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.


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