D glasses ready to take a snapshot of the viewer in the latter; both placed on the left side of the compositions, they are reflective of the individual performing of history itself and the reflection of the history of art. The hybridization in the work of Gannis is a metaphor for the interlacing of humans, machines and aesthetics which simultaneously opens the imagination and unveils how the medium is the fetish.
It is rather the ‘infraordinary’ that Gannis captures in her digital imagery, the blurred, distorted and banal ephemera where the trivial and the profound reveal the tedious and anaesthetizing routines and rituals of social media as a double of the material world. The Emoji counter-aesthetic challenges the conventions of digital realism and consumerism while unveiling the subversive character of user-generated content and emotions in both online and offline contexts. The Emoji Garden also reflects Lisa Nakamura’s twofolded view of the Internet itself:  a progressive tool used to implement social change or a “purveyor of crude and simplistic stereotypical cultural narratives” that continue to feed on heteronormative cultural, social and political orders. The Garden of Emoji Delights thus reflects the psychological space where secrecy, guilt, sin and inhibitions mingle with open confessions and fetishist voyeurism as an emotional peeping window into the world. The digital animation of Bosch’s painting reflects the so-called “technological unconscious” as a metaphor for all the fears and desires, fantasies and wild imagination erupting out of the constraints of human unconscious. The dialectics of the sacred and the profane shows us that every desacralization is in a certain way a resacralization – any decoding is a recoding in communication. No doubt, the manipulation of signs and affects is an essential part of the politics of communication in informational cultures. As Tiziana Terranova points out, “it is not so much a question of technology as of techniques and forms of knowledge that all converge – through a variety of media and channels – on the basic problem of how to clear out a space and establish a successful contact.” 
There is no other work to best reflect the cultural politics of emotion as the Emoji Garden. “Within contemporary culture,” says Sara Ahmed resuming Goleman’s theory,  “emotions may even be represented as good or better than thought, but only insofar as they are re-presented as a form of intelligence, as ‘tools’ that can be used by subjects in the project of life and career enhancement.” It is not accidental that Gannis has filled the triptych with objects that thematize communication: while they do have a material existence, they are representative as objects of feelings that actually make for a memory that is oriented towards what we want to remember. They are also representative of the “sociality of emotion” as opposed to the views that the everyday language of emotion is based on the presumption of interiority. For Ahmed, emotions are not to be regarded as psychological states, but as social and cultural practices. Emotions are, from this perspective, “crucial to the very constitution of the psychic and the social as objects, a process which suggests that the ‘objectivity’ of the psychic and social is an effect rather than a cause.” More importantly – “The objects of emotion take shape as effects of circulation” for it is the objects of emotion that circulate, rather than emotions as such, involving “the transformation of others into objects of feeling.”  It is through emotions that histories survive and continue. And while they might be forgotten, their unconscious, technically and technologically mediated remembrance continues to show us how human histories shape the lives and worlds of today; secretly, darkly, mysteriously.
It is here that one can trace how Gannis’s work remains deeply rooted in a question of the “social imaginary.” Abstract idealizations are translated into a complex digital imaginarium where the social and emotional surroundings are conveyed by signs, images and individual narratives, all of which are associated with social practices. Gannis’s imaginarium is rooted in a social-historical context, with society being depicted along its alteration, time and history. The power of the artist’s digital imaginarium lies in the collision of orders as subjected to a symbolic processing where individuals are imaginary products of socialization.  While language and image are both a conflux of reciprocal transcendence between the individual and collectivity, one can also ask to whom and to which type of humans is the image favorable.
As the Middle Ages have become our Media Ages, what has appeared unexpectedly is a distorted view of alterity, wherein civilization, as an Age, seems to have to come to an end. Culture has filled the gaps left by civilization through signification, with the aid of symbols and myths, thus substituting rituals with auraless techniques and technologies; however, with the numerous means of mass communication now available, culture has become civilization. As a technological infrastructure, digitization helps, paradoxically, to disseminate an increasingly analogical content, which requires less a priori knowledge, imbued instead with a deep emotional charge. It is one of the concrete forms whereby culture passes into civilization, and civilization assumes the role of culture. 
“The Age of hard-core materialism is over,” claims Sloterdijk. The emotional Neo-Babylonians “are existentialists of flux who live in a universe subsequent to alienated work. Their relationship to reality is expressed solely in the construction of mobile environments, atmospheres and spaces. They gambol about in hanging gardens of madness – combatant, co-inspired, co-delirious. A new ‘psycho-geographical’ description of space takes place – one that is no longer centered on areas of ground, plots of land and national borders but only on the expressive acts of the inhabitants, their moods, works and installation (the installation of life itself).” 
The rest is History.