Articles & Reviews
A Collection of Small Miseries: Studio Philosophy and Project Research
Carole Hanson Epp
In the open category, Carol Hanson's essay stood out as a clear winner and the judges' decision was unanimous. There is much to enjoy. 'A collection of small miseries' is a considered and sophisticated account of the thought processes that inform Hanson's activities as a ceramicist. She argues for a notion of the artist-maker as 'presenter of critical dialogue', capable of initiating social change, whose work can 'situate the viewer in a position of self-reflection'. The discussion covers a wide intellectual territory; topics such as 'appropriation', 'resistance', 'kitsch' and 'consumerism' are handled with aplomb in a weaving together of personal concerns and socio-political issues. Hanson references (for example) Michel Foucault on power relations and Guy DeBord on the Society of the Spectacle. She has a light yet incisive touch with so-called 'heavy' theory and never loses sight of 'my own practical production of objects and attempts to imbue singular objects with the content and context that I desired'.
The aim of my studio practice has been to analyze social reality through the creation of work dealing with issues of a political and humanitarian nature. Through an ethically sound methodology I aim to adequately represent the issues investigated in a manner that might also work towards social change. I chose to work in ceramics for numerous reasons, but primarily because I feel that the medium, its historical and contemporary contexts, aesthetics, and domestic associations offer the potential to speak about controversial and politically charged subject matter in a manner that is not limited by, but involves theories of art, craft and political activism. The main connection that I am trying to make through the work is that the role of objects and ethics are central to an understanding of the social life of a culture.
Interestingly my investigation into the role of objects in our everyday lives and the life of society began through my desire to move away from my past practice of installation based ceramics art and move towards an investigation focusing on the individual crafted object. Little did I know at that point in time that the next few years would develop this incentive into a body of research centering around the role, proliferation and context of objects within an economic discourse. In the beginning my struggles were based in my own practical production of objects and attempts to imbue singular objects with the content and context that I desired.
The body of work discussed is entitled A Collection of Small Miseries . It is a body of work that subverts and manipulates the traditional genre of collectible figurines by revealing an alternative representation of behavior and morality in contemporary society. An analysis of consumer culture is unveiled and dialogue is presented regarding the personal relationship one has with global events and politics.
I have always had a firm belief in the ability of art to present individual and collective perspectives on life, as a source of documentation for an alternative writing of history and as a means of inciting change in the world. As Leon Trotsky saw it art was not a mirror but 'a hammer; it does not reflect, it shapes'.1 I see my practice as both the mirror and the hammer, based on the belief that the time and space for contemplation is required before one can possess the incentive to change.
But to base an investigation of the social reality of consumer culture in politics, economics, humanitarian and ecological concerns, I have had to first evaluate my position relative to the issues. As artists establish themselves as presenters of critical dialogue, as witnesses to cultural/political/humanitarian events, and as conscious social activists they must work with awareness that their role is both precious and precarious when held in relation to appropriation and questions of identity. I have had to question what limits or rules, if any, are placed on artists who, through their work, present statements on such charged and controversial events as war or economic inequality. As media and journalism move towards an era of the abuse of personal narrative, exploiting individuals in times of crisis, manipulating them into signs to be associated with an event, artists must, rather than follow suit, establish an ethical code towards the subjects and topics they will re-interpret and re-present.
Our postmodern world is quickly becoming a 'globalized' world: one in which media and the internet provide us with access to information and perspectives that were previously unattainable from the comfort of our living rooms. This information provided needs much deciphering if one is to gain access to the central issues and events. We may have more access to information, however that information has never been so manipulated.
A focus on the awareness of my personal position and context was the starting point for the works created. I knew I had to acknowledge that my position was one of privilege. I knew that I did not want to attack the issues through a sympathetic or authoritarian framework that ran the risk of further victimization or mis-representation. I was also aware of the distance, geographically, emotionally, and intellectually from the issues, and that this directly impacted my understanding, response and reading of the events. So what was my participation with the issues I felt passionate to speak about? Where was I as an individual within the framework of the event? It became clearer and clearer to me that it was easy to say that one's life had little impact on such circumstances, yet this was a tactic used to defer responsibility when in fact my way of life, my ideals and actions were directly involved. And this is not in any way an attempt to set up a sort of us versus them mentality, but rather to see the enormity of the interconnectedness of our world, at a community level and at a global level. Through that understanding I chose to take the approach of consciously working from my personal standpoint and through a visual language of signs and metaphors that were a part of my culture and identity: which is part of the reason for the emphasis on consumer society in the work. But while the work developed as some of the most personal work I have made to date, it did not rely on my individual narrative at the expense of a larger dialogue, for as Rosalind Krauss stated, 'The privacy of our memories is what is most trivial about them; rather than our uniquely personal memories, it is those we share that form the "touchstone of humanity"'.2
In 2004 I ran across an article in an issue of critical writing on the concept of 'resistance' in art practice published by Parachute magazine, which reinforced the position I had chosen to take in relation to these bodies of work. In the article, writer Elisabeth Wetterwald describes the position of artists towards global, political or social events as 'distant participation' and encourages a chameleon-like, re-situating of the artist through the dissolution of the authority of the artist as author by recontextualising their standpoint and placing themselves not in opposition but in a state of awareness of the diverse perspectives and arguments for a given dialogue.3 This situated the artist not as a contrasting force, presenting the opposing side, the underdog outlook upon the world, but rather through an acute awareness of the artist's personal position, which allows for their context and the diverse context of others to be assimilated into a more elaborate dialogue.
The notion of resistance seems central to my practice as well as my life in that it offers a form of action that does not have to be directly linked to solutions. The questions and problems presented in my work are questions to which I have no solutions, yet I want to actively engage in the process of questioning in the hope that it might foster awareness and change. My understanding of Michel Foucault's theory of resistance positions power as disassociated from such central sources as 'the Law, the State, the institutions and forms of domination', instead locating it within the framework of the interconnection of all relations.4 So if power is located throughout all relations, then the potential for resistance is not centralized at one level of society. But through presenting a form of resistance to critiqued ideologies one risks setting themselves up as oppositional to a defined source of power, in this case what we might term - the utopian ideology of the marketplace - and thus creates the potential for a replacement source of power. This in turn contradicts Foucault's theory of power situated not centrally but within a 'network of "power relations" that traverse the entirety of our relations'.5 My challenge became to structure the critique within a framework of acknowledgment of my own complicity in the power structures.
Above all the aim was to create a body of work that did not focus too closely on individual narrative, but that did find its voice through personal context. I wanted to speak locally and globally at the same time, offer reflection and opportunity for change in the same breath and to bring to light Wetterwald's idea that 'what is at stake is to see the world not as a monster alien to oneself but as something in which one fully participates'. 6
A central investigation of my project is consumer culture, its commodified objects, and the impact of excessive consumption on particular dialogues of a social, political and humanitarian nature. Part of my aim was to establish the role of consumerism in the alienation of the individual in society and in creating gaps between different cultures. This led to writings by Guy Debord and the Situationist International on their presentation of similar ideas, and notions of the 'Spectacle'. I was particularly interested in their argument that consumption had taken such a hold on the individual and society that it was through such consumption that one would define their happiness.7 Consumption as they had come to realize acted not only to define, but also to suppress the individual and any form of personal freedom.8 In Debord's words the Situationist project encompassed 'a systematic questioning of all the diversion and works of a society, a total critique of its idea of happiness...In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was lived has moved away into a representation'.9
I became interested in developing the means of presenting ideas of the Spectacle through analysis of our relationship to it, through the objects of mass production, but knew that there would be various problems along the way. What I set out to accomplish was the development of a body of work presenting the argument that it is through the objects that we consume that we have a direct impact on the surrounding world its political, environment, and humanitarian problems. But how then could I present these ideas of the Spectacle with direct relation to this thesis? The manner in which the Situationists attacked the issues was through attempts at the creation of anti-art or anti-situations, through the 'critical reflection of the "society of the spectacle", (which was) characterized by an absence of all authentic communication'.10 In their pursuit of an adequate methodology of commentary, it seemed imperative to develop the means of working outside of that critiqued system, creating situations that offered different means of awareness for a desensitized populace.
What I had set out to accomplish with my work and research was to analyze my reading of the Spectacles presented to me in the media, critique my own culturally accepted indifference, which is a product of the systematic desensitization of the Spectacle, and to locate a source of resistance within that dialogue. Trying to locate the work in the idea of the Spectacle was difficult but important as the Spectacle represents how we depict the world to ourselves, the interpretation of events that is totalitarian in essence and which according to Debord, 'induces passivity rather than thinking, and a degradation of life into materialism'.11
When it came time to develop the means of presenting my own commentary of the Spectacle in my work I moved away from the Situationist methodology of working with the critique, instead siding with the approach that Marshall McLuhan addresses, locating the message within the medium.12 This locating of the dialogue through the critiqued medium and its context, unified the conceptual nature of the work with its physical manifestation in such a way that it attempted to remove itself from the mere representation of the 'real' towards a more equivalent reproduction of a form of lived reality.
The Development of A Collection of Small Miseries
A Collection of Small Miseries presents a narrative dialogue recalling my personal readings of the local and global events that I encounter daily. This series became my first to incorporate the figure. I began working on this project during the summer of 2004. I had for a time been interested in working with the figure and its history and context within ceramic art. I think in the past I had avoided this genre as I felt that there were too many strong associations with traditional representations of the figure that would have to be addressed within the work, and until this point I had not found a manner of using this context appropriately or to my advantage.
It seemed fitting that an investigation into personal narratives and humanitarian concerns should use the figure as a vehicle to transpose emotion and meaning. The figure could work on many levels, but primarily as a tool for projection. The initial reason that I turned towards figurative ceramics was to help situate myself, and my personal narrative into the work. Previously I had always addressed the subject matter through a distancing from personal narrative; a methodology that I began to see as lacking in its ability to address its audience in a manner that would emphasize their own narrative in relation to the work. I knew that if I wanted to push my practice to the next level I had to start putting something on the line; I had to make a more consciously self-exposing stance in relation to the subject matter.
Needing to have the work directly linked with the world of the commodity I began by looking for found pieces to use in molds for the work, rather than begin by working with a modeled figure of my own making. Figurines such as the cheap knock-offs I used and their original counterparts, the closest link being the German Hummel figurines, were products created to represent a form of historical interpretation and ideology. Through subverting them I hoped to find a way of presenting more personal and reflective interpretations of history and society. I felt that these figurines acted as references and as readable signifiers highlighting my background and upbringing, as well as being a medium that contained a direct link to commodities in the market. Three figurines were chosen to act as the models for the scenes to be produced; they consisted of two females and one male, bought at markets or second-hand shops.
The use of the tradition figurine was of course heavily laden with this context and history, some of which I was pleased to use to my advantage to manipulate and subvert. In particular the utopian ideologies presented in the narrative scenes would be essential to a questioning of contemporary political and social ideologies. I was also interested in the development of the Hummel figurine as a form of visual propaganda during war times and how I might make connections with contemporary media, visual and consumer culture.
The nostalgic associations of the miniature figurines I felt could be used in an analysis of childhood as a source of identity development in which innocence and faith are determinates alongside curiosity and questioning. I felt a need with the work to have a strong link with narratives of childhood and innocence in order to juxtapose them with identity and behaviour development in adulthood and indifference taking the place of faith and innocence. I found it interesting to work with images that were nostalgic in nature, in that the past is often revered as being ideal, a strange concept in light of the fact that we've lived through it and know it to be otherwise. And it seemed ironic that it is in the nostalgic past as well as in the present that these issues exist, whereas on the other hand it is in the future where we might find the solutions to the problems.
The Collection and the Consumer Object
I was never under the impression that I would be able to present my research through a singular or limited number of objects and thus The Collection was born. This project I have come to realize has no end, as there is little hope for resolution to the issues that are investigated in the work. But the idea of The Collection was not an arbitrary one, as it also fed into the content of the work. In the beginning I had played around with the idea of the seven deadly sins as a Collection, an idea that I have since returned to, to unify the pieces selected for the exhibition of the work. This Collection of sins or bad habits comprises the morals and attitudes you inherit from the world and people around you as you grow and mature, all of which become an intricate part of your identity.
I was interested in the idea of collecting these bad habits in relation to the idea of how we define ourselves via the objects we collect and surround ourselves with. The following, taken from an Art Theory paper entitled 'Arguing the Necessity of Handcrafted Ceramic Objects', which I wrote in 2004 further describes this interaction with objects.
I was interested in the intimate nature of the interaction that we have with the objects we respond to and surround ourselves with. Beginning early in life and cognitive development, the relationship that a child develops with objects precurses the development of language through an attachment to objects as a means of negotiating the world.13 Objects aid in the negotiation of the world around us by supplying substantiated examples helping to represent intangibles in life and by acting as intermediaries between a person and the world.14 While arguably this negotiation and relationship is an interaction between cognitive beings and inanimate objects, it is still an interaction that directs, motivates and impacts our daily lives in subtle and unconscious ways. Objects contain signifiers of each owner's ideals, attitudes, and morals. By looking at objects as signs we can analyze and determine the role of objects in a greater context than that of daily life; that is in their role as historical markers, social commentary, and political instruments, inciting change in our negotiation of the world around us privately, publicly and globally.
The searching out, coveting and hording of objects incorporates an act of projection. Objects are chosen based upon their function as signifiers of wealth, values, taste, and priorities.15 But it is not the objects themselves that contain these intrinsic values; culture and economy place the objects within a system, and we as consumers buy into those value systems because we believe that the objects will project desirable values about our identity outwardly for us. As James Deetz points out 'material culture is that segment of man's physical environment which is purposely shaped by him according to a culturally dictated plan.'16 The reality becomes as a result, that the objects often project divergent representations than those we desire. Take for example the modern four wheel drive family sedan or jeep which is consumed based on the notion that it implies a return to nature, an outdoorsy spirit and respect, a valuing of technology and crafted design, when in reality it functions as a symbol of greed, over-consumption and environmental degradation. We seek to define ourselves through our objects, yet those objects are more powerful in their defining than we intend. It is a case of master being dependant upon slave, not slave to master. Baudrillard defines this relationship in terms of the seducer and the object; wherein the seducer becomes seduced thereby giving up control of the situation.17 We must let go of the notion that the objects are there to be ordered, controlled and used, instead we must bring to light the reciprocal relationship between object and owner in terms of defining.
The reason for the importance of referencing The Collection and the consumer object was to directly link them to the consumer mentality / obsession of the first world culture I am a part of. This is done with the aim of highlighting that role of consumerism in the perpetual cycle of destruction of natural resources, the proliferation of war, the imposed dependence created by mishandled foreign policy and the progress of science and technology towards monetary gain over sustainable practices. The reference to the collectable figurine was to purposely place the viewer in the position of consumer to highlight their personal role and impact upon the issues.
The Collection also brings about the idea of pride. Collectors pride themselves on the acquisition of rare, precious or unique pieces. But I also wanted to look at pride in the sense of our society and what it prides itself upon, what it is that we chose to celebrate and relish. Contemporary first world culture can hardly hide behind the fact that it takes a sick form of pride in behavior that is morally corrupt. But the media perpetuates this and the economy proves that we buy into it. This Collection highlights the societal pride that is taken in technological advancements regardless of their consequences, the glory of war and conquering terrorism, and the pride in the proliferation of media that promotes violence and aggression. But that pride is a thin veil that hides the truth of the disturbing nature of society, but it is a veil that politicians, scientists, marketing and advertising executives, corporate CEOs and a majority of the population cling to rather than face the overwhelming problems of our world.
Michel Foucault spoke of the collection of objects as a means of acquiring knowledge, and based on the idea that knowledge was power, and vice versa power was knowledge, then the objects possessed could be used as tools of comparison between the power and knowledge of one individual and the next.18 Through this work I am aiming to present alternative perspectives and to increase knowledge of the issues so that the knowledge gained might truly be used as power, that being the power to create change.
Whereas The Collection implies a form of classification and order, the work seems to deny the possibility of this through its unsystematic attack on the issues presented, and the ultimate difficulty of controlling, dismantling or deconstructing the structures that create the problems. The work offers limited possibilities for change in the face of overwhelmingly negative situations. The open-ended aspect of The Collection, its change and growth over time, parallels my own interaction with the subject matter and my relational readings of the events over time. The growth and change of The Collection reflects my incentive to change upon attaining greater knowledge of the issues, which fosters a proactive change of behavior.
But the irony of the object is ever present in the work. To critique consumerism through its commodified objects becomes problematic and runs the risk of having the work turn back upon itself and become an element of the critique rather than a space for the presentation of the critique. While I have been consciously aware of that risk, it has been in the hope that the objects would bring light to the condition of their context through a distance produced by the introduction of other readings and context present in the work.19
Beauty, Kitsch and Ideology
The refined beauty often associated with the ceramic medium is to me a perfect tool to manipulate audience expectations. To use beauty as a carrier for such subject matter creates an accessible entry point into the work for the viewer, one that allows them to interact with controversial and emotionally charged subject matter through means that are easily digested and comfortable.20 Beauty, decoration and kitsch are used as entry points and context for the work, but once the viewer is actively engaged with the work and decoding the layers of subject matter, the aim is to create a less positive emotional response which moves beyond a reliance upon formal aesthetic readings. Susan Best discusses the affect of art on an audience in an article entitled 'What is Affect? Considering the Affective Dimension of Contemporary Installation Art', in which she looks to Freud and his analysis of the Ego and the Id. In this analysis the argument is presented that 'sensations of pleasurable nature have not anything impelling about them, whereas unpleasurable ones have it in the highest degree...The latter impel towards change, towards discharge and that is why we interpret unpleasurable as implying a heightening and pleasure as a lowering of energic cathexis'.21 While we tend to respond unfavorably to subject matter if it is presented through confrontational means, 'positive affects have a limited call on our psyche',22 thus I have consciously worked to maintain a relationship between both the positive and negative in the work; one to entice, the other to motivate. This manipulation of beauty and horror within the object lies parallel with the thin line between beauty and the grotesque in life, which directly impacts our compulsion towards and our rejection of events of a disturbing nature. Similarly Charles Baudelaire stated, 'beauty as encompassing the morbid and the perverse as well as the strangely familiar'.23
From the beginning I was fully aware that the vehicle I have chosen to work with was inescapably kitsch, and I went into the investigation of its context with the aim of using this essential nature of the chosen figurine objects to my advantage, similar to the use of beauty. But the use of kitsch I was to discover was also highly problematic and limited in its reading to relativist theories and particular cultural contexts.24 But since the work was using my personal context as a beginning, it was essential that the pieces speak of that context through the mass-produced kitsch objects of my upbringing. Contemporary western art analyses kitsch through theory and critical analysis, and many artists have made elitist, esoteric or aesthetic works based on the historic, anthropological and social context of kitsch. My initial and main interest was in the proliferation of kitsch objects in the global economy, as accurately stated by Jacques Sternberg, 'Kitsch is everywhere. Even more pervasive and indestructible now that it is fused to a civilization based on excess consumption'.25
I was also intrigued by the use of kitsch in the political realm, in particular totalitarian politics, and the morally uneasy relationship between political leaders whose images are turned into mass produced/consumed kitsch objects, and the realities of their regimes. According to Tomas Kulka's writing on kitsch in which he references both Milan Kundera and Saul Friedlander, kitsch has been used 'as a main instrument for the manipulation of the masses by communist regimes' and it has been shown 'how central a role it played in the mobilization of the masses in Hitler's Germany'.26 This use of kitsch as propaganda became interesting to me as a display of the pervasiveness of kitsch throughout a variety of arenas of visual culture, its diverse readings in historical and in contemporary contexts as a means of disseminating ideology, and most interestingly as a tool of manipulation. Kitsch downplays the complexity of everyday life and the individual through the creation of generalized and stereotyped ideologies, which the majority of culture falls prey to on some level. I would argue that the reach of contemporary kitsch is far greater than we care to acknowledge, infiltrating all levels of media and visual culture, and the majority of contemporary art has a conscious or unconscious relationship with it.
But my main interest was in the associations of kitsch figurine as the ultimate lie, the presenter of utopian ideology: that ideology being that the world is perfect, an ideology that puts us at ease with our situation through a false identification with others, an ideology that sits at an uneasy distance from most notions of 'reality' and which does not compel us towards any sort of personal re-evaluation or change. Clement Greenberg exemplifies the critique of kitsch ideology when he stated that kitsch was 'the epitome of all that is spurious in the life of our times'.27 The analysis of ideology and the resulting hegemony mark one of the central dialogues of the work. The particular ideologies questioned are not simply those presented by the kitsch objects, but rather those that perpetuate the proliferation of kitsch objects. It is the ideologies I am most familiar with, those of a capitalist society that I am aiming to question. I wanted to use objects that directly referenced those sorts of ideological beliefs that are proliferated through The Spectacle and which contribute to the system of social/cultural lies that individuals perpetually fall back upon in their everyday lives as a means of escaping responsibility for their actions or for their inaction relative to the actions of others. The notion of ideology is itself problematic within the work in that trying to represent an analysis of ideology risks creating a polemic dialogue that assumes another ideology to replace the one analyzed. And I was also aware that by using kitsch, an instrument associated with conformative and stereotypical ideologies of behavior, I would have to create proper balance when referencing personal, idiosyncratic narratives so that they would not become a part of a larger universal and simplified commentary. I knew this would be working counter to the prescribed aims of kitsch. Yet I maintain that I wanted to use aspects of kitsch such as our attitudes, reading of, and emotional response towards them to drive certain elements of the subject matter. I knew that my challenge would be to rework the reading of the objects so that although they came across as kitsch, they would still situate the viewer in a position of self-reflection, beyond simple self-identification in a larger narrative.
The analysis of political and social ideologies and similarly the investigation of the theory of 'resistance', are both aspects of the work that remain open-ended, in that they offer more questions than answers. But if conclusion could not be reached then at least I wanted to develop the means or tools for destabilizing the hegemony of the Spectacle and offer possibilities for the creation of resistance and change in one's personal life in relation to the actual events at the centre of the Spectacle. As stated by Greil Marcus in the article, 'The Long Walk of the Situationist International', 'if capitalism had shifted its organization from production to consumption and its means of control from economic misery to false consciousness, then the task of would be revolutionaries was to bring about a recognition of the life already lived by almost everyone'.28
The challenge for myself at the beginning of this project was to investigate different manners of presentation with the aim of developing work that would be more cohesive in its scale, production and presentation in relation to subject matter; I then chose to move away from my past of working in installation and to reinvest in the object. The move away from large-scale, physical presence and the interaction of objects in space towards focus upon the object became a more fruitful investigation than I had intended. But I quickly realized that scale still played a crucial function in the work, however now at the other end of the spectrum.
The figurines quickly evolved into figures on a base that acted as a platform for the narrative. The bases began to play a part in the narrative as well as to contain the subject matter in small hermetic scenes, miniature in scale. And although each varied in its execution, they deliberately maintained a reference to the originals. The formal nature of the scenes create a world of arrested time through the isolation of singular events commonly associated with and presented by the spectacle of the media, reinterpreted and removed from that speed of information via the medium of ceramics. 29 This allows for pause and a space for reflection and contemplation. This introspective and interior nature of the miniature object relates the subject matter back to the viewer via relational analysis of the subject matter to their own daily lives.30 The ability of a small object to offer layers of unfolding information within a small container reflects the unfolding nature of our lives and creation of identity.
The miniature has an interesting past in art history and I was intrigued about using its scale as a way of presenting controversial subject matter in the work. Small works tend to be read as timid, fragile, private and inconsequential whereas a larger scale can evoke the monument and authoritarian readings.31 I wanted the work to exist on a scale that referenced the domestic sphere, the body and the commodity.32 The miniature offered this while also breaking from a reading of the artists' authoritative stance.33 While the work was highly personal and subjective, it was also presented and grounded in research. I wanted to make sure that its reading would not be viewed as moralistic, authoritative, filled with hierarchical or oppositional didactic readings. The use of miniature also allowed a move away from the grandiose spectacle of larger work, and therefore allowing the work to adequately focus on the grandiose spectacle of the subject matter.
The formal nature of the miniature commands a certain degree of investigation. The closer scrutiny required in reading the objects, directly relates to the level of inquiry commanded by the subject matter.34 Scale is used to bring the viewer into a more intimate relationship with the object, presenting an agreeable position in which to investigate the confrontational subject matter.35 Were the work to be confrontational in its presence as well as in its subject matter I felt that viewers would be tempted to turn away and not invest in the layered dialogue presented. The only way for the work to be successful was for the message to get across, the dialogue to be activated in the viewer; aesthetics, process and craftsmanship became secondary to this exchange between viewer and content. As stated by Paul Ardenne in Contemporary Practices: Art as Experience, 'artistic expression (is) the gesture of introspection, of punctual questioning, of encounter taking precedence over form.'.36 I wanted to create objects that would be appealing and accessible, inviting in scale, decoration and aesthetics, but which would unveil themselves as to their true nature upon closer inspection. To trick the viewer into investing in the objects before being repelled by them would be a fine line to walk between beauty, fetish and disgust, but one that I felt offered the possibility of a greater exchange between object and viewer. The miniature offered the possibility of presenting the subject matter in a way that was controllable, non aggressive and potentially humorous.37 The creation of objects that would require contemplative visual and intellectual analysis, would also allow for a slower pace of discovery for the viewer. In this manner the controversial subject matter could be digested at a pace determined by the viewer.
In direct reference to particular narratives in the subject matter I wanted to place the viewer in a position where their scale in relation to the object 'worlds' could potentially be conceived of in terms of a god-like scale.38 The small scale of the figurine worlds, render the viewer gigantic and in a position of control. This sense of control relates directly back to the control individuals have in relation to the world around them through active participation or indifference. The overseeing of the smaller world from the position of control is also reflected back to the narratives presented about scientists, corporations and tyrannical governments acting without moral reflection on their control and manipulation of the environment, the economy, the global population, technology and industry. The scale of the viewer's body in relation to the object also creates a sense of isolation which mirrors the manners in which we can socially justify and isolate ourselves from responsibility towards what is happening in the local, national and global arenas. The pieces do however run the risk of disconnecting the viewer from the subject matter both physically and emotionally as a result of their scale. This is perhaps similar to the separation we create for ourselves from a more meaningful engagement in the world around us. And I felt that if that disconnection were present it might parallel that distance created by media culture and The Spectacle.
It is my intent that the emotional intensity of the miniature scenes and the complexity of the messages they carry will befit the work in that they may still manage to create a sense of overwhelming frustration in the viewer that is linked directly to this emotion and not the presence of the overbearing physical objects, which are often seen as monumental and authoritative.39 Most importantly the miniature in contrast to the gigantic, references more so our failing rather than our victories.40 They become non-monuments to our shortcomings, rather than the glorification of our successes.
The installation of A Collection of Small Miseries was based upon the idea, and the importance, of the collection as a representation of the mass proliferation of objects in consumer culture. My aim was to intentionally position the viewer in a space that would emphasize their role as a consumer through an environment reminiscent of the domestic sphere, wherein one might display their prized collection. I chose to highlight the changing subject matter of the series through installing the work in thematic groupings, each on a separate wooden shelf attached to the walls of the space. These shelves where fabricated to resemble a mantelpiece or a decorative trophy shelf. This more ornate finish to the shelves brought them into dialogue with the context of the work, rather than simply serving their functional purpose, through emphasizing our glorification of the immoral behavior that the pieces portray. Brass plates were also used as title cards for the works, again referencing trophies and collections but also because of their reflective quality which confronted the viewer with their own image when engaging with the work, which assisted in emphasizing their personal interaction with the subject matter. The titles were important as a device highlighting specific references, and to introduce humor or nostalgic references.
1. Leon,Trotsky, Literature and Revolution , University of Michigan Press, 1968, pp.136-61. back to text
2. Susan Stewart and Ralph Rugoff, At The Threshold of the Visible, Miniscule and Small-Scale Art, 1964-1996 , New York, Independent Curators Inc., 1997, p.25. back to text
3. Elisabeth Wetterwald, 'La Rivoluzione Non Siamo Noi: Pierre Joseph and Francis Alys', Parachute , vol.115, no. 07,08,09 , 2004, p. 86. back to text
4. Jean-Ernest Joos, 'Making Resistance Work: On Alicia Framis' Interventions', Parachute , vol. 115, no. 07,08,09, 2004, p. 50, and L. Hubert Dreyfus, 'Being and Power: Heidegger and Foucault', from the website http://ist-socrates.berkeley.edu/~hdreyfus/html/paper_being.html (June 2005), for the Department of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. back to text
5. Ibid , pp. 50 -51. back to text
6. Wetterwald , 'La Rivoluzione', p.90. back to text
7. Greil Marcus, 'The Long Walk of the Situationist International' in Guy Debord and the Situationist International Text and Documents, Tom McDonough (ed.), Cambridge Massachusetts, October Books, The MIT Press, 2004, p.3. back to text
8. Ibid. back to text
9. Ibid, p.7. back to text
10. Vincent Kauffman, (trans. John Goodman), 'Angels of Purity', in Guy Debord and the Situationist International Text and Documents, Tom McDonough (ed.), Cambridge Massachusetts, October Books, The MIT Press, 2004, p.285. back to text
11. Marcus, 'The Long Walk', p.8. back to text
12. Jean Baudrillard, www.csun.edu/~hfspc002/baud/ (January 2005), referencing Simulations (NY: Semiotext(e), 1981, 1983) trans. Paul Foss, Paul Patton, and Philip Beitchman. [SIM] (January 2005). back to text
13. Pamela Johnson, 'Out of Touch: The Meaning of Making in the Digital Age', in Tanya Harrod (ed.) Obscure Objects of Desire: Reviewing the Crafts in the Twentieth Century, London, Crafts Council, 1997, p.295. back to text
14. Margaret West, 'Touching Hands and Other Values - The Social Implications of Craft', Craft Australia: 1995 National Crafts Conference Papers, Making Culture: Crafts, Communication and Commerce, New South Wales, Craft Australia, 1996, p.62. back to text
15. Sandra Flood, 'The Lives of Objects' in Paula Gustafson (ed.) Craft Perception and Practice: A Canadian Discourse, Rinsdale Press, 2002, p.101. back to text
16. Susan M Pearce, Museums, Objects and Collection: A Cultural Study , Leicester and London, Leicester University Press, 1992, p.5. back to text
17. Jean Baudrillard, Fatal Strategies, New York, Semiotexte(e), 1990, p.111. back to text
18. Eilean Hooper-Greenhill, (ed.) 'Museum Communication: An Introductory Essay', The Educational Role of the Museum , London, Routledge, 1994, p.21. Sandra Alfoldy, 'Buy Me and Become Me' in Tanya Harrod (ed.) Obscure Objects of Desire: Reviewing the Crafts in the Twentieth Century, London, Crafts Council, 1997, p.334. back to text
19. Paul Wood, 'Commodity', in Critical Terms for Art History, Robert S. Nelson and Richard Shiff (eds.), Chicago & London, The University of Chicago Press, 1996, p.273. back to text
20. Johnson, 'Out of Touch', p.293. back to text
20. Neal Benezra and Olga M. Viso, Distemper: Dissonant Themes in the Art of the 1990's, New York,, Distributed Art Publishers, 1996, p.17. back to text
21. Susan Best, 'What is Affect? Considering the Affective Dimension of Contemporary Installation Art', Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art , vol.2, no.2, 2001 and vol.3, no.1, 2002, pp. 207-8. back to text
22. Ibid. back to text
23. Benezra and Viso, Distemper , p.15. back to text
24. Thomas Kulka, , Kitsch and Art, The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996, p.2. back to text
25. Ibid , p.13. back to text
26. Ibid , p.17. See Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, New York, Harper and Row, 1984, p.251, and Saul Friedlander, Reflections of Nazism: Essay on Kitsch and Death, New York, Harper and Row, 1984. back to text
27. Greenberg. back to text
28. Marcus, 'The Long Walk', p.10. back to text
29. Susan Stewart, On Longing. Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, Durham, North Carolina, and London, Duke University Press, 1993, p.67. back to text
30. Ibid , p. 68. back to text
31. Stewart and Rugoff, At The Threshold of the Visible p.11. back to text
32. Ibid, p.69. back to text
33. Ibid, p.11. back to text
34. Ibid, p.12. back to text
35. Ibid, p.69. back to text
36. Paul Ardenne, (translated by Stephen Wright), 'Experimenting with the Real: Art and Reality at the End of the Twentieth Century'. Pascal Becusse and Laurent Goumarre, Contemporary Practices: Art as Experience, Paris, Editions Dis Voir, p.14. back to text
37. Stewart and Rugoff, At The Threshold of the Visible, p.14. back to text
38. Stewart, ' On Longing', p.56 and p.75. back to text
39. Stewart and Rugoff At The Threshold of the Visible, p.27. back to text
40. Ibid , p.11 and p.83. back to text
|A Collection Of Small Miseries Issue 7|