Recently I have been reading about the dawn of multicellularity, and the different theories surrounding it, specifically Lynn Margulis’ Endosymbiosis theory.

In looking at this subject I was thinking about where the locus of identity would sit in a multicellular organism. A single-celled organism is alive, has individual sentience, and its own will. When it evolves from a single-cell to a multi-cellular organism, how does this singular ‘I’ become a ‘we’, and how does this ‘we’ resemble an ‘I’ to itself? How does my body, as a complex network of different cell groups have a sense of unity when it is in fact a community?

As I was thinking about this subject, I was learning bass and playing along to ABBA videos slowed down half-speed on YouTube, which became a surreal and moving experience in itself. In the music video for SOS, the faces of the band members are filmed reflected in a distorting mirror, their faces stretching and dividing like mitotic cells as Agnetha and Anni-Frid sing a song written by Björn, presumably about the end of Agnetha and Björn’s relationship.

The name and logo for the band fascinated me: a letter for each band member (Agnetha, Björn, Benny, Anni-Frid), the inverted B in the logo ABBA, the almost genetic mirroring of the AB pairs, and the 2 romantic couples that formed the band. I enjoyed the idea of ABBA as a multicellular organism, composed of cells or organelles that were the individual band members.

These paintings and sculptures are loosely motivated by the merging of these two subjects: ABBA and the origin of multicellular life. I have also used the motifs of the waiter and of the lemon, both recurring images in my work. In this context, the waiters represent the mitochondria that live inside every cell in our body, and produce energy for our bodies using the citric acid cycle, an 8-step circular chemical reaction that powers all life on earth. Here I enjoyed the idea of bitterness of the lemon, especially when it concerned a kind of class relationship that occurs inside every eukaryotic cell.

Some of the paintings are painted over older paintings, and I am endeavoring in the process of making the work to allow the vestiges of the old paintings to be rehoused in the composition or the detail of a new painting, in a mutualistic relation of past and present, just as the pluralism of our phylogeny is recapitulated in every cell of our body.

– Justin Fitzpatrick