In: American Artists
Gerald Slota | Home Sweet Home | 2010October 30, 2023
Gerald Slota | Home Sweet Home | 2010
(in collaboration with Neil LaBute)
Welcome to the midnight America, the one that exists parallel to the “real” world. It’s a dark country, one where men with hooks haunt Lover’s Lane and scarecrows walk on moonlit nights. It’s the place where people go when they slip into the cracks between light and darkness, a world of routewitches and oracles, demons and ambulomancers.
The rules are different here, and everyone’s playing for keeps. Be careful. Be cautious. And listen to the urban legends, because they may be the only things that can save you from the man who waits at the crossroads, hunting souls to keep himself alive.
Welcome to the ghostside.
Home Sweet Home is a collaboration between Gerald Slota and playwright Neil Labute. Introduced to each other in 2008, they began corresponding and working together (via email, for the most part, as they did not actually meet in person until – fittingly – an exhibition of this work in New York City in October 2010.) From the statement about Home Sweet Home : “For the first time Slota’s visual narratives are aligned alongside written narratives. The series title serves as an ironic reference to much of the early material’s dark focus on themes of home and family.”
The world that Slota and LaBute present us with is the descendant – a successor, in some ways – of the sites and landmarks from Michael Lesy’ The Wisconsin Death Trip. Denizens of a desperate world, sometimes leading lives of ‘quiet desperation’ (but not always, as secrets fester and explode, unable to be contained forever, just as some of the ‘narrators’ of these images must share what they have held inside….)
I also interpret these as postcards from the characters in Harmony Korine’s infamous film Gummo (1997) : a ‘loose narrative follows several main characters who find odd and destructive ways to pass time, interrupted by vignettes depicting other inhabitants of the town.’ That descriptor could apply to Home Sweet Home as well as Korine’s experimental film….
LaBute – whose words offer an unsettling nuance and depth to Slota’s images here – has also observed that “we humans are a fairly barbarous bunch”…..
This isn’t a new concept—the idea that stories change things, rewrite the past and rewrite reality at the same time…
The true secret of the palimpsest skin of America is that every place is different, and every place is the same. That’s the true secret of the entire world, I’d guess, but I don’t have access to the world. All I have is North America, where the coyotes sing the moon down every night, and the rattlesnakes whisper warnings through the canyons.
The true secret of the skin of America is that it’s barely covered by the legends and lies that it clothes itself in, sitting otherwise naked and exposed.
All italicized quotes are from Seanan McGuire‘s books Sparrow Hill Road (2014) and Girl in the Green Silk Gown (2018) from her Ghost Road series. In these stories the urban legend of ‘Resurrection Mary‘ is told from the point of view of the dead girl Rose Marshall who’s been wandering the highways and back roads of a ‘secret’ United States of America since her death in 1952….
~ Bart GazzolaRead More
Scott Conary | Lamb on Paper, 2023April 20, 2023
Scott Conary | Lamb on Paper, 2023
Flesh is our indisputable commonality. Whatever our race, our religion, our politics we are faced every morning with the fact of our bodies. Their frailties, their demands, their desires. And yet the erotic appetites that spring from – and are expressed through – those bodies, are so often a source of bitter dissension and division. Acts that offer a glimpse of transcendence to one group are condemned by another. We are pressured from every side – by peers, by church, by state – to accept the consensual definition of taboo; though so often what excites our imaginations most is the violation of taboo. (Clive Barker)
Meat, weeds, eggs, bottles, and bones. What began as a way to get back to the basics of painting, without an agenda, became something else. The meat paintings are, understandably, the pieces that elicit the most questions. The first is usually, “Why meat?” The glib answer is “you can only paint so many pears.” The longer answer is that the meat is beautiful and somewhat evocative. We have a much more complicated reaction to a hunk of lamb than we do to pepper. The meat is the stuff of us. We are, after all, meat. The smell shifts while I work. The color changes. I have vivid memories of meals with family and friends built around meat. It’s beautiful, desirable, and it’s unclean. (Scott Conary)
At a very young age I encountered Alina Reyes’ novel Le Boucher [The Butcher] : consider that your only warning, before you proceed.
Let us talk about meat, about the way of all flesh, about the grotesque and evocative history of painters and photographers offering us a sense of the sensual and the shocking.
Ah, but before we get to that I must say that when I encountered Scott Conary’s work on one of my social media feeds, I was struck by it’s beauty and execution (I was unsurprised it’s painted in oils, as there’s a sensuality to that medium) and it sent me on a deeper exploration of his works.
His words also acknowledge that this choice of subject matter is neither new nor to be eschewed. Many artists have employed this trope to investigate or confront larger issues: Chaïm Soutine’s Carcass of Beef, or Rembrandt van Rijn’s Slaughtered Ox, function both as still lives – though I might use the French term of nature morte, here – but also as metaphors, whether for religion, suffering, violence or our own ongoing obsession and repulsion with our own physicality.
Conary’s renderings of meat and flesh – like many of the artists whose works I’ve shared in this post – are inappropriately beautiful.
But that beauty is tendered by how it is often metaphor, as well. One of the works I share below by Ilya Mashkov, considering the date of its execution during the Russian Civil War, is a commentary that evokes the words of his contemporary, Boris Pasternak, where his character Zhivago, speaking to the local commissar (after examining a dying man) sardonically avers that “It isn’t typhus. It’s another disease we don’t have in Moscow…starvation.” Andres Serrano‘s Cabeza de Vaca references a Spanish ‘explorer’, presented as plunder instead of plunderer, and Mark Ryden’s Meat Dress offers something for us to visually consume that explores some of the same ideas as Jana Sterbak’s Vanitas: Flesh Dress for an Albino Anorectic (which I’ve written about before) but in a more palatable form, perhaps.
Two more artists to share, that expand the conversation around Scott Conary’s meat works (I want to type that as one word – meatworks – as that seems more viscerally appropriate): Victoria Reynolds‘ art also offers “an uneasy tension between the understanding of flesh as food, and our self-identification of it; her conflation of desire, mortality, viscerality, and the survival instinct is a powerful source of aesthetic fascination.” Kanevsky, on the other hand, is primarily a figurative artist, as an American with heavy Eastern European influences. When you look at more of his work, and his preference for nudes, you may be forgiven for thinking that the work below is just painting the interior, instead of the exterior, of his ‘models’….
More of Scott Conary’s work can be seen here and his IG can be found here. His practice – and choice of subject matter – is quite varied (I was simply seduced by his meat works, if you will, but I did consider using his interpretations of eggs as a basis for a curator’s pick, as well) and worth exploring.
~ Bart GazzolaRead More
Martha Rosler | House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home, 1967–1972March 24, 2023
Martha Rosler | House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home, 1967–1972
Cotton’s generation grew up with a war in the house. For them, games of cops and robbers and cowboys and Indians no longer satisfied the senses. A boy had but to turn a control to be totally involved in the violent distension of experience that was Vietnam on television. Cotton became addicted to it. Vietnam was even a portable war.
A boy had but to move his personal set to have air strikes in the living room, search-and-destroy operations in the bedroom, naval bombardment in the bathroom—napalm before school, body bags before dinner.
(Glendon Swarthout, Bless the Beasts and the Children)
I recently read The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes. The premise – of a young woman who survives a doomsday cult – sent me down a rabbit hole, if you will, of research on these cults, and since then I’ve been devouring a number of texts on the topic.
One of these – Jeffrey Melnick, Charles Manson’s Creepy Crawl: The Many Lives of America’s Most Infamous Family – offers an interesting supposition. Melnick argues that the Tate – LaBianca murders were used by many on the right – Nixon, for example – as a means by which to shutter debate about the (even then) failure of the nuclear family in the United States. This is similar to Zizek’s comment that most conversations about socialism always have a chicken little proclaiming it ‘will end in the gulag!’. Other societal issues are cast in a different light from the Manson murders, as well (for example, Melnick talks about the dismissive attitude towards runaways – especially girls – at that time, criminalizing or infantilizing them, using several of the Manson ‘family’ as examples, instead of focusing on larger issues within society).
Melnick dismisses with derision the idea that Manson ‘ended’ the supposed utopic dream of the 1960s – and for this post, a point he makes stays with me. Bluntly, that the violence of the Manson family was nary a drop in the bucket to the televised, sanctioned and officially endorsed violence of the war in Vietnam and other societal pressures. His words: “If the countercultural fabric got torn it was not because a few celebrities were killed in August of 1969. We would be better off attending to the plight of returning veterans, the not unconnected influx of harder drugs into American cities, the ongoing runaway crisis, and a major effort by the dominant culture—from the president on down—to repudiate and abandon young people and their culture.”
And this brings us to Martha Rosler’s series House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home, 1967–72.
The initial incarnation of this series was about Vietnam: in a despairing commentary about history Rosler would revisit and reinterpret it decades later, for the ‘war against terror’ in Iraq and Afghanistan…..
Rosler – in the tradition of artists like Hannah Höch – employs collage, using images that are familiar to us in tandem with others that fracture and trouble the original ‘homes’ on display. These might ‘homes’ in the literal sense, but also the ideologies and assumptions that inform those spaces, sometimes so implicitly that to highlight them engenders a denial of them, like a fish unaware of water as it’s so ubiquitous.
‘This work is one of twenty pieces from Rosler’s House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home (c.1967-72) series created during, and influenced by, the Vietnam War. It was the first war in history that was literally brought into the homes of American people through the revolutionary new television set from which its horrors could be witnessed daily. It was often described as a “living room war” – a description loaded with strange poignancy as it shined a light on the eeriness of a nation living their everyday lives, ripe with consumerist concerns like keeping the stylish home drapes clean, all the while gruesome political realities took place elsewhere, becoming just another form of nightly entertainment in front of the tube.
Simultaneously, there is a feminist element to the work as it comments on the robotic mundaneness of female domestic work in the midst of global unrest. The idea of women striving to keep the house beautiful while war’s tragedies are omnipresent becomes almost comical, and presents a surreal picture about what we deem important. Recognizing the potential for manipulation in the photographic medium, Rosler once stated, “Any familiarity with photographic history shows that manipulation is integral to photography.”’ (from here)
More of Rosler’s extensive practice – and her roles as social critic and historian for more than half a century – can be seen here.
~ Bart GazzolaRead More