Monday, February 27, 2012

Project Two Research - Barbara Kruger

Your Silence is My Comfort, 1981

     Similarly to Jenny Holzer, I find myself incredibly drawn to the text and image based work of Barbara Kruger. I find her work to be in a similar vein to Holzer’s in that the combination of image and text works to confront the viewer by directly addressing them and pointing out aspects of their own lives and society in general. Since her first collages in the late 70’s, Kruger’s works have provided political, social and feminist critiques and commentaries on a huge range of topics including: religion, sex, racial and gender stereotypes, consumerism, greed and power (Art History Archive). Many times her pieces play of the interaction of the reading viewer by using personal pronouns that, “implicates viewers by confronting any clear notion of who is speaking” (Art History Archive). Her work is, in my opinion, visually unnerving in the way that it speaks directly to those who read them; statements like, “Your body is a battleground,” “Your comfort is my silence” and “Thinking of you” when combined with striking, almost dream or nightmare-like imagery may seem distant at first, but they slowly creep into the mind of the viewer until they feel as if the work has been specifically meant to be read by themselves.
     The earliest beginnings of Kruger’s work can be traced back to her time at Syracuse University in 1964 where she began to develop an interest in graphic design, poetry, and writing before transferring to Parson’s School of Design in 1965 (Art History Archive). It was here that she was introduced to fashion and fashion magazine subcultures and after only a year of school she left and began to work at different fashion and art magazines, serving as a designer and art director (AHA). However, by the late 70’s she had begun her collage work using found images from “Mid-century American” print media sources and collaged words on top. By the early 80’s her collages had become large-scale black and white photos juxtaposed with “raucous, pithy and ironic aphorisms always set in the Futura Bold typeface against black, white or deep red text bars (AHA). I think that this sense of continuity, or similarity, between the vastly different subject matters, in terms of the look of each work adds to the sense of a collective or whole voice in the collection of Kruger’s work.
     Another thing that I find myself drawn to about these images, and something that I find relates in a way to my own work, is the tone of voice in all of Kruger’s work. In my work my visual writing is vague and cryptic, leaving anything open to viewer interpretation – it could be a command from the gods or the writing of a crazy person. However, what is different about Kruger’s text, and what I like so much about it is that her voice is “angry and accusatory” but at the same time she leaves the voice in the text and the intended audience a mystery (Friedman 461-462). For example, in her piece, Your Comfort is My Silence (1981), there is absolutely no clue as to who has said this or as to why, but the viewer is struck by just how demanding and direct the voice is and the backing image of a person’s face only adds to the frightening power. There is no room for the viewer to think that the message is not intended for them – they are implicated and witness to the message the second they come into contact with the work. A work like this one and the majority of Kruger’s work is playing off of he look and layouts of the fashion magazines she once worked at; her works look like they could be advertising, but in reality are disputing the very same ideas that society and those magazines are trying to sell.

 Temporary Stedlijik Gallery Installation, Amsterdam, 2010

In addition to her individual pieces, I think that Kruger’s more recent installation work adds even more to the visual textual assault on the viewer by literally surrounding them with text in the gallery space. In this installation in Amsterdam, the viewer is engulfed and surrounded by text that is directly addressing them and their certainties about the world around them. In this context the viewer can not escape from be addressed and is even more a witness to the messages the artist is imparting to them and in the case of these large gallery installations, “The floor has a voice, walls can hear you, and the architecture is manipulating the way you speak” (AHA).
     I feel that Barbara Kruger’s work is so strong because she is so confident and direct. If she was coy or shy in the way she addressed and included the viewer in her collages, they whole body of work would seem much less serious and potent. However, I feel that because Kruger does not directly call out a specific individual as the speaker or receiver, there is still a powerful vagueness that allows the images to be dispersed and ingested on a massive scale, just like the advertisements and societal ideas that she is critiquing through her work.

Temporary Stedlijik Gallery Installation, Amsterdam, 2010

Works Cited:

"Barbara Kruger." The Art History Archive. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2012.

Fineberg, Jonathan. Art Since 1940. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2011. Print.


Project Two Research - Jenny Holzer

Jenny Holzer, Protect Me From What I Want

     I find that I am constantly drawn to work of any kind that uses the written word. There is a direct, human quality (as we are the only currently known species to communicate with written symbols), while still retaining some air of mystery behind its creation and intention. Because of these thoughts, I was immediately interested in the text-based work of Jenny Holzer. Holzer’s text work, which she calls “Truisms” stretch from detailing “common myths” to phrases about random subjects that take the form of slogans (designboom). Examples of this slogan-like quality, which in my opinion, adds to the mystery of what are these message’s intentions include: “Money creates taste,” “Enjoy yourself because you can’t change anything anyway,” and “Don’t place to much trust in experts.” These quick, thought-provoking statements mimic advertising in where they are placed – billboards, coffee mugs, commercials on cable/network TV – and they “…Question what our eyes can see and can’t see in the media” and end up questioning if we have any control over the information that is provided to us (designboom).
     Holzer began to work with text while she was earning her BFA at Ohio University, where she was studying painting and printmaking, but soon began to shift her interest to public art projects that were “sublime and impressive” (designboom). Her first Truisms were created in 1976 when she moved to New York City and posted them anonymously around the city. Since that time, Holzer’s Truisms have expanded their medium beyond just posters, including works on LED monitors that are posted in relation to monuments and memorials and since 1996 Holzer’s work has included large-scale, text projections on buildings and landscapes in a huge range of locations such as Rome, Oslo, Paris, Berlin, Miami and others (designboom).
     If the first thing that drew me to Holzer’s work is that she was working with text, the second thing that interested me was how different her work is from my own. In my own work I use text to expel these hidden workings and meanings behind everyday things and thereby add to my own evolving part-language, part-drawing and myths. However, I feel like Holzer’s work is working in a completely opposite field, while still being based in text. Her work portrays these somewhat familiar phrases that “displace the clear presence of a personal voice.” Holzer’s Truisms, “…Underscore the essential emptiness of the media and the strange isolation of people from one another in the society of mass culture clich├ęs” (Fineberg 461). I really feel as if Holzer’s Truisms, whether they are posters or projections, are highly connected to the world around us and are working to change how we think about our surroundings while my own work is moving in the direction of reinterpreting everything under the sun.

     With these thoughts about the media and public interaction in mind, Holzer’s piece Protect Me From What I Want becomes much more powerful. The fact that this piece is displayed on an electronic billboard (among many other formats) contacts the public directly in the environment. The work does not require a gallery to help stage it’s meaning; the public is necessary for the work to implant its meaning into the viewer and since the work is in this form, it directly plays into and critiques the world of advertising and consumer society (designboom).
     The main thing that I think is working so well in Holzer’s Truisms and projections is the fact that there is no real “set up” for the works. When I say this I mean that the works confront the viewer though their shear size or guerrilla-like marketing and they look like they belong in the environment – an environment full of constantly changing advertisements. The works, through their almost familiar phrasing, triggers some kind of thought or emotional response from the viewer. I think that when the viewer knows that something is going on, but can’t quite put their finger on it, or realize that the work is referring to their own lives, the work is highly successful.

Jenny Holzer, Truism Series

Works Cited:

"Jenny Holzer." designboom. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2012.   

Fineberg, Jonathan. Art Since 1940. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2011. Print.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Project One: Self Assessment

     Firstly I want to apologize if this assessment seems to ramble too much, in retrospect this project is making me think of a whole new area of subject matter in which to operate in and it all seems a little overwhelming at times. So essentially, I developed this project with the thought that I have never created a work/project with any sort of political connection – no matter how vague – and I feel that this project, with it centering on appropriation would be a perfect opportunity to work with this subject area.
     So I think I wanted to work with “political” images as a way to break some of my nerves of working with or showing any sort of political leaning, especially as this is an area that I have little knowledge in. Of course I also wanted to bring my own sort of “language” and own version of mythology to these political images, which I think worked to make myself feel more comfortable with the whole process. Basically, the initial thoughts I had behind this project were the following: “What do these ‘political’ leaders really do at these meetings that they have?” and “Where do these people really get their power from?” and finally “What does these people look like in my own version of the world?”
     With these thoughts in mind I started to gather imagery that I thought reflected the opposite kind of culture and thoughts of the subjects of the photographs. So in terms of the image depicting Karl Marx, my goal was to depict him as more of a shaman, someone who has these hidden and eerie, mysterious powers over people, then depicting him as a political theorist. The added imagery was used to express my own feelings as to how he was really operating – through natural mysticism and powders and animal powers. And in terms of the image of Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill, I wanted to show the meeting as more a meeting of various sorcerers then leading Western powers. The realization I had was that in this world I am working to realize, all the political leaders do not lead or come to power through striving for a brighter future, but instead come to power through much older powers and devices.
     Honestly, the major learning curve I was dealing with in this project was reestablishing my knowledge with Photoshop. As it had been some time since I had last used this program extensively, I had to relearn how to make the multiple source images I was using fit together seamlessly and that cause a little frustration at first, but I think that for the majority of these works, I was successful at bringing my imagery together. Of course as the creator behind these works there are areas that stand out to me as areas that do not look as well connected/ seamlessly integrated. However, I feel that this has to do, in some part, with the fact that I was working solely with images found from Wikimedia Commons and as such I was limited in exactly how perfect the images came together through limitations in image and pixel size. However, I do feel that some of the tools that I used in Photoshop (drop shadows, contrast changes and image transformation) really helped to create the look I was going for – the “real” pictures of all these supposedly well know political figures.
     As I was working on this project the main way that I kept interested in what was going on with my images was by taking time with each piece. I would work solely on the Stalin/Roosevelt/Churchill piece for a few hours and then the next work time I would spend on the Marx image. I think this bouncing between pieces kept me more invested and kept my interest up in both works – I feel that if I had only work on one image for several days I would have begun to loose sight of what was going on in the piece – I would have stopped getting a feel for the myth I was crafting behind these figures. However, the simultaneous creation of both images allowed for each one to have a proper, strong development and gave myself the proper amount of time to work on all aspects of the pieces.
     This being the first time I have explicitly worked with any form of politics in my work, I think that it is interesting to think of how these images look to an outsider. Thinking from the perspective of a viewer, I think that they would initially assume that I am trying to make these political leaders look ridiculous or that I was trying to contrast them to the other imagery that I incorporated into the pieces. Even if the viewers think this is the case – I feel as if I have succeeded to some extent in my want to establish these images as documents of a different version of how these leaders supposedly really act.
     As a viewer i think that I would really pick up on the contrast between the black and white background photograph and the color-collaged imagery. These differences would really stand out as highlighting the ridiculousness of the scene/situation the viewer is looking at and detract some from the noble-like quality of the photograph’s subjects – which is something I was going for, I think, with these two images. However, at the same time, these differences in color and contrast make the combined elements really stand out from one another – so the final pieces seem less cohesive then I intended. Especially in the Stalin/Roosevelt image, the right side of the image is so heavy with imagery and saturated color that the whole piece seems unbalanced, which really affects the potential viewing/reading of the piece by the viewer. But I feel that with the Marx piece, all of the images are more closely connected color/contrast wise that the piece is much more unified and smooth to look at.
     Finally, I think that I deserve an A- on the first project. I worked hard to bring myself to explore a new subject area and at the same time bring these new subjects into my own creative domain. I think I was, for the most part, successful in this first series of experimentations and it has given me a few new ideas on how to further expand into the realm of political art – reinterpreting political documents/treaties and bringing them into my own evolving mythos.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Project One Research - Markus Kleine-Vehn

Rogier van der Weyden, St. Luke Drawing a Portrait of the Virgin Mary, 1435

Link to interactive website:

     Firstly, I have to say that I find this to be a strange piece for myself to be interested in. I say this upfront because this "artwork" is more about the technology behind the user's experience and how they can alter an existing work of art through technology then anything having to do with narrative or the hand of the artist. Normally when a viewer looks at a painting or any artwork on the internet, they are only looking at small, digitized version of the much larger work. Instead in this interactive experience the Berlin-based artist Markus Kleine-Vehn developed a process by which a user can look at digital version of the der Weyden painting in 64 individualized panels that correspond to the same area and size of the original painting in accordance to the user's screen resolution (Kleine-Vehn).
     With the viewer/user able to look at and print out a specific section of the painting they are able to print out a specific new work that refers back to the original and eventually compile their own version of the painting. Now I think that this whole experience of finding this painting in a museum and then online and then being able to look at specific digitized sections of the painting is highly involved on some level with this first project's emphasis on appropriation. Instead of having to copy a whole image or work of art off of the internet, a user can now focus in one one specific section that they want to utilize to their own purposes.
     Of course, this "tool" created by Kleine-Vehn is related to one specific original work of art, which limits the widespread use for image appropriation by similar devices/experiences. Also, it does not allow the user to create a unique area of the painting to select and print - unlike programs such as Photoshop that allow for the user to highlight specifically determined areas. However, I cannot help but notice how this digital tool relates to my own interests in terms of this first project. Specifically, so far I have been developing these collages from appropriated images found on the internet - images ranging from famous political photos to varieties of animals - and in each case I have had to work from the whole original image and slowly select out the section that I want to utilize. I feel like this work by Kleine-Vehn highlights the same basic practice that I have been working with - selecting a specific part of a preexisting image and being able to manipulate it in some form after finding it.
     I honestly feel that this interactive experience is just one example of a viewer/user being able to take away something specific from a work of art - in this case, a  specific section, or sections, of an image. The user-friendliness of the interface really opens up the image to new methods of appropriation, which I find to be absolutely necessary when working with collage and appropriated imagery.



Project One Research - Sonny Kay


The work of the artist Sonny Kay is of interest to me because I find that it exists within the same genre and mode of work that I am currently exploring with this first project. However, it is interesting to me to see how his career in the art world has changed so drastically since his college years, as I find that it reflects my own constantly shifting interests. Kay attended the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he had intended to study painting, but soon became interested in and focused on printmaking (Hold Up Art). However, during his sophomore year he founded the record label Gold Standard Laboratories (GSL) and then began to devote himself to the art side of promoting a wide variety of bands through GSL (Hold Up Art). Even after the label folded his reputation and friendship with different musicians has led Kay to create and provide artwork for records from groups like RX Bandits, Omar Rodriguez Lopez and The Mars Volta (La Ruffa).
     Of course, one of the main reasons that I am drawn to Kay’s work is because of the overwhelming visuals. I say overwhelming in the best sense possible, as when looking at his work, the viewer is confronted by these scenes that come directly from some unusual dreamscape. These digital collages seem completely random at first glance, but upon looking at them for a longer period of time it seems impossible for such a scenario to not exist – everything fits perfectly into the world he has established through using a variety of image sources from, “… Scans from old postcards and charity store books as well as digital treasures sourced from across the internet (Hold Up Art). However, Kay does not force these varying elements to suit his creative whims, instead he begins each work with just a theme and lets the materials/images available decide what will happen with each work (La Ruffa).
Search Party (Megaritual II)

     Now looking at Kay’s own work it is somewhat difficult to discern exactly what the original thought or evolving concept behind the piece actually is. Kay is quick to point out this possibility saying that although the original thought/message behind a piece is important to himself, that same notion may be lost when a viewer looks at one of his images (La Ruffa). However, even if the original message is lost, the piece’s clean look and multitude of imagery installs in the viewer a, “…Hypothetical version of reality that we’re not really certain doesn’t exist” (Hold Up Art). For example, in Kay’s piece Adrift, as a viewer I cannot say for sure what the original idea for the piece was, but as a viewer I am convinced of this group of chimpanzees and birds seemingly lost at sea and without hope – the last remnants of some civilization. To the viewer they are doomed to drift some nether region on a pontoon of bananas and Maori statues.
     I think this aspect of Kay’s stand on the creative process is what I relate to the most in terms of what I am doing with this project. Specifically, I fully appreciate how the artist starts with a general theme, but the final outcome may be totally different from what he may have been initially expecting and it is all up to the images available and how they interact. But no matter what the outcome, the world depicted is eerily believable. Again, I think this flexibility in terms of the physical final product and the final idea/concept that is seen by a viewer is what is working well and is what I think relates to my own work; the whole working process is flexible and evolutionary and the quality of the final work reflects this.
     Finally, when looking at Sonny Kay’s work as a whole, I think that one of the major strengths of the work is the high quality of these “digital collages.” None of the work contains elements that seem disjointed or out of place in terms of that particular image. Despite little to no narrative elements in the works, the work of Sonny Kay can be viewed and interpreted in a multitude of ways by any one viewer.

Menagerie, 2007-2009


Kay, Sonny. "Sonny Kay." Interview by Evan La Ruffa. The Citrus Report. N.p., 29 May 2009. Web. 6      Feb. 2012.

Hold Up Art. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 Feb. 2012.

Adrift and Search Party -
Menagerie -
Higher quality images found at -