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ASSOCIATIONS: AN ART THESIS BY CHRISTINE DORMOY A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Fine Arts New College Florida In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts Under the sponsorship of Barry Freedland Sarasota, Florida May, 2009
Associations: An Art Thesis Christine Dormoy New College of Florida, 2009 ABSTRACT Through my performances, installations, prints, and sculptures, I rely on satirical and sometimes dramatic approaches to call atte ntion to the constructe d nature of social interaction, and more importantly how social interaction is reflexively constructed. I do this to call attention to how we interpret, catalogue, and make meaning out of the sensory information from our daily experiences, and to call attention to the role associations, symbols, signs, and spatial relationships pl ay in how this meaning gets communicated through interaction. I present this information through four different veins of experience. I use the video medium to present my guerilla street performances. Here the viewer can watch the way others respond to transgressed social boundaries with the di stance necessary for reflection. My sculptures presen t the viewer with products that manifest from the needs of alternative values. Body printed bed sheets bring the private into public by confronting the viewer with a physical remnant from a priv ate act. Lastly, my installations rely on associations with spatial relationships and associations with objects to create environments that produce feelings associat ed with the break down of the interpretive process.
Aron Edidin, Chair, signing for Barry Freedland ________________________________
Table of Contents Foreword....................................................................................................................... .i Contextual Background.................................................................................................1 Conceptual Material.......................................................................................................2 Relative Artists...............................................................................................................7 Performance Pieces........................................................................................................9 Sculptures.....................................................................................................................17 Body Printed Sheets.....................................................................................................19 Installations..................................................................................................................21 Conclusion...................................................................................................................28 Work Cited...................................................................................................................30
Throughout human history, as our species has f aced the frightening, terrorizing fact that we do not know who we are, or where we are goi ng in this ocean of ch aos, it has been the authorities the political, the religious, the educational authorities who attempted to comfort us by giving us order, rules, regul ations, informing forming in our minds their view of reality. To think for yourself you must question authority and learn how to put yourself in a state of vulnerable open-mi ndedness, chaotic, confused vulnerability to inform yourself. --Timothy Leary
1 Contextual Background Anthropologist Clifford Geertz defines culture as the web of relationships among everything that one uses to construct meaning from reality1. While this may seem obvious to us, because everyone uses these tools in the process of interpreting interactions to construct meaning, how th is process works is not necessarily, and generally is not conscious by those who empl oy it. As linguist Edward Sapir explains, elements of culture can be used efficiently, such as the manipulation of syntax in language, without the user ever needing to be conscious of the grammar involved.2 These webs of relationships that enable us to construct meaning from our environment are understood through a process of associat ing both through language, and through nonverbal sensory input, such as signs, sym bols, and spatial relationships. Through my art, I aim to encourage reflection, and hopefully a better understanding of these relationships that construct how we as hum ans interpret our environments. For this reason, I c onsider American cu lture my primary material. Conceptual Material Culture is the product of the collabor ative experience of assigning meaning to interaction. This is done through association, a process that simultaneously assigns and derives meaning from everything we encounter Associationsthe result of making one thing relative to anotheris the process through which sensory i nput is catalogued. By accumulating associations through experien ce, a continuously expanding web of 1 Geertz, Clifford. Interpretation of Cultures New York: Basic Books, 2000. 2 Sapir, Edward, and David G. Mandelbaum. Selected Writings of Edward Sapir in Language, Culture, and Personality. New York: University of California, 1985.
2 relationships is created. This web of associ ations from past experience enables an individual to navigate through their environment and construct meaning. The way one interprets and derives meaning from an in teraction, whether it is through spatial relationships with objects, or through signs, symbols, or body language, largely depends on cultural conditioning or the collective history of shared associations. All this being said, I rely on my audiences culturally condit ioned responses to spatial relationships, body language, signs, a nd symbols, in order to manipulate their interpretation of the situation, whether it is a performance, installation, or object. If meaning is conceptualized as the result of a relationship between two things, concepts can be referenced through implying their opposite. Referencing a shared association through inversion places an emphasis on the proc ess of associating itself, by momentarily suspending interpretation through social ambiguity. This social ambiguity can create an atmosphere of the absurd: a contradiction that poignantly rev eals the relationships between the parts and the whole of what th e contradiction concerns. It is in this suspended moment that my primary focus or subject matter is exposed and presented to the viewer. While each artwork engages specific associations present in American social behavior, and in turn, the applied meaning of those associations, (e thics) this subject matter is secondary to my primary focus, that of how we construct meaning. Associating is the genera l process through which information from the senses takes form. This form or pattern is construc ted from the way we interpret the relationship between the elements associated, which is largely dependent on past experience or conditioning, both cultural and in dividual. Similar to how a path is created by repeatedly taking the same route and beating down the existing shrubbery, our interactions with
3 objects in space and the way we inhabit a sp ace is more often than not a conditioned response. Take for example, the demarcation of private and public space. Each space is not only space but time creating the place wher e activities take place. Bringing a private activity into public space is often viewed as obscene. In my performance, Im Pretty, Arent I? I perform the private activity of waxing in public Peoples reactions not only show it is interpreted as obscen e, but that when an element from out of the ordinary constructs of social behavior occurs peopl e tend to rely on conditioned responses. As Hall has shown, depending on a person s culture people at certain distances relative to another person will respond similarly within their specific culture.3 Cultural conditioning assumes the same role in interpreting signs, associations, and objects meanings as well. Throughout my work, I rely on signifiers to insinuate meaning or make situations seem real. For example, both the costumes for my performances signify the social position of middle to upper-middle class through their style and purpose. Similarly, I juxtapose contradictory associa tions to create satire, such as fashioning a baby out of veal, then wra pping it as a meat product in the sculpture Meat. In other contexts, I use associations with objects and their spatial relationships to create a feeling of unrest a nd communicate a situation, such as the placement of lawn chairs facing a wall in Family Time. When people entered my installation, The Back Side of a Knife In The House of a Thousa nd Kings, B.S.K.H.T.K they felt spatially disoriented and encroached upon. The viewers I spoke with were all Americans. While narrow and winding spaces may have been in terpreted differently from say, someone from Europe who is accustomed to small spaces, this installation was interpreted by my 3 Hall, Edward Twitchell. The Hidden Dimension New York: Anchor Books, 1966. P.125
4 American audience as narrow and confusing due to the rhythm produced by the time it takes to walk from what part to another befo re taking a sharp angle. While these elements of interpreting meaning are pe rtinent to making sense out of any environment, they are generally unconsciously employed, and theref ore, are not a consci ous focus of thought. In certain instances, when how we cons truct meaning is taken for granted, and associations or rather, the re lationships between ourselves and Other are not recognized, or more importantly, reacted to as the paradox ical permanent states of flux they are, the object and emotions linked through association become universalized. If new associations from new experiences are not accepted for what they are then the old relationships or sets of associations that give an object meaning must suffice. Prejudice is the result of this. When new experiences or new associations with the object do little to adjust the interpretation of the relations hip between individual and object the associations with the object is universalized as a constant a nd placed in a fixed state of meaning, For example, eating our young is a cross-cultural taboo. Presenting my veal meat sculpture of an infant, Meat calls into que stion the revulsion that occurs from seeing what appears to be a skinned human infant. Now, I am not saying one should or should not feel revolted, but rath er I am evoking a set of associati ons so deeply ingrained that it creates an immediate visceral response. Ironically, the meat used, veal, can and often does provoke a pleasurable responsethat of hunger in humans. Both are babies, both can be meat. However, one is associated with consumption and the other is not. Inverting elements of this baby/ meat dynamic calls at tention to not only the ethics of what is consumable, but also how we come to this meaning through the relationships of associations with certain concepts. W ithout questioning and understanding the
5 relationships that make a value judgment re lative, associating no longer functions as a tool in the process of deriving meaning. Once a tool, employed in the psychological phenomena of being able to relate and deri ve meaning, associations, can crystallize becoming a disassociating weapon against th e very individual who employs them. Without the ability to con tinually adapt to the ever-shifting contexts we live in, the interpretive web fails as a fluxing mechanism that create s relative meaning. The result of this is disassociation. This is the conceptual topic I ex plore through the installations presented. What happens when the associative mechanism fails? Back Side of a Knife in the House of a Thousand Kings, explores th e failure of the interpretive process in relation to the individual when assimilation and relation to new sensory information does not occur. Family Time explores the same fa ilure. However, in this installation failure is in relation to a group dynamic. By mani pulating spatial relationships both between objects, and the viewers rela tionship to objects, each installation aims to create the psychic environments present when the associative mechanism fails and meaning is distorted. If done productively, transgressed bounda ries, inverted values, and creating new associations between things can create an experience that reinforces the interpretive process through assimilation. An example of this is my performance, Oboma Eats Babies. By dressing as polit ical figure, Vice Presidentia l nominee Sarah Palin, while displaying a sign that reads Obo ma Eats Babies! I rely on Americans associations with the authority my clothing si gnifies, and the associations surrounding opinions presented as facts that is currently f ound in the media. By juxtaposing authority and an emotionally based accusation, I call attention to the valu e of questioning authority, and conversely,
6 the value of not questioning authority. Values and the boundaries they create necessitate constant questioning and testing so that they remain relative and functional with their time and place. My art plays with our cultures currently held values through inversion, not necessarily to shock, but to help reinforce the process of adaptation in the everfluxing web of how humans construct m eaning and relate to one another. I mainly work with spatial relationships associations, symbols, and signs through feeling, by unconsciously interp reting the relationships between myself and the physical counterparts to the elements I have liste d. Explaining how I cons truct that meaning through language is an after thought, made conscious by reflecting on the relationships presented in my art. That is not to say, I believe any act where these elements are present constitutes as art. On the contrary, art has to say something to the viewer. It has to communicate a feeling or a concept by recreating a pattern of associations that enables meaning to be derived. Aiming to create the absurd, I am interested in what is perceived as real and fake. A thinker who has instigated my interests in the binary of real and fake is Jean Baudrillard, in particular hi s conception of simulacrum. The way I conceive of meaning relates to his quote, The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth--it is the truth which conceals that there is none. The simulacrum is true.4 The process through which we determine meaning is a form of truth in itself. Like Baudrillards simulacrum, this process does not invalidate th e truths obtained by an i ndividual through determining relative, subjective meaning, but rather, it is the truth that enables them, concealing that there is no overarching universal truth. While there are no universal truths, the process 4 Baudrillard, Jean. "The Precession of Simulacra." Art & Text 11 (1983): 3-47.
7 through which these personal meanings or trut hs come about is the closest thing to a universal truth one can find. However, th e ever-expanding, multi-dimensional web of associations present in this process alone, are incalculab le due to their nature of functioning in a continuous stat e of flux. Therefore, mapping th e specifics of this process to create universals from it is incalculable and irrelevant. Relative Artists An artist who also uses everyday objects fo r their associative, conceptual material is Marcel Duchamp. Like Marcel Duchamps readymade objects, my everyday objects are used for their associative quali ties. However, my conceptual purpose for using such materials differs. Duchamp chos e his readymades with complete visual indifference or anaethesia, as a wa y to undermine aesthetics role in art.5 Duchamp was interested in exposing the fram ework of art. He wanted to show that art could be made from any object just so long as the artist chose it. My objec ts are used as materials in creating a space that evokes reflection on our cultural framework. Unlike Duchamp, my goal is not to show the constructed nature of the art business, but rather, how humans reflexively create and construct culture, and in turn the ways in which we construct meaning and interact. Another artist with similar interests is Dada artist H ugo Ball. Like Ball, I strive for the absurd because it signals a relati onship where contradictions are present.6 When 5Arnason, H. Harvard. History of modern art painting, sculpture, architecture, photography Upper Saddle River, N.J: Prentice Hall, 2004. P. 248 6The DaDaist loves the extraordinary, the absurd even. He knows that life asserts itself in contradictions Hugo Ball. DaDa Fragments. Art in Theory 1900-2000 An Anthology of Changing Ideas New York: Blackwell, 2002. P.250-52
8 things are set in opposition they have something to push against, to be relative to, so that their properties can be better understood through their relationship to their current Other. Thus, similar to the spirit of the Dada movement, my work promotes chaos. My goal is chaos for the sake of order and change for the sake of adaptation. My performances are acts of poetic terrorism. 7 They erupt into the real as the absurd, fueled by the contradictions that bubble under the surface of our cultural values. My sculptures, prints, performances, and insta llations, in fact, all of my wo rk, aim to be catalysts for personal change. However, more than any artist, art move ments, or theory, my direct environment is my greatest influence. Watching how pe ople interact, express themselves and the contradictions that make them interesting, as well as asking myself why things have the affect on me the way they do are what fuel my inspiration to create. For example, the inspiration for my performance, Im Prett y, Arent I? came from the way people would react to me when I did not shave or wax my legs. I found it fascinating that body hair, a natural occurrence, was responded to with snickering, disgust, and gestures of disapproval. The value that female hairlessnes s is more desirable than hairiness results not so much from personal choice, but from social conditioning. As an agent within my environment, and as an artist, reflecting the aspects of my culture I feel are taken for granted is importa nt to me. As artist Joseph Beuys claims, we are all artists because we are all transmitters of our own cultures.8 However, I believe some of us have cultivated our digestion pr ocess, chosen certain diets, and honed it for 7 "The Temporary Autonomous Zone." The Hermetic Library Hermetic.com Accessed 29 Apr. 2009. Available from http://www.hermetic.co m/bey/taz_cont.html. 8 Rosenthal, Mark. Joseph Beuys Actions, Vitrines, Environments Other Distribution, 2004.
9 certain methods of physical expression. These die ticians are the true artists. They are the modern-day shaman, healer, transmitter, and as similator of all that is profane to produce the sacredthe absurd. Through multiple sensor y organs that are ultimately given agency by some indefinable impulse, I digest the i nput of my senses to excrete a cohesive reflection, a reflection I call art. Disclaimer Due to the fact academic writing dema nds the logical, linear, development of thought, and because this is not a book, but rath er, an art thesis, I c onstruct the following sections through a descriptive style to show rather then tell about the multitude of associations present. Accompanying this descri ption of my work is a light analysis about some of the many associations it conjures, as well as my motivation for certain concepts, and references to artists who work si milarly in technique or concept. Performance Pieces My performance art has two intended audi ences, those who view it in the street and those who view it in a gallery. It is a different experience for both. In the streets, where my persona is often perceived as re al, the performance becomes catalogued as an actual experience. The feelings and thoughts pr ovoked in the street viewer are responded to differently then when one is viewing perf ormance in a gallery framed as art or not real. The feelings and thoughts provoked in the street viewer are more likely to lead to conditioned responses to a disr uptive element. Those in the streets are less likely to be inquisitive, but rather, they ju st react because the situati on is actually happening. When
10 social transgression in their im mediate environment and is more likely to go into a state of reflection while viewing. In my performance, Im Pretty, Ar ent I? I take on the persona of a young woman in her mid-twenties, whose dress and de meanor are associated with the middle to upper-middle class. My made up face, clothe s, heeled shoes, fancy pink purse, and propped up breasts all suggest I am signaling enticement to the opposite sex. Based on the associations with my dress and demeanor I fit the stereotype termed as a trophy wife within the contex t of my environment. This performance took place on Downtown Main Street in Sarasota, Florida, on a Wednesday at twelve noon in front of a wome ns clothing boutique, across from a bar. I started the performance by a pplying lipstick in public, an act once deemed socially inappropriate because it was once consider ed a private act. As expected, no one responded. That changed, however, when I started to wax my legs, armpits, and eventually my crotch. With one leg propped up on bench, it took little time for people to notice my actions and find them out of place, evident by their reactions. Almost everyone responded the same in accordance with the distance between them and myself. Those walking past me at a distance of around ten to fifteen feet, within what anthropologist Robert T. Hall has categorized as between social distance and public distance, responded with avoidance. 9 Like animals confronted with a possible threat, everyone within an attacking distance averted their eyes from the lunacy of my personas actions. This is evident by the fact that not one, man or woman, looke d in my direction or 9 At twelve feet an alert subject can take evasive or defensive action if threat ened. The distance may even cue a vestigial but subliminal form of fight or flight. Hall, Edward Twitchell. The Hidden Dimension. New York: Anchor Books, 1966. P.123
11 made eye contact. There was even one older man who averted his attention to such a degree that he acted very interested in the dress in the boutique window behind me. However, at the same distance, the people in cars felt further away. The metal and glass separating us, as well as the ability to outrun me, is probably what made them feel at a safe enough distance to respond openly. They would slow down, and some even came to a full stop to observe, gawk, laugh, or point. The narration to this performance is by the men drinking at the bar across the street of over fifty feet away at public distance.10 The men sitting next to my camera talked openly about how Sarasotas never seen anything like this before. Their conversation highlighted a number of contradi ctory values within the American cultural framework. The quote, girl must not feel much pain, shows how at least one man read the act of waxing as something Other and fo reign from a persons daily experience where pain is felt. The responses were the same as I wo rked my way into further socially inappropriate behavior, as I waxed my legs armpits, and eventually my crotch. Although I did not break any institutional laws, taking a private activity into the public realm broke social laws concerning how we as American s designate different spaces for different uses. While my actions could have been more extreme, shocking, and obscene, just the act of enacting a private activity in public was enough to make people feel uncomfortable. 10 It is starting at this distance, th e far phase of public distance, where people generally encounter people that will remain strangers. Most actors know that at thirty or more feet the subtle shades of meaning conveyed by normal voice are lost as are the details of facial expression and movementmuch of the nonverbal part of communication shifts to gestures and body stance. Hall, Edward Twitchell. The Hidden Dimension New York: Anchor Books, 1966. P.125
12 The boutique owner about twelve feet away approached me in the middle of waxing my crotch. I was obviously too close to her territory. At first, she tried to tell me how inappropriate my behavior was for a ni ce young lady like myself. When she saw the pubic hair on the wax strips, she became defe nsive, and moved in closer. Her voice rose. Her nostrils flared, signaling anger. Didnt your parents teach you anything? she asked. I responded apathetically, that I did not see any problem. I continued waxing with the indifference of placing grocery items onto the check out counter, without shame or cause for alarm. After this, she moved in cl oser within my personal distance.11 She also began to talk louder. Ridiculous, is the only word caught from across the street on tape. All of her behavior signaled fear. Since my goal was to invert social norms to call attention to our cultural framework, rather, than to cause a public disturbance, (although the two are closely related) I ended the pe rformance when she th reatened to call the police and I left. Because there are values and boundaries surrounding states such as nakedness and physical maintenance, there are boundaries th at demarcate private and public activities. By bringing the private act of waxing into the public without any signal that it is a performance, people responded to me as though I were a threat because my actions threatened the proscribed social structure surroundi ng interactions. In my other performance, Oboma Eats Babies I made it more obvious that I was a satirical element by exposing my cameraman. I also over acted when mimicking Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin to play up th e idea it was all an act as well. I waved at the cars at the intersec tion in a pretentious fashion, as t hough to a sea of adoring fans at a 11 Hall, Edward Twitchell. The Hidden Dimension New York: Anchor Books, 1966. P.123
13 Miss America pageant as Palin would have done when she was in the Miss Alaska pageant. My professional suit consisted of the following: a pink dress shirt, knee high black skirt, an American flag pin on a woma ns black suit jacket, glasses, pink stiletto heals, and Palins hairstyle. All of these things signaled th at I was dressed up as Sarah Palin. My sign, Oboma Eats Babies! spelled O-b-o-m-a instead of O-b-a-m-a signaled the ignorance that generally surrounds emotional, propagandistic, political statements such as the slogan seen on my sign. In doi ng this, I hoped to bring attention to the relationship between information and its author itative dispensers, namely, politicians and the media, and the unsupported, illogical and emotive techniques that surround propaganda. All of these clues signaled I was a perf ormance. While I can not know for certain because I did not speak with the vast majority of those passing by, I can say I believe from judging the body language and through the inte ractions that I did have, that roughly half of the people passing by could not diffe rentiate that my persona was not a real campaigner. Questions like, Wheres the pr oof? said in an aggressive tone were obvious indicators of perceiving my performa nce as real. I think that such a large quantity of people seemingly accepting that someone would in seriousness campaign with a sign that says, Oboma Eats Babies, reflects the cultural change occurring surrounding the conceptions of women and Bl acks place within our cultural framework. When cultural values are at pivotal changing poi nts it is harder to determine what is real form what is fake. These changes are evid ent by the fact that for the first time in American History a woman and a Black man are running for the two highest offices of political power, pushing the boundaries that de marcate certain values I also think people
14 accepting that anyone would campaign with such a ridiculous slogan in a non-satirical way, shows opinions are being presente d as facts by those with authority. By posing as Palin, a person who exhibits the qualities that surround traditional conceptions of woman, such as notions of irra tionality, emotional response in the place of logic, and the use of sexuality as a tool, my persona draws attention to the role woman play in society. Racism is another value s ubtly played with just through the act of opposing a Black candidate while dressed and acting in ways th at are can be associated with values intertwined with racism, namely the white, professional class. The value that emotional persuasion has no place in logical endea vors, such as politics, is also inverted by campaigning with a propagandistic slogan that stems from such misinformation that it is spelled wrong. This performance, Oboma Eats Babies took place on the presidential election day of November 4th, 2008 at the intersection of a WalMart in Sarasota, Florida. Honking was the initial respons e I received. I interpreted lo ng uninterrupted honks, often accompanied by hand gestures and scowls, as a sign for disapproval. A thumbs up, a smile, or laughter were often accompanied by short honks produced in a rapid succession. Many people took pictures with their cell phon es. Many people did not openly interact, but their faces signaled disbelie f, disgust, and a few smiles. Between the hours of five and six pm I rece ived the most verbal responses. All of these reactions varied. One white male called out, Tina Fey, signali ng his association of my persona with the actress Tina Fey, who portrays Sarah Palin in the show, Saturday Night Live. Other responses were more negative, You belong in Hell, one black female said. I cannot tell whether she interp reted my persona as real of fake, but she
15 found my actions inappropriate. An older woman, with a heavy accent, stopped on her way across the street to cheer me on. She s poke in a zealous manner about how Obama is for us. As this was occurring, an offende d Black woman in a car at the intersection called out negatively at us. Misinterpreting my sign, and the situation, the zealous woman happily responded to them cheering, Yes, Ob ama! Obama! while waving her hand in the air, adding yet more confusion fo r an already bewildered audience. Two white, young, adolescent males who appr oached me for a picture interpreted my actions as a joke and recognized the danger with what I was doing. They told me, You have balls, then asked about the re sponses I received. Another young adolescent male swerved his car toward me as he pa ssed, signaling he was going to hit me. While waiting for the light to turn green, one young, white male shouted, Go home and stop spreading your aids! When I did not verba lly respond he yelled, Wheres the proof? in relation to my sign. Pointing at the misspelle d word I said, In the O my friend to signal I was an act. Im not your friend, he responded, obviously missing the punch line of my performance. The missp elling of the candidates name linked with my likeness to Sarah Palin, as well as my cameraman, s hould have signaled that I was an act.12 For me, reactions like this were the most intere sting aspects of my performance because. Another artist relative to my performance art is performance artist Sacha Baron Cohen.13 His most well known persona, Borat, is an absurd T.V. reporter from Kazakhstan who has come to America to report for his country. Posing as a real Kazakhstani reporter, Cohen reco rds a plethora of informati on about Americans cultural 12 Cohen, Sacha Baron (Producer), Charles, Larry (Director). (2006). Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan 13 Cohen, Sacha Baron (Producer), Charles, Larry (Director). (2006). Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan [Motion picture]. Universal City, CA: MCA Universal Home Video.
16 boundaries by contradicting American values Like waxing in public, Cohen walks the tight rope between real and fake in his immediate audiences minds. This ambiguity allows him to expose culturally conditioned responses to the elements he presents. For example, Cohen most likely gets away with kissing strangers on a subway not only because he has a camera, but because they perceive him and his actions as foreign and do not know how to interpret his cultural gest ures. Similarly, one of the things waxing in public exposes is the way people in our cultur e are taught to use and interpret space. In this way, our work is similar in that it exposes different aspects of American culture. Other performance artists, known as the Yes Men, also play w ith perceptions of what is real and fake. These loose-knit groups of performance artists, or imposters, as they call themselves, pose as representati ves from worldwide corporations to host seminars that propose the preposterous. In a recent performance, Andy Bichlbaum, posed as an Exxon Mobil and National Petroleum Co uncil (NPC) representative to propose we use those who die from pollution as fuel in th e future. He delivered this speech to more than three hundred oilmen at GO-EXPO, Cana da's largest oil conference. "With more fossil fuels comes a greater chance of disa ster, but that means more feedstock for Vivoleum. Fuel will continue to flow for those of us left."14 The audience seemed to support him until they realized it was a farce. The turning point came when a janitor in a video they were showing explained the human to oil process, adding that he wanted to be turned into candles after he was dead. The Yes Mens agenda is to expose the insidious nature of big corporations. In doing so, they similarly expose the way institutions respond to values that oppose the cultu rally accepted set of values. 14 "Exxon's Climate-Victim Candles |." The Yes Men. Accessed 27 Apr. 2009. Available from http://theyesmen.org/hijinks/vivoleum
17 Sculptures In another section of my exhibit, I ad dress the process of interpreting meaning through sculptures predominantly made from combining everyday objects to create new, satirical products. Like other products that present solutions to perceived needs that arise out of our shared cultural web, my absurd sc ulptures are objects for some Other imagined consumer market. By juxtapos ing associations that do not normally go together and presenting them as products, I play with our cultural conceptions pertaining to the values surrounding the universal experiences of death, birth, and consumption. My sculpture, Baby Q, is a welded sc ulpture made from th e cheapest Wal-Mart Bar B Q available, bike wheels, and salvaged metal. The chicken bits stuck to the used grill suggest, like the rubbed edges that fade from flat black to gol d underneath, that this grill has been previously us ed. Its aesthetic is reminisc ent of the Victorian era baby carriage, but does not specifically reference any hi storically true style of that era. Rather, I rely on the gold underlay to juxtapose decad ence with the concept of eating our young. Over these rubbed gold edges is a flat black pa int associated with funerary traditions in our culture. While this scul pture is aesthetically attractive, it is simultaneously conceptually repulsive. Not eating our species young has a history of being a value that is inverted for satirical means. In Jonathan Swifts satire, A Modest Proposal, Sw ift suggests the poor of Ireland sell their young as food to the rich to solve the problem of too many poor children.15 In 2009, almost three hundred years late r, jokes about eating babies have become an Internet meme and are a common style of joke current among adolescents. I 15 Swift, Jonathan. Modest Proposal and Other Satirical Works. (New York: Dover, 1996)
18 believe this popularity is due to the fact th at the value that we should protect our young has survived the test of time as a practice, and is ge nerally understood as a joke when inverted. Eating our young has a long-standing status as socially inappropriate within almost all cultures that I know. For this re ason, it is a common taboo used in satire because the contradiction of the opposing values is clear a nd relative to all. Another sculpture, Meat is constructed from rotti ng, discarded veal on a wire frame. Its appearance is that of a skinned ba by with its feet and hands severed sealed in plastic wrap, similar to how chickens are sold. Meat connects the associations of animals as a product with human baby meat as a product to call atten tion to the distancing process from the animals we eat. As I men tioned previously, both are babies, and both can be meat. However, the thought of one is appetizing while the other is repulsive. However, when one claims to actually eat a human fetus, such as Chinese artist Zhu Yu, the boundary is not played with but broken. Regardless of whether or not the fetus was indeed real, because it was framed as real, the pictures and videos of the performance caused worldwide controversy. In response Zhu Yu said, "No religion forbids cannibalismNor can I find any law which prevents us from eating people. I took advantage of the space between morality and the law and based my work on it."16 While Zhu Yu and I both play with the taboo of eating our species young, our handling of the idea produces different results. My insinuation that ou r young is a form of meat might disturb some, but framed as not real my art evokes less of an emotional response than Zhu Yus piece. This allows the viewer more room to think. In the case of the viewers who know of Zhu Yus work, his extreme actions make Meat even less 16 "BBC NEWS | Entertainment | TV and Radio | Babyeating art show sparks upset." BBC NEWS | News Front Page. 05 May 2009
19 threatening by comparison. For those unfamilia r with Zhu Yus piece, Meat might elicit more shock and less thought. The last sculpture in this group is a Fl orida Choose Death, license plate. This object is a product alternative to the institutionally accepted Choose Life license plates found in Florida. The Choose Death license pl ate mimics the colors, style of font, and images found on the Choose Life plate. Th e only difference is that it says Choose Death, and that there are Xs over the chil drens eyes. The concept plays with the idea that there are two socially endorsed point of view surrounding the i ssue of abortion that compete for primacy on the hierarchical scale of socially reinforced values. One is the value that life, even in the fetal phase should be preserved above all else, versus the value that the individual involved in the situation, not the govern ment, should make decisions concerning her own person. While each of these groups fights for their belief to be upheld by the law, only one gets represented by the De partment of Motor Vehicles in Florida, evident by the option for a pro-life license plate and the absence of a pro choice plate. This piece not only calls attention to th e competing current cultural values, but also points out the role inst itutions play in propagating those values by creating products that circulate one value and not the other. Body Printed Sheets Bed Sheets present the viewer with a physical record through motion and mark of a private act. These sheets are displaye d on top of mattresses that are held up by cinderblocks. They appear to float as they hang loosely off the sides of the elevated mattresses, again confronting the viewer with the private brought into public.
20 I applied the paint to my body then masturbated on these sheets. Through the motion of my actions marks are created. Th e image is often balanced due to the symmetry of the human body. Like my sculptures these sheets are aes thetically enticing and conceptually repulsive. I chose the colo rs and positions based on my associations with color, sexual position, and the fantasy present. In this way, the sheets reflect not only my personal associations, but also refe rence cultural associations with color and position. For example, the red on Bed Sh eet #1 brings up associations with menstruation, and the blood present when the hym en breaks. This, coupled with the form that the marks from my legs make around it, renders a disturbing image that appears insecticidal in nature. The prints are not just metaphorical for the act of masturbation, nor representational, but rather, are actual prints from the actual act. As far as the process goes, actually masturbating until climax is an important part in portraying a cohesive act through mark. This is extremely importan t since marks that signify the act of masturbation may not be consciously rec ognized by the viewer, but may instead be, unconsciously referenced. What sets this ap art from pornography is th e distance that a print as an end product allows. My aim is not arousal, but documentation of a private personal act. Interestingly, object ifying my body in this manner, quite literally as a brush, inverts the result of arousal, norma lly found when a body is objectified. While this transgression might not seem as startling because it is framed as art, many viewers were distressed knowing what the marks were. By bringing the private act of masturbation into public th rough the signification of mark, the shame associated with the body and sex gets called into question th rough a distanced, documentary fashion.
21 Bed Sheets are similar in technique to Anthropometry, by Yves Klein in that I use my body as an object, and its movement s to create marks that directly reveal information about the instrument I employ. In Anthropometry Klein paints the bodies of naked woman with blue paint. He uses these living brushes to create imprints on canvas.17 Installations My installations take a more serious a pproach at creating contexts through the cultural associations ascribed to objects a nd space. They embrace the viewer instead of instigate, in order to evoke a re flection that is less intellectual in exchange for one that is more sensual. Removing objects from their everyday context and placing them in new relationships with one another forces the viewer to think about them as clues in the process of deriving meaning. Individuals inte rpretations of my in stallations, however, vary due to personal associations, but the gene ral feeling is understood due to our shared, cultural, associations. For this reason, each installation has a notebook that the viewer must pass to enter that reads, This installation is a type of puzzle. Each object tells a story. Their relationship to the other objects tells a story. What does this installation mean to you? Write down your interpretation before you read others. Please leave this book open to a blank page for the next viewer. This notebook urges the viewer to experience the installatio n, not only as a piece of art that evokes a subjective fee ling or interpretation, but also to question what about the situation provokes the feeling in them, and to question what caused others to come to their interpretations. 17 Arnason, H. Harvard. History of Modern Art Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Photography (Upper Saddle River, N.J: Prentice Hall, 2004) P. 510
22 My installations consist of everyda y objects because they are laden with associations from the viewers cultural and personal histories, and because they have individual histories of their own told through their wear. The mold and wear of the lawn chairs in Family Time exposes the harsh c onditions that the chairs have existed in adding a layer of symbolic meaning for th e viewer to add as a puzzle piece in constructing meaning. I draw out the associations present, both personal and shared, surrounding these objects through the process of spending time aro und the objects to see what feelings and urges develop. The concept for Family Tim e came from the overwhelming feelings I had when viewing a set of lawn chairs spa tial relationships to one another and to the fence in my backyard. Asking myself why I felt the way I did led me to think about my associations with what the objects signif ied and symbolized, as well as the spatial relationships present. The realizations from this led to a solid concept, a concept best expressed through recreating the feeling the concept produced in me. This feeling is the feeling of sterility due to a loss in communication. The chairs can be interpreted as standing in for people. The chairs placement in relation to the walls, and in re lation to one another display sp atial relationships that are not conducive for interaction, but rather, are conducive for staring at a wall. The passage of time and a sense of ageing are suggested through their wear. The dead plant in the corner brings in associations with deat h and stagnance. The high pitch noise heard throughout the space makes occupying the room difficult, if not unbearable. As though directing the lawn chairs, there is a comfor table padded chair placed behind them. On the seat of this chair is a fast food burger. It smells permeates the space. A light clipped onto
23 the back of this chair provides the majority of the light in the room except for a dimmer light that comes through the fr ont doors. The clipped light shines down and out over the other chairs. Both food and light, base neces sities for life, are connected with the comfortable chair that seems to ride behi nd the others like a driver of a chariot. All of these elements combine to create a space that projects a feeling of isolation, lack of communication, drained energy, and hierarchy. Whether interpreted as an institution, (such as a government or co rporate job were productivity is key and socialization is prohibited) or interpreted as a personal gr oup dynamic, (such as a family that forgoes interacting for watching televi sion) this piece reflects the feelings of disassociation and creative ster ility that occur when a social structure is not conducive for participants psyc hological wellbeing. Some viewers interpreted this piece as a response against corporate America, the Nihilism of modern man, dysfunctional family structure, and a lack of time paid to native and old lessons. While these res ponses varied, all the responses showed recognition of the problematic relationshi ps between the obje cts in the room. The concept for The Back Side of a Knife in the House of A Thousand Kings, (B.S.K.H.T.K) grew from the juxtaposition of two phrases th at came to me in the same way. As though picking up radio waves from so me foreign place, the first half of the clause came to me when I was cleaning. W holly Other and unprovoked, the phrase the back side of a knife, mani fested in my head, sending chills through my body. At the time I did not know why, but as I searched for possible meanings it became clear. The phrase, regardless of the specifics of the interpretation is doused with violence. The second clause in the phrase manifested in the same manner after a vivid dream I had.
24 Existing in a state between awake and sleep, the phrase in the house of a thousand kings, flashed through my mind. I placed thes e two phrases together and found they had a new meaning. Juxtaposed as images they concisely expressed a paradox where violence and grace meet. I feel this phrase embodies the insignificance of the i ndividual within the greater place of the universe, while still recognizing the monumental potenti al one individual has in affecting his or her place, no matter how fleeting and small that place may be within the larger picture. This pa radox, that there is no meaning aside from what we ascribe meaning, does not make the meaning any less si gnificant. When only the contradiction is recognized, that we make meaning and therefor e meaning is meaningless, nihilism and a continuous state of viewing reality as Other can take hold on a person. Having had recently dealt with the suicide of a close fr iend, I wanted to create an environment where the uncanny feelings of existen tial crisis were at play. The disorientation that one can experience with both the inside and outside world, reciprocally lead to and are caused by the inability to connect with others and make meaning. In evitably, this state of being leaves one hopeless and drained. My concept on how to approach this s ubject fluctuated. What position to take changed constantly based on materials and li mitations. Eventually, I settled on creating a labyrinth with hinged wood that is commonl y used for doors. Written on the entrance doors was the phrase, The Back Side of a Knife In The House of a Thousand Kings. Once the viewer enters the room they are directed through a one-way labyrinth that spirals into itself in the shape of a nautilu s. The disorientation that one feels in an ontological breakdown is mimicked through th e spatial relationships created by the
25 angling of the hinged doors. Many people who walked it told me they felt like they circled around more times than the space allowe d for, which made them feel disoriented and/or trapped. Bridging the gaps between th e doors was red, yellow, and blue tape. My intention with the primary tape was to ins tigate associations with traditional childhood environments and toys. Coupled with the hi nged wooden slabs the ta pe also created a giant version of an elusive childrens toy that seems to grow longer when played with but never does called Jacobs Ladder. As one spirals inward, one is confro nted with mirrors along the way. These chances for self-reflection each become dirtie r as the viewer gets closer toward the center. At the center of the labyrinth is a plain wooden chair. Above it hangs a cracked, old, dirty mirror that is very hard to see oneself in. Hanging from one of the doors is a candle providing a dim light. Beneath it is a larg e curved one-sided knife that rests on the chair. If the phrase the backsi de of a knife is r ecalled at this point then the viewer will realize that the backside of the knife is seen only when the shar p side is held at neck level and viewed in the mirror. Placed on the seat of the chair, a place commonly associated with resting, the knife offers a solution, the ultimate restdeath. Along the way to the center are objec ts, commonly used in communication, a typewriter, telephone, radio, and a bible. All these objects ar e encased in resin. Not only are these forms of communication unusable, be cause they are encased in resin, but they are also older, outdated technologies. Like a value relative to a different time and place, the reprieve they would supply to a problema tic situation is questio nable. Their encased, untouchable form adds to the feeling.
26 I encased the objects of communication in resin by digging a grave for each object with only my hands. Each grave was made to fit the objects specific form. The objects were encased in resin, some half way, and ot hers, almost fully. This incompletion signals that the encasement of these objects is a pr ocess that happens overtime, similar to the process of disassociating. After hearing the audiences feedback, I would have exchanged the bright colored tape for a neutral colored st ring that would wrap the doors in a web that ended at the center as it connected to the bottom legs of the chair. This would have brought in associations with spider webs such as entr apment, and possibly the Hindu conceptions of Maya (reality as an illusion). I also would have forgone resinating the objects in exchange for breaking and scattering them acr oss the floor, forcing the viewer to walk on, and or through them. This would have made th e viewer think about th e objects with every step, similar to one in a state of mental cris is where the inability to connect with others and make meaning is consistently made conscious with every interaction. The written feedback was interesting. Although all the interpretations were different, the recognition of a loss in communi cation and the recognition of violence ran throughout the interpretations. Various pe ople also verbally commented on the disorientation that I created by the way I angled the doors. A common response was that the space created a feeling of disorientati on, claustrophobia, and once at the center, a general feeling of disturbance. In Where are We Now (Who are We anyway?) Acconci relies on cultural associations with sounds, such as a gavel and cl ock, to instill feelings and ideas of order, intentionally contrasti ng these sounds with sounds of talki ng to create a sense of disorder.
27 Linda Weintraub points out the associations with specific sounds played in Acconcis piece. Disorder was magnified by the continuous banging of a gavel, a futile attempt to establish order. The regimen of the meeting wa s intensified by the tick ing of a clock. It introduced the impression of regulated sc hedules, appointments, [and] timetables.18 Without a shared cultural framework, the cont inuous banging of a gavel would not have signaled a futile attempt to establish order or any of its other institutional associations. About his installations V ito Acconci says, Im work ing here to re-design, redecorate a galleryIm working as a behavior al designer for an al readydefined (prebehavioral) public.19 As artist and writer, Linda We intraub says, Physical boundaries are not simply sculptural concerns. They transmit psychological hurdles and social division as well. Acconci tampers with ac cepted borders between private and public, mine and yours, control and dependence.20 In this way, I feel like my interests are very similar to Acconcis. As Acconci has said, t he goal of making work is to create some kind of peopled space from which to get b ack information about ones culture and the relationship to culture.21 I could not agree more. 18 Weintraub, Linda. Vito Acconci. Art on the Edge and Over: Searching for Arts Meaning in Contemporary Society 1970s-1990s Art Insights, 1996. P.222 19 Weintraub, Linda. Vito Acconci. Art on the Edge and Over: Searching for Arts Meaning in Contemporary Society 1970s-1990s. Art Insights, 1996. P.221 20 Weintraub, Linda. Vito Acconci. Art on the Edge and Over: Searching for Arts Meaning in Contemporary Society 1970s-1990s Art Insights, 1996. P. 220 21 Weintraub, Linda. Vito Acconci. Art on the Edge and Over: Searching for Arts Meaning in Contemporary Society 1970s-1990s. Art Insights, 1996. P. 220
28 Conclusion Through the process of creating this thesis, I have come to realize that my driving point behind this thesis, and what ties all of my work together is my interest in how we as humans interpret experience and create meaning from it through the processes of association, signification, and symbolizati on, both in physical space and in language. Without these processes, that categorize a nd assimilate our perceptions, we as human beings lose our ability to make decisions. Without the interpretive process the world becomes an ambivalent, equivocal mass of sensory information. Through reflecting on these things, one either goes mad, or one su rfaces from the depths with a more holistic understanding of oneself and ones environmen t. From this one gains greater agency within his or her environment. The willingness to question one s values, and more importantly, the shared cultural values presen ted by institutions and figures of authority, is necessary for one to adapt to ones envir onment and be an active agent within it. There are many reasons why I do the ar t I do. Whether I am bringing what is demarcated for private space into public, or inverting associations, I want to create a space for the absurd to occur, where situations that do not normally happen, due to social norms, instead happen. Through exposure to th e absurd, the tightrope between acceptable and unacceptably poignant, I hope to promot e a communion through my art between the viewer and what they might consider Ot her. Regardless of what Other may be, incorporating what is Other into ones e xperiences strengthens ones interpretive structure through increasing the web of associ ations one unconsciously navigates through when forming a judgment.
29 I think satire and getting people to laugh is the best way to do this. If one can instigate laughter in anot her individual, ones point is already half way made. Uncontrollably emitting sound is after all, an unconscious tick that reveals the recognition of a contradiction be tween what is socially expe cted and what is actually occurring. While my goal in presenting this thesis to an audience is to instigate reflection about how we as individuals and also as a group interpret experience and create meaning from it, laughter will also do.
30 Works Cited Arnason, H. Harvard. History of modern art painti ng, sculpture, architecture, photography Upper Saddle River, N.J: Prentice Hall, 2004. Baudrillard, Jean. "The Precession of Simulacra." Art & Text 11 (1983): 3-47. "BBC NEWS | Entertainment | TV and Radio | Baby-eating art show sparks upset." BBC NEWS | News Front Page. 05 May 2009
31 Swift, Jonathan. Modest Proposal and Other Satirical Works. New York: Dover, 1996. "The Temporary Autonomous Zone." The Hermetic Library Hermetic.com 29 Apr. 2009