|Entropy Filigree, 2006
|In Entropy Filigree, random wisps of hair, withered stems, and bug parts are transformed from floor sweepings into an intricate and seductive wallpaper pattern. The piece reflects my interest in exploring dichotomies surrounding aesthetics and the body by drawing them closer together, finding sensuality in abjection, decoration in waste, and design in entropy.
In this site-specific installation at the American University Museum, a previously unconsidered, utilitarian space is transformed by highly decorative wallpaper, and by signs that highlight the sensuality of the body in a very public manner. A viewer looking for the toilet will be informed, not by the usual oblique word stating men, women, or even restroom, but with silhouettes of naked figures, acting out what might take place behind the doors. Private gestures such as a woman squatting as if to urinate are unabashedly exposed. Public gestures such as a woman sweeping or talking on the phone are rendered absurd.
The juxtaposition between the function and alteration of the space blurs distinctions between public and private spaces, between hallowed art galleries and utilitarian corridors. This new place that people pass through, conducting the quotidian business of relieving themselves in the bathroom, washing hands, drinking from the water fountain, or rinsing out a mop, situates the sensual body in an unexpectedly personal and public context.
Faced with the image of a urinating figure before entering a bathroom, the viewer is forced to identify with this exposed sensuality, and a private experience is made public. The silhouettes depict commonplace actions and are decidedly unrevealing. Yet, they seem surprisingly frank, even within a museum where images of nude women, in particular, are commonplace. The suggestion of the exposed body in both men and women becomes ridiculous and almost embarrassing in this context.
This exploration of our discomfort with our bodies fits into the larger scope of my work, which explores our urge to contain or control our sensuality, as well as the natural processes, growths, protrusions, and eventual degradation that our bodies endure.
My focus on this repressive relationship to our bodies is rooted in my interest in Victorianism, and the reverberations of Victorian values on Contemporary American culture. Highlighting that influence, I situate this installation, as I do in much of my other work, in the context of both the 19th and 21st centuries. While the silhouettes reference the 19th century, the figures in this installation are unambiguously contemporary, from the hairstyles, to the woman on a cell phone with wires trailing beneath her. The Baroque inspired design, and the lacey hair that is the focal point of the wallpaper, also reference Victoriana. The juxtaposition between the Victorian use of hair to create decorative and symbolic mementos, and the contemporary repulsion with the same idea, points to the contradictions in how our relationship to our bodies have evolved since the 19th century.