The Des Lee Gallery presents Past Perfect, Present Tense, an exhibition of art works by the twelve students enrolled in the eponymous course offered in Fall of 2009 at Washington University in St. Louis, taught by Lauren F. Adams.
The interdisciplinary course “Past Perfect, Present Tense” investigates the use of historical research as a strategy within contemporary artistic practice. The structure of the course follows the trajectory of delving into one archival topic, or set of topics, and making a series of works in that arena. Henry L. and Natalie E. Freund Visiting Artist Allison Smith interacted with the class over several sessions, including student involvement in a collaborative sewing bee and a provisional photo studio to assist in the production of Smith’s work. This mode of research and production is inspired by the art works Smith will be producing for her exhibition Needle Work at the Mildred Lane Kemper Museum in the spring of 2010.
This course invited students to select a research topic and create a variety of works using various media strategies, culminating in final projects resulting from semester-long explorations. Participants in the course include a range of BFA and MFA painters, performance artists, sculptors and photographers. The semester’s thematic sections were broken into “The Visible Collection,” “Making Meaning,” and “Performativity and Process.” Shadowing Smith’s studio practice has allowed the students to see up close and firsthand the opportunities and challenges of this working method. The exhibition Past Perfect, Present Tense introduces into the gallery final works that address vital theory and artistic models present in the contemporary art world, as well as providing a look at how current culture reflects and absorbs historical issues.
Issues of reliability and objective authority are present in the work Measure of Man by John Early. Collecting data from the 1904 Olympic Games, held in St. Louis with the conjunction of the World’s Fair, Early has re-presented Olympic challenge results as dry spoken word in two opposing speakers. Separated by a sculptural pile of wooden hurdles, one speaker broadcasts a reading of the quantitative results of the typical Olympic events like long jump and relay racing. The other broadcast is the same type of list, but from a different event unique to the St. Louis Olympics. Anthropology Days, a ‘scientific experiment’ where a variety of men from indigenous populations, including Pygmies, Filipinos, Patagonians and various American Indian tribes, competed so that Olympic spectators and anthropologists could see how they compared to the white man. Early, struggling to surmount the very contemporary question of how to respond ethically and aesthetically to this sordid aspect of American (and St. Louis) history, confronts us with an obstacle.
Zak Marmalefsky also presents us with a unique perspective contrived from local history. Bloody Island, a 19th century no-mans-land in the Mississippi river between St. Louis and East St. Louis was the site of multiple duels dramatically detailed in archival news accounts. As the artist states, these archives were peppered with “endearingly antiquated syntax prone to exaggeration, fabrication, and sentimentality.” Marmalefsky’s strategy for BLOODY ISLAND! was to create an epic narrative in the form of a 70 foot long inked scroll, along with wall drawings. Responding to the class prompt to copy, re-enact, and recreate, in the mythic mode of these St. Louis denizens, and perhaps in a form of homage to another famous once-local artist, Philip Guston, Marmalefsky states that he “attempted to approximate some of those old accounts’ mannerisms and tropes and mostly just amped up the melodrama, affecting the voice of some silly, maudlin hype-man.”
Virginia Eckinger is also concerned with contrived myth and its relationship to history, specifically archaeology and Mesozoic marine reptiles. With the nascent question, ‘What kind of animals existed in Missouri prehistory?’ Eckinger began a search for scientific illustrations, fossils, and texts. Unsatisfied with the thin body of evidence available in archives, what we see in the gallery is the result of the artist longing to fill in gaps and looking to substitute incompletes with fantastic fancies. Adopting the strategy of scientific and museum display cases, Eckinger presents us with an untitled ceramic inventory of fabricated history.
Now back to a history frozen indefinitely, and available in explicit detail for our contemporary experience. Kathryn Neale traveled to Pompeii, Italy in September, participating in a trek that millions have made but with a keen eye to investigate, as a painter interested in decorative surfaces, the decay and destruction wrought by the explosive eruption of Mt. Vesuvius almost 2,000 years ago. Positing Pompeii as a “literal time warp,” Neale playfully and selectively erases and transposes images of actual frescos, encountering realistic landscape and figures with an eye towards abstraction through sampled surface texture. Her material process in apprehending the fresco tradition is evident in the do-it-yourself studio ethic of making do with plaster and ripped papers and canvas, plus pigments, witnessed in the video component to her installation “Golden Hour”: Intonaco and House of Mysteries.
Our next three artists begin with the framework of a personal archive. Ryan Fabel, Katherine Osborn, and Bridgette Zou plumb their own intimate pasts in search of awareness and potential revelation.
Ryan Fabel presents perhaps the most democratic vision of nostalgia available to the obsessive collector. With an apparent attitude allowing both ‘anything goes’ and a rigorous criteria of inclusion, Fabel’s installation Past’s Perfect? Present’s Tense., overwhelms the wall, corner, and floor, adhering not to the modernist grid but to a different perspective on public-cum-private (and back again) display. “It is a catalogue of sorts of time and place,” Fabel offers, “and a physical documentation of temporal moments that have passed, leaving only traces in memory and in these collected physical markers.” Fabel’s catalogue can be understood in some ways by Derrida’s explanation of archive fever, in which the collector compulsively invokes “nostalgia for the return of the most archaic place of absolute beginning.” For Fabel, this place is no place, the ephemeral handbill or dried maple leaf being as significant as everything but also as an inadequate descriptor of utopic times of the past, present, and future.
Collecting takes on a different meaning in Birds of a Feather, by Bridgette Zou. Challenged with the task of creating her own touchstones, Zou borrows the collecting phenomena from baseball cards and board games to document personal relationships and secretive stories. According to Zou, whose criteria for defining friendship was “not only the dialogue and time you spent with someone, but the context of what you tell people – the most important intimate secrets or especially times one felt vulnerable and hurt by someone else.” Similar to artists like Sophie Calle and Tracy Emin, who weave personal history with questionable triangulated narratives, we are left wondering whether the voice hand-written onto the cards is an authentic representation of fact, or perhaps a more malleable, less tidy, but altogether more engaging form of placing oneself in the world and amongst constellations of people.
How many identities do we construct within our one lifetime? Katherine Osburn explores the relationship between handwriting and identity formation through the vocabulary of abstract painting. Early explorations in this past semester had Osburn copying and re-creating handwritten childhood letters, culled from drawings and elementary school assignments. In the video “I like to live in the country beckus I cood beabl to play out sid mour thin in sid,” we see the adult artist exploring mark-making in a diaristic manner. Extrapolating from more found letters, in the formal rubric of ephemeral materials like tracing paper and varying sheens of clear and tinted ink washes, An Elaboration on the Top Left Corner becomes a clustered meditation on abstraction in language and identity in the making.
There is another artist that I would like to discuss within the notion of formation of identity in youth. Emily Moorhead has explored in various works the relationship between mass media and the individual’s identity. Delving deeply into the specific media content of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation as a model for many violent television shows, Moorhead has enlisted a group of young adults (including the artist) to read the printed script of the show. Moorhead explains, “The text establishes ideological disputes that are suppressed through reinforcing established norms. The show is teaching us social values and attitudes that we must accept in order to enjoy the program but more importantly, to function in the dominant society.” With the title of Interpellation, we could take that to mean the process by which you recognize yourself to belong to a particular identity, and how identity interacts with the dominant ideology referenced by the artist. Moorhead’s open-ended spoken word recording is somehow perversely mirrored and visually manifested in the appropriated stock photography of a somewhat average-looking middle class American family displayed next to the recording. Whose average? Whose middle class? Through appropriation and re-enactment, Moorhead shows herself to be aware of the impossibility of answers to certain questions.
A vague sense of tension also permeates the work of Donna Smith in Tether, a sculptural video installation making use of a Victorian-style couch and a performative attitude. In many of Smith’s previous works, we see the artist use her body as a pliable form, in this case specific to her research of Victorian corsets and other body modification rituals historically documented throughout the globe. Musing on the relationship between utilitarian domestic forms like 19th century fainting couches and their costumed predecessor, the corset, Smith offers an uncomfortable pose, writhing within and against a very personal critique of the historically troubled feminine form.
We end this adventure with the work of Alexander Vitti, whose research topic grew out of a long line of documentation of mental illness and creativity. Vitti’s strategy of collage, where forms disrupt and morph alongside and on top of each other, seems an appropriate place to site a reactive meditation. Lifting iconic images from artists such as Henry Darger, Vincent Van Gogh, and Martin Ramirez, what we see is a cloud of impressions, some obvious in their success and some melting into obscurity, like the artists that made them. Conducting his work in tape, Vitti uses a well-known characteristic of many folk and outsider artists who worked with the materials immediately available (like James Castle, who worked in soot and spit, or Darger, who taped together pieces of notebook paper). What results is as ephemeral as the original work that inspired it.
“The work is almost like groping around in the dark for me. It’s only through the making that I realize what I’m trying to do.” – Cornelia Parker
Reflecting on my research of the 1904 Olympic Games this semester leaves me fairly satisfied in terms of thoroughly investigating a topic and following through in a meaningful, substantial way; however, if I am frank, I must confess that the above sentiments of Cornelia Parker very much describe my semester in this course. To stretch her imagery out a bit, I suppose that I did at least know the room in which I had been placed—the room with the door dually labeled “Francis Field” and “1904 Olympic Games”—but once inside the dark room, my experience was very much that of probing and investigating and trying to find my bearings, all without quite knowing what exactly my objective was in doing so.
I have conducted various degrees of research in past art pieces, but none as in-depth as in this class. The most difficult aspect of the research was balancing my initial idea(s) that led me to choose my specific topic with where the research itself might be leading me, thereby altering those initial ideas. At a point of fogginess for me earlier in the semester, Allison Smith visited our class and offered a sentiment that I found consoling: go with what interests you. I realize those words are simple and their message appears quite obvious, but at the time they took a load off my shoulders and gave me permission to approach my research with a renewed freedom and energy to keep searching.
Another challenging aspect of this process was how to translate my research into “art.” I felt a tension between being too didactic and overt, on one hand, versus being too general and vague on the other hand. This was especially true given the interest I took in the “Anthropology Days” event that occurred in conjunction with the Olympic Games. Dealing with such a delicate topic is not what I expected to be doing, nor is it something I have much experience doing in my art. It’s not that I was looking for a magic solution; I just found myself asking a lot of questions regarding how, as an artist, to best deal with certain aspects of my research.
A couple of breakthroughs over the course of the semester really helped me begin to act meaningfully on my research. One such instance was learning about the work of Ronald Jones, an artist who uses specific sculptural forms to transport the viewer into another space and time. I decided to employ a similar strategy by faithfully recreating wooden hurdles that were used in the 1904 Olympic Games. Another breakthrough was learning about the piece Boniek! (2007), by Swiss artist Massimo Furlan, in which he reenacted the movements of a star soccer player—accompanied by play-by-play from a live sports announcer—in the vacant stadium where that match originally occurred. This gesture, coupled with the walks of Janet Cardiff, prompted me to experiment with using bodily and audio elements as additional ways to re-contextualize or reframe ones experience and understanding of a given place.
My final installation, entitled The Measure of Man, ended up being a combination of objects (a pile of hurdles, within which one tall hurdle is situated) and audio (two separate tracks playing aloud on opposing sides of the sculpture; one lists–in my voice–the results from the 1904 Olympic Games; the other–also in my voice–reads the results from Anthropology Days). Though I believe that this piece successfully incorporates many aspects of my research in which I was most interested, I do not feel that it encompasses the whole of my inquiry, at least in terms of my desired responses to it. I foresee at least one other piece stemming from my research, but I also think that it’s possible for additional pieces to arise as these initial efforts are worked out and reflected upon down the road.
For my final project at the Des Lee, I wanted to incorporate all three sources of body modification I have researched this semester: neck elongation, Victorian corsets, and foot binding. Throughout the research process, I discovered that the idea of confinement to a place physically through the inability to walk or breath properly, manifests into a mental captivity of the person undergoing the modification. By projecting the image of a woman struggling to free herself from these constraints onto a piece of furniture constructed to continue the use of the corset, a fainting couch, the memory and ephemeral scars of the history of body modification and transformation is shown. This links the historical past of these processes with the contemporary knowledge of their use and continued use today, just in different forms. For example, foot binding may have been specific to certain groups in China, but towering high heels are universal. While foot binding has ended in most areas, the same process occurs in walking in ill-fitting shoes for hours and hours of the day for many women.
Even in 1887, in the midst of the Victorian corset era, Dr. Robert L. Dickinson notes that, “In the adult female the form of the chest and abdomen and the respiratory movements are often undoubtedly modified by tight lacing.” To knowingly injure the body in order to present a more beautiful and desirable person is why this tradition continued and still does in contemporary fashion. However, the ways the body is sculpted are more surgical now due to many cosmetic procedures that are available. For my photograph in the show, I think the placement aids the idea of the normality of corsets. The couch is in plain view, though the photography acts as areminder, hidden in the back, that a person could not escape the transformative properties of the corset, neck elongation, or foot binding exercises. My research has brought me to the conclusion that confinement to a place was another modification to a person as a result of the outer garments.
Thomas, Pauline Weston. “Mid-Late Victorian Fashion and Costume History,” for Fashion-Era.com. Dickinson, Robert L., Lecturer on Obstetrics, Long Island College Hospital.”Questions of Pressure and Displacement,” The New York Medical Journal, 5 November, 1887.
Bloody Island is a real place—as unlikely as its veracity might seem, given the lurid mythos surrounding it. As well as that—the placec—there is also, of course, the stories, the “colorful history,” a window into a world not very different but also very different, where folks were bitter, petty, gossipy, and vindictive but also gentlemanly and frivolous enough to semi-frequently duel to the death as an act of honor. Historians use the Bloody Island nugget the infuse otherwise dull city history with some drama and intrigue and cultural commentators often employ its colorful imagery to imbue discussions of the real-world, unglamorous violence in East St. Louis with a little classic charm.
These are all things that interested me, inspiring my decision to approach the subject matter—the story itself (I am a sucker for exciting, apocryphal, local trivia, with which St. Louis’ story brims, conveniently), but also the story of its use in telling stories, the story of the retelling of stories. Here is the story, in brief, one more time:
Some time at the turn of the nineteenth century, an island appeared in the Mississippi, just literally appeared one day according the records (does that happen? I picture a dramatic entrance with a loud plop). Soon enough locals realize that the island is not subject to Missouri law and thus is quite a convenient location for activity of dubious legality. It quickly becomes a site for celebrity duels, participation in which the local press celebrates as a hallmark of refined, gentlemanly excellence. Then Bloody Island gets too big—Captain Robert E. Lee leads a military engineer faction who dike the river and fill in the gaps (explanation involves the most minimal understanding of scientific jargon and commonsense). The duels stop shortly thereafter, especially with the advent of libel laws. Bloody Island—now “the island,” the sandy shore of Illinois—becomes the first downtown for East St. Louis, and serves as the site for the infamous East St. Louis race riots in 1917. Now it houses a freeway off-ramp, off the Poplar Street Bridge, and a semi-vacant train yard owned by the Terminal Railroad Association of St. Louis.
To the best of my knowledge, that story does not exist in a concise, inclusive form. At the gallery opening some long-time locals agreed that, although of course they know about Bloody Island, they had never encountered the narrative altogether. That was one part of my desire to retell the story in the form of my approximately seventy-five foot scroll-drawing. My research included reading a lot of contradictory accounts—mostly reprinted newspaper articles contemporary to the events described—and the hammy showmanship in the language used compelled me (it, so removed from modern standards for journalistic prose). So I became a participant, joining—rather than commenting on or responding to—that chorus of yarn-spinners.
Somewhere down the line I did venture to the place itself, an excursion which included getting lots many times and driving back and forth over the many bridges crossing the Mississippi in the St. Louis metropolitan area. When I finally found it—as the sun rose—I drew some pictures en plein aire (though these were not included in my final presentation) and generally absorbed and appreciated the marsh, brushy surroundings.
The last final component—that big drawing on the wall came out of a desire to at last depict the aspect thus far avoided, namely the blood & guts stuff. So I stripped the tale of its specifics—the site specificity—and reduced it to cartoon violence, to the man-to-man, gun-to-gun conflict. Because ultimately—despite whatever delusions of grandeur, of “sport”—that is really what it came down to.
Barnes, Harper. Never Been a Time: The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked the Civil Rights Movement. New York: Walker & Company, 2008.
“Bloody Island.” East St. Louis Action Research Project . University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2009. <http://www.eslarp.uiuc.edu/IBEX/ARCHIVE/guidebook/bloody%20island.htm>.
Missouri: A Guide to the ‘Show Me’ State (American Guide Series). New York: Scholarly Pr, 1981. Print.
“Missouri Digital Heritage: Education. “Crack of the Pistol: Dueling in 19th Century Missouri”.” Missouri Secretary of State Home Page. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2009. <http://www.sos.mo.gov/archives/education/dueling/political-duels.asp>.
“St. Louis Historic Preservation.” St. Louis Missouri. St. Louis Historical Society, n.d. Web. 14 Dec. 2009. <http://stlcin.missouri.org/history/structdetail.cfm?Master_ID=1408>.
My investigation in my own handwriting has led me to a further understanding of my identity as an artist. At the beginning of the semester, I was at a loss of what to research, daunted by the idea of committing my entire semester to an investigation and collection of one topic. As a person who did not use research as a direct resource in my work, I began to consider what would be a sustainable topic that I would truly care about. My consideration brought me back again and again to myself. As immodest as this sounds, it reflects my opinion that artwork is most powerful when it reveals something personal. Considering this, I began to realize that my own artwork, while deeply personal to me, allows little room for the viewer to connect with me as an individual. The investigation into my handwriting was a way to delve into something personal that had substantial longevity and measurability.
Given that my topic of research could not be found or observed in public institutions (libraries, archives, collections), but in the home, I began to wonder how exactly my discoveries fit in with traditional methods of historical research, which was the basis of the class. In an essay by Michael Foucault, I learned about the author’s opinion on the differences between history and genealogy. In “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History”, he speaks about genealogy as being a more accepting form of understanding the past, usually starting with the present and working backwards, embracing mistakes and contradictions, as opposed to history which progresses in a linear fashion, with a definite start and finish. He states, “Genealogy, as an analysis of descent, is thus situated within the articulation of the body and history. Its task is to expose a body totally imprinted by history and process of history’s destruction of the body.” He elaborates, “The body manifests the stigmata of past experience and gives rise to desires, failings, and errors. These elements may join in a body where they achieve a sudden expression, but as often, their encounter is an engagement in which they efface each other, where the body becomes the pretext of their insurmountable conflict. The body is the inscribed surface of events (traced by language and dissolved by ideas)…” [Note: Foucault’s reference to the body is to one’s physical human body]. I found this interpretation to be relevant to the way I was researching, since I was starting with my writing now, and working my way into the marks I wrote with my body (my hands) in the past.
For my final installation, An Elaboration on the Top Left Corner, I cut out the letters of my name in tracing paper, and arranged them in clusters alphabetically. I also showed the animation of me tracing my childhood drawing. In the wall piece, I wanted to represent both my presence in creation and concentrate on a specific section of my research. My name is the most recorded word I possess, and so I considered it appropriate to reflect on this word. One’s name is also the most personal thing he or she has in society. In a way, names reveal one person’s identity to another. My title refers to the location of one’s name on a document. I chose to use tracing paper because of its function as a tool, as with my “Making Meaning” project. It is used for the purpose of transferring information. I considered the piece to be a transfer of my abstract mark making onto the components of my most distinguishably personal mark- my name. I also painted letters on the wall to more directly reflect of my body’s presence in the piece. They are intended to carry out similar qualities to those of the shadows on the wall. They refer to something unseen, made with a tracing gesture of my created letters- a way to continue the process I began at the beginning of this semester.
Foucault, Michael. “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History”, 1971.
Miller, James H. Bibliography of Handwriting Analysis: A Graphological Index. N.Y.: Whitston Pub. Co, 1982
My final installation entitled, “Golden Hour:” Intonaco and House of Mysteries was inspired by a recent trip to Italy and a day was spent visiting the ancient city of Pompeii. Pompeii was completely destroyed in one morning by a massive eruption from the nearby volcano, Mt. Vesuvius, in 79 A.D. It was left buried for almost seventeen hundred years when in the 18th century, the city was rediscovered. Visitors throughout the ages have found Pompeii so compelling because it’s a 1st century city frozen in time.
For my installation, I decided to focus on the beautiful fresco paintings excavated from the city. My idea was inspired by a rather dry article I read on the history of the excavations, specifically on the restoration of the wall paintings written by an art historian in 2007. By the mid-18th century, the King of Naples realized the importance of Pompeii and entirely funded the excavations, but since nothing had ever been discovered like this on such a massive scale, there was no protocol for preserving these paintings. Instead, the workers were ordered to literally “cut out” pieces of the frescoes and ship them to the King, who then framed and hung them in his royal palaces for his personal enjoyment. The result was that, as the author of this article states, “Once the wall paintings had been removed, both materially and mentally, from their context, they came to constitute a sort of intermediate category, in part items designed for a picture gallery and in part archaeological finds.” Therefore, she goes on to explain, the paintings were then “presented as easel paintings, with subjects ‘cut out’ to conform to Rococo taste and iconography, displayed under glass in painted wooden frames and varnished in order to conserve their colours” (D’Alconzo, Paola, trans. By Mark Weir, Naples and the birth of a tradition of conservation, p. 207).
I became fascinated by this idea when I read this passage and started asking myself why in my artwork. From my research, I began to explore why the materiality of the images I was attracted to in these fresco images were compelling to me and concluded that I was drawn to the look of the “old” and “ancient” in these images. This aesthetic is a very modern phenomenon, one that design industries try to capitalize on when chooses to purposely distress furniture, walls and or even clothing like jeans. When did this happen and why are these images so compelling to our modern eye?
For my video piece, Intonaco, I decided to imitate the process of fresco through the “instant” almost “do-it-yourself” technique using plaster in Paris. While I was making the piece I thought of it as an implied performance and more of a “passage in time,” creating my own history. I incorporated pieces of canvas with images I directly referenced from real photographs taken of the frescoes discovered. In fresco painting, it is a science to perfectly time the process when the lime calcifies into the wall or surface there is only a window of about 4-5 hours when the lime accepts paint. This window is called the “Golden Hour,” and “intonaco” is the final layer, when after about 12-15 hours of preparation, the plaster finally accepts paint on its surface. But after this period the lime hardens, completely sealing the paint permanently. Through my video piece, I explored this time-lapsed process, painting into the surface of plaster and then watched it harden. In the end I also played the role of the archeologist, finding my hidden “excavations” in paper and canvas and feeling the excitement of putting these pieces together after discovering what’s under the layers as the plaster hardens and cracks.
The look of decayed imagery that seems ancient or old is also explored further in my wall piece, entitled House of Mysteries. I decided that even though most of the frescoes discovered in Pompeii have a narrative and figurative element, as an artist I was not interested in the figure. Therefore, I literally cut out the figure and in my poster piece I replaced it with nature scenery from another fresco. In my wallpaper design, I cut out the figure leaving the worn look of the frescoed surface and created a repeated graphic pattern. In the end, I saw myself as playing the role of the early excavators in the18th century. Stripped of it’s original content and purpose, I only choose the imagery that I thought was beautiful and what I was attracted to, therefore, completely re-contextualizing the imagery to create a new modern graphic pattern with the standards and judgments of a contemporary eye.
Amery, Colin and Brian Curran Jr. The Lost World of Pompeii. (specifically Chapters, “Life and Art,” “The Legacy of Pompeian Style,” and “The Grand Tour.”
D’Alconzo, Paola. Translated by Mark Weir. “Naples and the birth if a tradition of conversation”, Journal of the History of Collections (2007), Oxford University Press, vol. 19 no. 11, pp. 203-214.
Ibeji, Mike. “Empires of Absent Mind: Rome and the USA,” BBC Online. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/romans (accessed 22 October,2009).
“History of Fresco Painting.” Italian Frescoes Online. http://ww.italianfrescoes.com/history.asp (accessed 22 October 2009).
Lorenz, Katharina. The Ear of the Beholder: Spectator Figures and Narrative Structure in Pompeian Painting. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Printing, November 2007, pp. 665-682.
Nappo, Salvatore Ciro. “Pompeii: Its Discovery and Preservation,” BBC Online. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/romans (accessed 22 October 2009).
For the past year I have been researching America’s fascination with violence. This broad topic has involved study in local property ownership disputes, popular violent films, and the physicality of domestic abuse. I am focused on this topic in an attempt to understand my personal identity formation by popular media. While watching narrative telecommunication and cinematic media, we are transported to another time and place. We identify with characters by camera angles, cultural interpellations, and emotional soundtracks. Through a level of voyeurism and scopaphilia we want to become these murderers, heroes, and victims. In filmic media “we allow our monsters to come out and play, our dreams to be firmed into pictures, our fantasies transformed into plot structures”, effectively suppressing primitive desires (Newcomb and Hirsh 62). Moreover, by consuming these texts, we have become cultural constructions of dominant ideologies. In agreement with a Marxist view, I believe that dominant ideologies as portrayed in television are a means to regulate “mental production, so that the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are on the whole subject to” ruling ideas (Marx and Engles 39). As a conscious visual consumer, I am bringing these forms of domination to light therefore exposing the intricacies of popular culture’s power.
Through Past Perfect, Present Tense, I have delved deeper into the specific media content of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation as a model for violent non-cable television shows. The text establishes ideological disputes that are suppressed through reinforcing established norms. The show teaches viewers social values and attitudes that must be accepted in order to enjoy the program but more importantly, to function in the dominant society. While exploring the meaning of my research, I have noticed that teens and preteens play a large role in each case. This age group is targeted as a means to demonstrate effects of parenting and acceptable family structures. The program’s popularity among teens is very low in comparison to age specific dramas. Not only is there a connection in CSI’s content to this age group, but also I see a connection to identity formation within the teen years. During the adolescent period in life we go through an identity crisis where we no longer look to our parent’s ideals for sole guidance. This age group seeks approval from their peers and from social standards established through the consumption of mass media. While conceptions of personal identity are more solidified as adults, we are still influenced by these mass communications in our desires to be successful society members.
Furthermore, this semester I have researched contemporary cult media. Popular or cult texts interpellate viewers into specific ideological constructions, but they also appease the viewers’ cravings. I have been trying to understand how society navigates between these contradictions of control and pleasure. I personally find release escaping into fantasy environments, believing in the unreal, and feeling emotionally supported, but I cannot over look controlling devices that affect my personal identity. I am conflicted, as I believe most thoughtful audiences are, between succumbing to cultural conventions and escaping the drudgery of everyday life through media reception. In this effect, our happiness is contingent upon capital exchange and suppressive forces. By creating work about this social phenomenon, I hope to allow viewers a better understanding of their relationship to popular communication.
Works Consulted for research
Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment. New York: Vintage, 1989. Print.
Brooks, Karen. “Nothing Sells like Teen Spirit.” Youth Cultures; Text, Images, and Identity. Westport,
CT: Praeger Publishers, 2003. 2-16. Print.
Flanagan, Caitlin. “What Girls Want.” The Atlantic Dec. 2008. Web. 1 Dec. 2009.
Gwenllian-Jones, Sara. “Virtual Reality and Cult Television.” Cult Television. Minneapolis, MN:
University of Minnesota Press, 2004. 83-98. Print.
Jenkins, Henry III. Textual Poachers. New York: Routledge, 1992. 34. Print
Jenkins, Henry III. “Star Trek Rerun, Reread, Rewritten.” Television: The Critical View. 5thed. New
York: Oxford University Press, 1994. 448-73. Print.
Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engles. “The Ruling Class and the Ruling Ideas.” Karl Marx, Friedrich
Engles: Collected Works. Vol. 5. N.p.: n.p., 1976. 39-42. Print.
Newcomb, Horace M., and Paul M. Hirsh. “Television as a Cultural Forum.” Quarterly Review of
Film Studies. Vol. 2. South Salem, NY: Redgave Publishing Company,1983. 58-73. 8 vols.
Radway, Janice A. Reading the Romance. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina
Press, 1982. 61-90. Print.
Stephens, John. “”I’ll never be the same after that Summer”.” Youth Cultures; Text, Images and
Identity. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2003. 123-37. Print.
Stevenson, Nick. Understanding Media Cultures. 2nd ed. Los Angeles: SAGE publications Inc.
In the exhibition at the Des Lee Gallery, for the class Past Perfect, Present Tense, I am showing a collection of posters, flyers and hand bills, along with drawings, photos, a movie, objects, etc., that I have accumulated over the last six years from events (music, art, parties, life) that I have worked on, taken part in, or gone to, and from people that I have worked with curated, booked, or look up to. It is a catalogue of sorts of time and place, and a physical documentation of temporal moments that have passed, leaving only traces in memory and in these collected physical markers. As part of this exhibition, I have asked people to create a poster, flyer, or hand bill with the aesthetic of a show advertisement (music, art, event), however, instead of it functioning to promote an event or happening, for it to share or promote a positive message. During the past two months as I have been collecting these new works, I have been posting them up around town and handing them out to people in the same manner that i would to be promoting an upcoming event. There is a copy of each of these new works in the exhibition, mixed in with the larger body of my collection, which is displayed in a large wall collage.
This part of the project for me has been about creating a platform for people to display and exchange their ideas. In making the message and poster the commodity, being freely given, and removing the advertisement of the event or upcoming occurrence, the intention is to make the message and image (poster, flyer), the event. Either in the action required in choosing to hand someone something, or taken to post a flyer on a bulletin board or telephone pole, and in the instance that a stranger or passer-byer comes across the message and poster. Here, there are two things that are established as fundamental to this process. Initiative, required to create and share a message with a friend or the public, and chance, found in the unknown, or happenstance, upon which the message is read or interpreted.
“Media art, performance art, performative design: they must interfere with these everyday aesthetics if they wish to contribute ethically to a democratic process. They must interrupt the continuity of existing social relations and perceptions well entrenched in the theatre of the city… To preserve democracy one must challenge it; one must challenge its symmetry with an asymmetry of ethical responsibility.” (Krzystof Wodiczko pg.87-88 Open transmission)
I believe that this element of chance is most important. In putting these statements out into the public sphere, there is no telling when and where somebody could come across one of these posters, and what that persons mindset may be at the time of the encounter. Here, I enjoy the possibility that either the message being conveyed could be easily passed by and overlooked, or it could possibly stop someone in their tracks, and take on some type of significance and importance. This is important, because like most everything else, everyday so much is over looked and glossed over, but sometimes, when the moment is right, and if our eyes are open wide enough, and the light is shinning just so, we may “see” something. Lefebvre’s concept of the ‘moment’, is explained as “a fleeting, intensely euphoric sensation which appear(s) as a point of rupture which reveal(s) the totality of possibilities of daily existence.” (Lefevbvre pg.138 The Production of Space) It is these tiny instances, among many others along the way, that piece together a life. Both in living experience, and in memories.
As an extension of the making meaning assignment for the class, we were asked to think about our projects and work through the lens of performativity and action. Given that action, was already an integral part of piece that i am working on, in terms of both creating a project that gathers or calls for others to participate, and in the handing out and posting of these messages and flyers, taking place in the public, i was interested in continuing my contributions to the project (making posters), as well as, creating another “commodity” to be exchanged, or more appropriately given. Working with the posters and handbill flyers that i have been creating, i spent a few days exploring actions on Delmar, in the Loop in University City walking up and down the street handing out flyers that stated “Everyday is a Good Day” and “Don’t Give Up” to strangers as they pass by. I also created a collage of xerox posters on a large empty wooden wall that had been painted white. Using repetition, I posted 50 copies of the same image,a faint pencil drawing on yellow paper with the words “Don’t Give Up” legible upon inspection. This was a way for me to draw more focus to one particular message by having it exist unto itself, rather that being clustered on a bulletin board among other posts.
Continuing in a course of action that puts me in direct contact with the public, specifically, also dealing with the notions of commodity and exchange, I decided that i would pursue a project that i have been wanting to do involving balloons. In keeping with the theme of promoting or sharing a positive message, I made 100 small tags, with a hand written message of “It will be ok” on each one. Renting a helium tank, I blew up 100 balloons in my kitchen, and after attaching a tag with a message to each one, I set out into the world to take a walk. The intention or goal, was to hand a balloon to anyone that i passed by on my journey, until i was out of balloons. In general, each person i offered a balloon to, accepted it unquestioning with a smile. Spreading good will, choosing to focus on the positive, and attempting to pass it on. I heard a lot of people talking about what they would do next with their balloon. Maybe they would write their own message on it and let it go into the sky, perhaps for someone else to find it when it gets tired of flying around, or maybe they would take that balloon and share it with a friend or loved one to brighten their day. Here the possibilities of the unknown are endless, and i like that. Chance and happenstance. A body or thought in motion, crossing paths with possibly anyone at anytime. This is a reality in the way the world works, and captures the ‘spirit” of my intentions in these pieces.
Tying in these actions to my exhibition in the Des Lee was accomplished in part by being able to create the window display of the gallery for the opening. With the help of Chloe Bethany, two hundred yellow balloons were blown up and placed in the exterior window display case of the gallery. Above the balloons hung a handmade pink banner, made by Bethany, with the words ‘Today Is The Day’ sewn onto it in brown letters, outlined in silver sequins. Today is the day! This a theme that is woven throughout my entire installation in the content displayed. Posters, flyers, handbills and photographs from years of events and gatherings. Objects and residue from my travels and interactions. All of these pieces of ephemera contain significance and represent time and place past. Many days that have been THE day. Add ’em up and here we are, December 2009, St. Louis, MO.
Included in the exhibition for the opening, I made multiple copies of five CD’ s. Two, were bootlegs of two specific shows of some of my favorite musicians (Mt. Eerie and Thanksgiving with Lake), that I booked, and played in, at venues that I have run in the past. There were copies of Time Life, a compilation I made in 2007, for an exhibition at Junior Gallery in Cincinnati, Ohio, of artists and musicians that live all over this great land that we call America. The last two CD’s included a remix of two compilations that I have previously released, and one new compilation, limited to an edition of 50 copies, made specifically for the exhibition. This was an attempt to share old and new memories, in the form of music, with others. Included in the ‘giveaways’ I created for the show, I made an edition of prints limited to 26, that were designed to aesthetically reflect the handbill flyers that I have been making and distributing over the last few months, though silkscreened instead of xeroxed.
The refrigerator of the Des Lee was included as part of my installation to act as a facilitator; functioning as another platform for people to participate, in making and bringing food and beverages to contribute, and as another offering to the public audience, to be able to enjoy, take from and use at their convenience. The aspect of sharing food and drink with friends and strangers, in a public social setting has always been important in the events that I facilitate and create.
Past’s Perfect? Present’s Tense. This is true. There are still many unanswered questions. All I know is that today will always be the day, and remember… don’t give up! ever!!… what would be the point?
While in the early stages of researching mental illness, it became very evident to me that there was quite a lot of information to sift through. I had to narrow my view, so to speak, and soon thereafter I became particularly interested in the way art changes when produced through the lens of a mental alteration. I had done significant research on a series of artists who either had a mental illness or depicted the mentally ill in their art. As I progressed even further I began to focus more on the work of mentally ill artists. It was the link between creativity and the mentally ill that developed into of strong interest of mine. “Whether mental illness spurs creativity has long been debated. Regardless of whether it does or not, art is a physical representation of thoughts and emotions that are otherwise not easily conveyed by other means, and thus it is a potential portal into the minds of mentally ill people” (Fujimoto). Thus with my research, and more specifically through my final project, I tried to symbolically explore the concept of using art as a “portal” into further understanding the link between the creative process and the mentally ill.
That said, as my research began to narrow in and focus more specifically, I began to realize that I, on a personal level, enjoyed nearly all of the artwork from my research. It was fascinating to me how artwork of which I seemed to prefer often came from those who were in a state of mental instability. One could even claim these artists to be visual geniuses, so to speak, yet at the same time they suffered from an illness. I found this to be quite an intriguing juxtaposition. In my research, however, I actually found a commentary on just this phenomena: “Lombroso, C., 1894. The man of genius, Scott, London.Cesare Lombroso [in] 1894… postulated that geniuses in all fields—particularly those in the visual arts—suffer from hereditary and degenerative psychosis” (Spaniol). With that in mind, I decided that my final project was to be, for all intents and purposes, a tribute to these “geniuses” in the field of visual arts.
This tribute of mine was on its most basic level a collaboration of the most interesting research I had done thus far. As far as medium goes I settled on what I had been using most of the semester so far: artist’s tape. It is a cheap and simple material that would not have been out of the realm of availability both financially and practically to some of the artists in my research, who were often confined to a hospital and thus limited. I made this tape art mural by visually blending various silhouetted depictions of the artists work on the wall in blue tape. I laid them on top of each other so that they overlapped and created confusion for the viewer. To play on this confusion I tilted every image 90 degrees clockwise so as to further complicate the viewer’s comprehension of the piece. The overall mural was also loosely shaped like a brain tilted on its side and the jumble of images were merely the contents of this brain. As an added commentary on the beauty of these artists work I put a small heart on the ground right below the mural so as to “project” the stream of consciousness through the lens of beauty onto the wall in the shape of a brain. It was a transformation from the general populace’s view on the mentally ill as one of humanity’s unkindest misfortunes to hopefully seeing past this and acknowledging them as an unremitting source of visual beauty.
Fujimoto, Alissa. “Art as a Portal Into the Minds of Those With Mental Illness.” Ed. Molly Douglas-Fujimoto. The American journal of psychiatry 165.7 (2008): 819. ArticleFirst. Web. 11 Dec. 2009.
Spaniol, Susan. “Art and mental illness: where is the link?” The Arts in psychotherapy 28.4 (2001): 221. ArticleFirst. Web. 11 Dec. 2009.