Monday, August 17, 2009

How to Make a Spectacle of Yourself

There was an instance when I was in high school when I skipped classes for a day. I acknowledge it as an instance because it was not a common occurrence and I was always the type to strictly follow the rules. I had an orthodontic appointment early in the day and just didn’t want to return to school. I stopped by my mother’s kindergarten classroom on my way and actually asked permission. When she was satisfied with my answer, that there were no tests or pressing assignments, I was allowed to skip.

So what does a teenage kid do when skipping school? Head to the mall—the temple of American Consumerism. The purchase I made that day caused a certain amount of tension within my family unit. I had purchased a pair of non-prescription glasses. The rest of my family has to wear glasses. I, however, chose to wear them, more like a fashion accessory. "Why," they demanded, "would anyone choose to wear glasses if they didn’t have to?"

I only wore the glasses intermittently over a period of about three years. The taunts from the rest of the family persisted long after. "You’ll be sorry. One day you’ll have to wear glasses." I was constantly reminded that, "When I was your age I had perfect eyesight, too. Just you wait." I still have perfect vision as time marches on. They still have to keep getting their prescriptions changed once or twice a year.

The further torment for them will be when the assemblage/altarpieces with antique spectacles reach points of completion. Maybe the laws of God and nature will have caught up with me by then, but I doubt it. Accumulations of wire rimmed spectacles might suggest a slight mockery of their degenerating sight, but I have better reasons to use them than that.

The proposed accumulations are somewhat reminiscent of the assemblage work of Nouveau Realiste artist Arman. He was part of the French equivalent of Pop art. Arman is best known for his accumulations of identical objects. I don’t recall if I’ve ever seen a piece of his incorporating eye glasses. I do acknowledge that my use of these will bring, to some, associations of Jewish Holocaust photos. There are several historic images of piles of discarded glasses, shoes, and other personal items of victims of that genocide. I assure you, this is not my goal.

The mass accumulations of objects more forcibly assert the presence of the object. The viewer then is confronted with the importance of that object within the assemblage. Because my constructions contain additional objects, text, and painted passages, connections among the disparate elements need to be made by the viewer.

Glasses are worn to help us see more clearly. They help us, literally, to focus. While many people wear glasses to correct general vision problems, others are known to wear "reading glasses." For this very reason, there remains the unconscious—though sometimes openly stated—stereotype that people with glasses are bookish and somehow smarter. Of course, the derogatory concept is that those with glasses are "nerdy."

In the instances where I have chosen to incorporate eyeglasses and other lenses (magnifying glasses, cameras, movie cameras, Viewmaster viewers, etc.) the viewer needs to pay closer attention. More "reading" needs to be done. Perhaps that reading is part of what is being regarded within the piece as a whole. It is a signal as to how the viewer should approach all the works, not just the ones with the lenses. To understand—to enjoy the work—is to interpret it, to read it.

1 comment:

techne said...

didn't cildo meireles also do an installation (or two) using spectacles? or maybe i'm thinking of kate ericson and mel ziegler?