“One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” -George Orwell
When I try to explain to people what I have been making during my residency at ACAD, I find I am completely devoid of self-consciousness about their reaction. It is as if this artwork has taken on a life of its own and I am no longer the owner of it, but simply the vessel that created it. The themes and ideas I have been working with are the most significant and important in my practice so far. My work is provocative, disruptive and likely controversial.
I have had a chance to step back and examine the work I have created from a distance in the last couple of weeks. I have also had the opportunity to discuss my work with a couple of ACAD instructors. In doing this, my ideas and purpose have come together more clearly for me. When you are in the midst of creating it is often difficult to know how everything will come together. As you step back, you can put things into perspective.
My goal for my residency was to create art that communicated how an idea spreads through sound, influence, politics and protest. I thought about how I could show how quickly an idea spreads and takes hold in our culture. I have chosen to use images of disease paired with sound waves to portray this idea. Many of the diseases I have chosen are either deadly or result in serious symptoms for the sufferer. Some of the diseases are treatable, but only if the patient has access to quality healthcare. Some of the diseases have stigma attached to them, which results in the sufferer being treated differently as a result of their condition. Disease is a metaphor and a mirror in this work for the way that people are treated in our culture based on their status, opinions and agency.
The first four works I completed are light boxes with images of STIs paired with sound waves of misogynistic quotes by Donald Trump. These diseases are illuminated from behind through to show how we must examine misogyny more closely and in critique what leaders in power say. The STIs are paired with these quotes to represent (as metaphor) how misogynistic ideas are perpetuated through the abuse of sexuality through males in power. There is an underling question in the work about how we can protect ourselves against the perpetuation of these misogynistic ideals in society.
To make these pieces I had to listen to Donald Trump’s voice over and over again. I find his voice particularly irritating. Part of this irritation comes from the content of his speech. Part of this also comes from the pure sound. I have a condition called Misophonia that affects my experience of sound as a fight or flight response when exposed to certain sounds. The sound of Donald Trump’s voice has become a trigger for me. In making these pieces I have purposefully exposed myself to this trigger and transformed it into something abstract that I can digest. In this way, the work has become a form of therapy.
During a critique with Walter May, a sessional instructor at ACAD, the only criticism he could offer me was that the work was “too beautiful.” He asked me how I could reconcile the beauty and aesthetic value of the work amidst its content. I explained that I felt the work needed to be approachable. I want people to be intrigued enough to look deeper and experience the work before being disgusted right away. This is a comment on the way that people tend to accept what they hear from people in power without questioning it right away. I want people to understand how these ideas are perpetuated easily when heard in a particular context.
There is an abstraction in my work that comments on how an idea changes as it is passed through society through different people, contexts and lenses. I have taken sound and abstracted it into a sound wave and further into a circle. I have taken images of disease and re-created them with ink to look realistic enough to be mistaken for the real thing. I have then layered these images along with text to further abstract and distort them. Even when being illuminated from behind with the light box, the text is not completely clear. Ideas are passed from person to person in a similar way, coming out the other side distorted and changed from the original message or forgotten completely. Remember the childhood game of telephone?
The next series of work I created during my residency involved re-creating images of disease within petri dishes. This time, I chose six deadly diseases to create with alcohol ink. I prepared the petri dishes with pouring medium to mimic the agar that would be used in a real petri dish culture experiment. Then I used masking fluid to build up some dimension in the dish and painted the rest with alcohol ink. The images of these diseases were taken from under a microscope. I am commenting on looking very closely at ideas and speeches to examine them properly. I have created these images in a petri dish in the same way that a scientist would create cultures of bacteria. This is to show how an idea can be purposefully grown and spread, but also can become perpetuated through our “culture.”
I have placed these petri dishes on a light box that has sound waves of quotes from important politicians and intellectuals from the past. Many of these quotes were controversial at the time. Some of these ideas still exist in our culture, others we have gained some perspective on. The diseases are the similar in this way. Many of these diseases are deadly when the patient does not have access to healthcare, while others can be prevented and treated with the proper resources. This is similar in our culture. These politicians have created theses disease with their ideas and speech and once said, they no longer have power over how they are affect people, spread, and mutate.
I had a final critique with Sondra Meszaros, an instructor at ACAD. We had a constructive dialogue about the ideas and concepts embodied in my work. She commented on my concern with the aesthetics of the pieces. We had a discussion about how much of the Trump campaign was not overly concerned with aesthetics, yet people accepted him anyway. We also talked about the success of fascism to use aesthetics to gain support and popularity. She noted they very “scientific” approach to my work and compared it to another ACAD instructor Mireille Perron’s work, The Laboratory of Feminists Pataphysics presents Ateliers of the Near Future. In this performance and found object based piece, Mireille dons a lab coat and wanders the gallery, explaining the collection of objects she has curated as a scientist. This made me think about how I could incorporate performance into my future exhibitions.
We also brainstormed how to label the pieces for maximum scientific “legitimacy” and to maintain a balance between helping the viewer understand and giving away everything. Sondra suggested making a didactic poster with images of my artwork. I took her suggestion and made posters for each piece using images of my artwork and replace “real” definitions of the diseases with the quotes they are paired with. I believe these posters further legitimize the creation of these diseases as the “real thing.” Further emphasizing my point about how people believe ideas told to them in within the context of power and influence. Scientific evidence is often given the most legitimacy in our culture when people are asked to believe something. By making my exhibition appear scientifically legitimate I am imitating these tools to create truth that our culture accepts.
The final comment that Sondra made about my work was the absence of “me” in it. She felt that I had personal reasons for making the art, yet she could not clearly see evidence of it. She suggested that I think about making a piece with a more personal revealing of my feelings about these themes. To be honest, this is something I have been struggling with. As reflected in the title of this blog, I have been driven by some inner demons to create this work. These are often hard to reveal in a personal context. It requires a level of vulnerability I am not yet ready to explore. I also wonder how I can include my personal connection while maintaining the universal experience of it for my viewer. I believe these issues are bigger than just my experience. This is something I am going to continue to think about as I make more work in this series.
Moving forward, I am continuing to look for ways to express the themes of power, protest and the spread of ideology through sound. As my work has taken on a “scientific” perspective I think this will become the connection through the art as I make a cohesive body of work. I will continue to seek out ways to share this work with others, as I believe that these ideas are worth pondering and discussing. Our world is constantly changing and new things come up every day that disturb, enrage and mobilize people to make change. I want to find a way to be a part of this change through my art. I feel it appropriate to conclude with another quote by George Orwell that I included in my piece “What Doesn’t Kill You,”
“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face— forever…Don’t let it happen. It depends on you.” – George Orwell