Imagine that as part of the 1950s MK-ULTRA program, the CIA administered firearms and LSD-laced Kool Aid to a group of cartoon characters and then forced them to perform a transhumanistic interpretative rendition of Disney’s Fantasia. Now imagine said performance was minted on SuperRare, and you’re about as close as I can get to describing Mike La Burt’s latest piece, “Digital Divide – The Beretta Family Portrait 2021”.
At just over two minutes in length and commissioned by the Beretta family themself, the piece begins with the opening credits to a fictional TV show, “The Berettas: The Royal Family of Firearms” displayed on a mid-century wood-framed TV. Suddenly the viewer is sucked into the show’s intro sequence: A supersaturated dimension where bullets explode through rainbows and hearts, golden horses and golden handguns dance afront neon pink lights, and gunfire echoes through a casino floor-like din.
The Beretta family are then introduced – matriarch Umberta, her husband Franco and son Carlos. They strike poses. Their bodies deconstruct. The universe deconstructs. The dimension shifts. Time and space skip. And the viewer tumbles through a recursive, warped and weaponized wonderland.
“I got excited by this sort of psychedelic Disney vibe,” La Burt said, “and deconstructing it into interdimensional, weird, post-satanic, pop bubble gum fun.”
This piece is about the aesthetic. It is a transformative journey for the senses, and an unexpectedly fitting profile of the most famous family in firearms.
The privately held Italian Beretta company is the oldest active manufacturer of firearm components in the world. Originating as a one-man operation forging gun barrels in the 16th century Italian Alps, Beretta has grown into a global brand – supplier of armies from Napoleon’s to NATO’s – whose parent Beretta Group reported over $750 million of revenue in 2016.
Umberta Gnutti Beretta, wife of 15th-generation Beretta scion and CEO Franco Beretta, is, and always has been, an avid contemporary art collector. Owner of works by David LaChapelle, Tracey Emin and Vanessa Beecroft among others, Beretta approached La Burt with the idea of producing a family portrait, marking her first step into the NFT universe.
“When I was first approached about the commission [Umberta Beretta] didn’t say anything about who she was. Then when we set up our first talk she was there with Carlo, her son, and they dropped the bomb that they were the Berettas,” La Burt said. “And my jaw just dropped like a cartoon.”
La Burt is an American artist and director just home after 12 years in Japan. There is a mysterious, near-unnerving allure to his work. It has this darkwave, surreal aesthetic that toys with ideas of transcendence. “Digital Divide – The Beretta Family Portrait 2021” is no exception.
“I’ve always been into transhumanism and transformation,” La Burt said. “I use a lot of [Adobe] After Effects, but live-action is my baseline. I’ll take a live-action piece and whenever I can turn that normal human into something transhuman – something of this world but not of this world that might exist in a parallel universe – that’s what I get excited about.”
The development process began with footage shot on three Beretta properties: their villa in Russia, the Beretta Museum, and from their home in Milan. La Burt directed the shoots remotely.
“I don’t think any of us knew how elaborate [the project] would become,” he said. “At first I was thinking, ok, lets just do a still frame, one photo, and then I’ll do a piece with that photo. Next thing you know I’m getting mountains of footage.”
What followed was the long creative process of pouring through footage and chiseling out the vision.
“I did about a thousand iterations on each piece,” La Burt said. Slowly working toward the feast of Disney psychedelia and otherworldly transformation the piece would become.
The result is a truly unique piece of transhumanistic art honoring the one family whose business might have done more to push forward transhumanism than any other company in the last five centuries.