Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Charles Ledray is a Seattle-born artist I became interested in while working at the Textile Museum last summer. I've been bogged down with school stuff for the past week and haven't posted anything in a while, so here is a little piece I wrote for an assignment about the work pictured above entitled workworkworkworkwork, first exhibited in 1991. FYI: I will be building a "fantasy exhibition" of sorts around this work for a curating class.
588 objects: Fabric, thread, cotton batting, yarn, embroidery floss, nylon cord, carpet, leather, wood, metal, foil, metal chain, wire, nails, porcelain, pumice, beads, buttons, cardboard, corrugated cardboard, paper, magic marker, paint
Approximately 13.7 m x 25.4 cm x 5 cm
Private Collection, Houston, TX
Charles Ledray is an artist working primarily in the area of fibre-base sculpture and installation. His work is characterized by labour-intensive and somewhat obsessive tendencies towards hand making. A compelling blend of high-art and craft, his best-known works are installations comprised of handmade men’s suits, hats, fantastical garments and ceramic vessels that play with multiplicity and scale. In his installation workworkworkworkwork (1991), 588 miniature objects-- among them garments, magazines, housewares and multiple pieces of art-- were displayed in New York’s Astor Place in the form of an impromptu street sale. Each of the objects was painstakingly hand-crafted by Ledray, and their presentation on a busy sidewalk-- often splayed across shrunken replicas of flattened cardboard boxes and rumpled raincoats-- cleverly blurred the lines between art and mass-produced object. The individual objects themselves are an enigmatic combination of abjection and whimsy, like a half-inch dildo in a dollhouse.
Both the presentation and objects of workworkworkworkwork evoke a number of responses in the viewer. The lack of human presence in the installation causes the objects to convey a sense of melancholy and loneliness, imploring one to piece together biographical details of the hypothetical owners of each cluster of tiny belongings for sale. The objects are reminiscent of toys or props-- accessories for a Ken doll whose dream house was foreclosed and who is drifting from fleabag hotel to fleabag hotel. Each object straddles the line between precious and imprecious, with grasshopper-sized hardcover novels standing spine up as if tossed aside among real cigarette butts on the sidewalk. The centrality of labour is evident in the work, from Ledray’s labour to the title of the work to the work of people who labour to make mass-produced objects in sweatshops that move from multi-national chain store to church sale to sidewalk vendor to landfill. Finally, the piece’s presentation on a public sidewalk is dependent on the presence of the pedestrian to complete the work. This brings to mind how members of dominant society-- in the case of workworkworkworkwork, the Manhattan white-collar worker, socialite, window shopper, or tourist-- view people on the margins of society. The homeless, street vendors and people performing menial jobs are relegated as background players against an urban backdrop, always viewed peripherally. The miniaturization of the objects in workworkworkworkwork poignantly reflects this.
While it is easy to get completely caught up in the sense of wonder and delightful seediness of Ledray’s tiny sculptural stand-ins, a key to the work’s success lies in its presentation in public, on a sidewalk in a huge metropolis that dwarfs everything it contains. Situated in Manhattan-- an iconic American city which has long been seen as a centre of commerce, immigration, power and consumption-- workworkworkworkwork interacts with its site’s impressive web of history, from deadly industrial disasters in garment factories and riots fuelled by class resentment to the economic and social conditions of New York City in 1991 when workworkworkworkwork was first exhibited. The relationship between the objects-- which despite their scale evoke personal histories that feel very real-- and the site activate something much larger than the diminutive objects laboured over by Ledray: a greater social history of a city that lies deeper than a sidelong glance during a brisk walk across a crowded intersection.
Photos courtesy of the Whitney's website: http://whitney.org/Exhibitions/CharlesLeDray/Images
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
I completed my latest zine exactly a week ago, making my collective zine output total a whopping four zines-- two were collaborations, and two were my own-- in 2011, the official year of the Revenge of Print. Looking back, I feel that I did well...I did my part for the revenge! Print was one of my first loves. Needless to say, I hope it is here to stay.
While this zine came to fruition mere days into 2012, I consider it a '2011' zine because so much of its research and construction was done in 2011. In a nutshell, Museozine is a zine of interviews with friends of mine-- all wonderfully creative young people who craft, make music and make art on their own terms-- about their museum experiences. These interviews started off as casual research I was doing for my job at a small Toronto museum last summer. The interviews were, in some cases, so honest and joyful and surprising that I felt like I just had to publish them in zine form as a way of honoring and preserving them.
Some of my favourite moments in the zine include the following quotes:
"When I was a young kid I loved to sit upside down on the couch (legs up the wall, head hanging down over the end of the seat) and look at the living room/kitchen upside down and fantasize about how cool it would be to be able to walk around in a house that was upside down. Really upside down, but defying gravity so everything would stay in its place, and to walk in the front door and try to navigate around the house that way and see all the familiar objects in this whole new way. I did this a lot. It was a bit of an obsession. There's my dream museum-- my childhood home upside down." --Elaine B.
"If I could create my own museum it would be quite a bit like my own apartment, except much, much bigger...everything from old print (magazines, comic books, fanzines, old books) to old toys, various pop culture items, guitars and music gear, and-- probably most importantly-- vinyl records." --Matt H.
"I think a hobo museum would be cool. It would have a riding the rails simulator, and a hobo camp staffed with historical re-enactors like Black Creek Pioneer Village, and maybe a folk singer from the 20s or 30s. Although this is changing, museums tend not to represent the lives of people on the margins of history." --Patrick M.
Today, headlines about millions of dollars in funding for culture and research being cut from both the municipal and the provincial budget over the next year were splashed across Toronto papers. Sad when you consider how much museums have captured the imaginations of the people I interviewed. Most of these interviews referred to childhood museum experiences, which, for the case of many, happened in the 1980s, before the massive culture funding slashes and economic recession of the very late 1980s and early 1990s. There is currently an accessibility problem among Toronto's museums. I hate to think that the current economic climate and recent cuts will make the current problem (or crisis, even) of local museum accessibility--and not to mention cultural funding-- even worse.
For lots of impassioned writing on the topic of public access to museums and cultural institutions, check out Toronto critic and arts writer Leah Sandals' always engaging blog, Unedit My Heart.
Monday, January 09, 2012
A few days ago, I finished my latest zine, Museozine. This got me thinking about how artists have used the interview format in both performance and printed matter. Tonight in my Publications class I was introduced to a really awesome example of this (somewhat minor) tradition called the Danville Community Encyclopedia by artist Anna Callahan. For this project, Callahan hung out in a public library in Danville, Illinois interviewing members of the public of all ages about their respective areas of expertise. She eventually filled an entire book with transcriptions of the interviews she collected-- the encyclopedia entries as diverse as Ghostbusters, Gospel Songs, Attention Deficit Disorder, Protest, Chicago Illinois, Canada and Tupac.
This was an uber-limited edition. I wish I could buy this!
For more on Anna Callahan and her community projects, check out her website.
(P.S: This is my 300th post!)