Now on View In the video installation American Desert (for Chuck Jones), American artist Mungo Thomson uses Road Runner cartoons to offer a sly take on popular culture’s celebration of the American West as an enduring symbol of freedom.
Working chronologically through the Road Runner episodes produced by legendary Warner Bros. animator Chuck Jones between 1949 and 1964, Thomson (born 1969) digitally erased the characters Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner. As a result, the cartoon sequences no longer emphasize the familiar slapstick chases, but instead the desolate western landscape.
Thomson wishes to focus attention on “the role of the desert in the cultural imagination as a sort of pure and indomitable wasteland beyond civilization.” Jones’s imagery captures this sense of myth-making in panoramas that are not modeled on an actual place. Rather, the images are a romantic composite of landscapes in Arizona, California, and Utah.
The absence of figures highlights how industry has shaped the topography of the West. Telephone lines dissect vast vistas, and a paved road is juxtaposed with a flat blue sky. Road signs, speeding trains, and the rush of spillways disrupt the serenity of the desert. Although Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner are no longer visible, viewers can follow their path and see the western landscape with new eyes.