Phanta, 2006

December 13, 2006 at 11:04 pm (art)

About a month and a half ago, I started playing around with the lyrics to Phanta by Le Tigre as a possible source for inspiration for a new installation project. That song has been of interest to me since I first heard it some time ago. I love how it plays between pure hippie paranoia and actual fact, zipping back and forth between the two until you don’t know where you stand.

I started working on the installation, creating a series of small drawings that were combinations of collage and painting.

Then, as I was thinking about all of this, a student of mine recommended that I check out the story of Malachi Ritscher, a Chicago-based activist who set himself on fire to protest the war in Iraq. The awfully sad punchline to Ritscher’s life is that after making this enormous sacrifice, practically nobody noticed. His flaming body and suicide note were not the top story on the evening news as he had hoped, it didn’t provoke a response from the White House nor did it encourage a groundswell of activism against the war. Instead, it took the police over a week to identify his remains, and the story came out quietly except for in a few left-wing publications.

To me, this is the most compelling part of the story. His suicide was very likely the action of someone very sick or at least in incredible pain, but the reaction to his suicide was something much more. It was the perfect metaphor for activism in our present climate: It’s not that there’s not activism, it’s just that we instinctually turn away as if the latest protest we’ve bumped in somehow a distasteful event or something not even worth acknowledging. Petitions, candle-lit vigils, marches, and so on all seem totally useless, like a relic of another era. I do it too: When I see a group congregating at Union Square, I cross the street without giving it a second thought.

Thinking about this in the context of art-making lead me to think about the condition I was approaching as an artist in the midst of the madness that is Art Basel Miami Beach. There were fourteen art fairs happening at once, endless parties for collectors, nonstop back-to-back events sponsored by museums and non-profit spaces and… did anyone really want to hear my whining about how this wasn’t really the way to look at art? That, in fact, the sort of break-neck speed that one needed to take in order to cover fourteen fairs in four or five days involved looking at multiple works of art for only seconds, was my nightmare scenario as a person who makes art? That everything Art Basel Miami Beach is, is everything that I hate?

As much as I wanted to go and protest all that was around me, I didn’t. In fact, I dismissed the idea as soon as it occurred to me. Being a pill or a wet blanket only annoys those around me and scares them away, much like me crossing the street when I see protesters at Union Square; what’s more, it would have accomplished nothing at all. One lone annoying, ignorable, forgettable voice whining about artistic integrity while all around her is the sunshine and the beach and a great party is carrying on accomplishes nothing at all. And frankly, I was there to party, too. I had a great time.

As I try and explain to myself what my (and my work’s) relationship is to something like Art Basel Miami Beach, I’m coming up with nothing. I don’t want to act like what I do in my studio is somehow superior to all of that. I genuinely don’t believe it is and I’d be foolish to think otherwise. But I like what I do, and I like that I staged a little counter-protest to the art world in my scummy little hotel room, even if really no one noticed.

So, enough of that. Here’s some images.

Installation view
This is half of the room… next pic is the other half (see? I told you the room was dumpy).

Installation view
…and this is the second half of the room.

Window view
On the window overlooking an alleyway, I placed a small prayer flag made out of felt that spells out “nowhere.” On the sill is a telescope looking out.

View inside of telescope
Inside the telescope was a tiny picture of Hopper painting of a woman staying in a rather bleak hotel room alone.

Nightstand with Hopper painting
Opposite this table and in between the beds was a nighstand, on which I placed a replica of Hopper’s painting, which I rendered in watercolors. Facing the painting is a row of disembodied eyes, staring at it.

Eyes
This is what a closeup of the eyes looks like.

On the bed closest to the entrance, I placed a blanket onto which I had embroidered and appliqued:
Blanket on bed closest to entrance

This is a detail of the embroidered text:
Text on blanket
It reads:
I don’t want to be alone here. This is not the sort of place I do well in. Or am I alone already? Does anyone else feel this way? I’m not sure I want to be here. I don’t want to live in your fake world.

Igloo on bed closest to window
On the other bed, I placed a small igloo encased in a wooden and plastic box, surrounded by white beads.

Detail of bird
On the white table that can be seen in the second installation shot, I placed a small, white bird with an incision in its stomach which reveals a red felt inside. Trailing out of the bird is a row of white beads.

i1.jpgapologize3.jpgfor.jpg
what1.jpg
we1.jpghave.jpgdone.jpgto.jpgBeads coming out of the bird
The beads coming out of the bird spell out the words, I apologize for what we have done to you, a quote from Ritscher’s suicide note.

Detail of the beads and candle
Lastly, the beads trail out of the bird and wrap around a small pile of fake, white branches with a candle in the middle, which was lit when I had visitors to the room.

3 Comments

  1. Samantha Simpson said,

    WOW! Nice piece! I love the blanket – cold comfort.

  2. alison said,

    i wish i could have been there! i LOVE the hopper appropriation, it is so perfect. i also want a necklace with those beads. i guess that would be a really long necklace, and sort of knock down your installation’s integrity, but still.

  3. Tracey Weatherby said,

    Funny how desensitized everyone has become to major issues and problems, it makes more sense to quitely protest. I often feel the world is in a dark age of modernization. I know it sounds like a weird kinda generalization to make. Anyway, I really enjoyed your installation.

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