In my paintings and drawings, pictorial languages of representation and narration pose questions about current social circumstances and practices. By taking familiar subjects out of their conventional contexts, I ask the viewer to consider the metaphoric role of the commonplace and the overlooked. Renewed within the image, the ordinary becomes extraordinary, triggering questions that cause us to reconsider our own role within our surrounding landscape.
My work is thematically driven and project-based. This portfolio includes selections from three recent projects and accompanying statements: Arrangement for a Silent Orchestra, According To Their Kind, and Prospect. Click here for Reviews.
Arrangement for a Silent Orchestra is a painting and video project which explores the gradual dissolution of culture in contemporary society through the symbolic ruin of a personal and cultural icon, the violin. Using the violin as a metaphor, I intend to raise questions about the relationship between increasing technology and diminishing cultural heritage. I invite the audience to consider what makes the instrument precious in his or her own experience, and the impact of its loss.
As the only child of a piano teacher, I was instructed at an early age to choose an instrument and stick with it. At age eight I selected the violin, and at eighteen I put it down. The years between were fraught with accomplishment and ambivalence as I excelled at an instrument that in my adolescence I didn’t feel particularly passionate about. Since then, the violin has shown up in a recurring dream: I stand on stage at a recital and the pages on the music stand are blank, I have no memory of the melody, and the ensuing silence is paralyzing. The violin has reappeared periodically in my paintings, and its image has become central to my personal iconography.
We are all haunted by our unrealized pursuits, and anxiety is the material of our collective nightmares. I am interested in iconography as a social construct, and the images that endure in our collective memory. How does personal observation inform common experience? How are images tied to memory and social consciousness? And what is the role of pictorial representation in visual culture?
For a period of nine months I solicited violins beyond repair from instrument shops nationwide. After collecting nearly one hundred violins, I piled them in a mountaintop clearing and burned them at dusk. Observing the site from six o’clock p.m. to six o’clock a.m., the documentation of the event is the source material for the series of large-scale paintings that depict the pile of violins in various phases of ruin: at sunset, illuminated by the lowering sun; at nightfall, in stages of burning; and at dawn, the charred remains. A video accompanies the paintings, documenting the pile from sunset to sunrise.
From the parable of the burning bush to the tradition of burning books, burning is a symbolic act, if sometimes a regrettable one. While the violin is personally significant to me, it is culturally symbolic to a generation that, due to circumstances such as increased technology and reduced public funding for the arts, is less likely to learn to play an instrument in school, seldom attends the symphony, and is unlikely to pass values of musical heritage onto their children.
To re-familiarize myself with the instrument after an eighteen-year hiatus, I resumed violin lessons and incorporated music practice into my studio practice. The exhibition of this project includes a personal performance of a deliberate selection: Beethoven’s Romance for Violin in F Major Op. 50. This is from the Romantic period, that of Francisco de Goya, whose historic paintings inspired my images.
Departing from and expanding upon my former work, Arrangement for a Silent Orchestra propels my practice into the future. My past paintings and drawings were fragmented narratives along sociopolitical themes, whereas this project returns to my earlier interests in metaphor and allegory. My prior work was largely figurative, and now the figure is omitted; the absence of the figure emphasizes the viewer’s own relationship with the objects. And this is my first project that includes a video component to ground my paintings in the concept of time.
According To Their Kind examines the mythical subtext of natural selection and contemporary practices of selective breeding. The drawings in this collection depict passages from Noah’s Ark, animals paired for breeding, quotations from reproductive medicine, boats (arks), and human embryonic stages. The juxtaposition of these images asks the viewer to consider the impact humans have on evolution, and raises questions about current practices that will determine the demographics of future generations.
Evolution has eliminated many of nature’s genetic flaws, and science has contributed to the natural process by identifying hereditary disorders and combating disease. At times, humans have deliberately intervened in natural selection to weed out socially undesirable characteristics and promote preferred traits. In response to eugenics, people have formed moral objections to genetic selection.
Selective breeding has subtly reemerged as a contentious issue in contemporary culture. While animals are bred in captivity to revitalize endangered populations, humans are able to pre-select the gender and genetic traits of their children. The selection criteria for sperm and egg donors include non-genetic information such as class, education, and occupation, and sex selection carries eugenic implications. Selective breeding weighs preference against genetics, with deliberate choices masked as natural selection.
The objective of According To Their Kind is to illuminate the contradictions inherent in genetic selection, and to bring attention to issues surrounding selective breeding, inviting viewers to reach their own conclusions.
Prospect explores the role of the exotic in contemporary Western culture. When a subject–artifact, animal, or human–is sought for rarity or uniqueness, we expect it to retain the desired characteristics of otherness that make it distinct. Revealing the stigma behind the extraordinary, Prospect asks the viewer to consider how the concept of the exotic hinders genuine cultural integration in Western society.
The origins of the exotic are rooted in institutions that differentiate exceptional animals from the mundane: wildlife menageries, safaris, gaming parks and circuses. Historically, as an animal became identified as exotic, its peculiarities became desirable. As the animal entered the domain of the menagerie, its value depended on its scarcity. Mirrored in contemporary culture, we see the practices of the menagerie in various industries that fetishize the foreign: the textile industry, the gem trade, and exhibition entertainment, for example, are often discriminating practices masked as exotic.
Prospect aims to expose our reliance on peculiarity, asks viewers to consider how the allure of the exotic hinders genuine cultural integration, and draws attention to the subjugation of the ‘other.’ This project was awarded an Artist Project Grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts in 2007.