Saturday, July 15, 2017

Patriot Bulbs in Progress

A Google image search for "Russia" brings up maps and Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow. What more beautiful way to represent the country visually than with this beautiful building?

One of my goals this summer is to create more protest bulbs. So while I've been waiting on other things to dry and fire, I've been brainstorming, forming, and decorating the bulbs. I've got plenty of ideas of what topics I want to cover, but its been more difficult to come up with imagery to address those topics.

my jar of inspiration imagery (from spring)

It is important to me that the bulbs be clear in their references, but I don't want to replicate memes. I do want impactful imagery, but I want to leave some room for the viewer to interpret that imagery themselves. The bulbs I created in the spring did this, at least to some extent, with imagery that referenced contemporary problems, but didn't necessarily proscribe a partisan solution or interpretation. 

freshly pressed bulbs

The original idea for the bulbs was, firmly, a reaction to the problems I see as resulting from the current administration. However, thinking critically about these problems over an extended time and with a view to incorporating image references in my work, my view naturally has expanded to some broader issues and to some fundamental questions about contemporary American society that go beyond the current administration.

Sandra Bland's traffic stop

There are systemic issues in our culture and our institutions that predate the current administration and predate my entire life. Awareness of some of these issues seems to have increased in the last few decades, but those decades have coincided with my adult life, making personal awareness difficult to extricate from national awareness. Some of the most important issues that I think of when considering the problems of contemporary society include police violence against people of color, institutional racism, the influence of money in politics, and the increasing gap between the very rich and the rest of the population.

Flint (haven't figured out how I'm going to show the water is polluted rather than just water)

The current administration has brought out into the open racism and misogyny in ways that were more hidden in the recent past. It has also directed our attention to questions of corruption. These are real issues and I want to address them in my work. I also think it can be too easy, particularly in representing issues in imagery and in small pieces, to focus on the straight-forward and extreme events and to direct these images to a partisan audience. 

protest march

The work I am making now could easily become meme-like because of its scale and because my conception of the bulbs as individual pieces working together in a larger group. Like memes on the internet, the bulbs are not meant to have a correct order and can be mixed and rearranged. Though I think it would be interesting to explore the language of memes in this format, that is not what I want to do right now.

Protest Bulbs at Larson Gallery (July 2017)

On the fourth of July, NPR tweeted the Declaration of Independence. Later that day or the next, I saw several articles about how people reacted to the tweets: specifically, some people apparently didn't recognize the source of the 140 character fragments and assumed that the references to the various things the king did in 1776 were contemporary references to the current president. 

Declaration of Independence and bulbs in progress

I had pressed the text of the first amendment onto the surface of some bulbs for the earlier iteration of protest bulbs and I like the visual. I've long been interested in the use of text as pattern and decoration, but haven't always had something to say. I decided to press the text of the Declaration of Independence onto some bulbs, both as a reference to the NPR Twitter strangeness, and as a simple reference to the founding of our country. #civics! With this dual reading, I also want to consider calling the pieces and the eventual installation "Patriot Bulbs" rather than the more prescriptive "Protest Bulbs." We bring different assumptions about content based on one or the other title.

Declaration of Independence bulbs

To get started on the text project, I printed out a copy of the text and sat down for the tedious process of pressing the text into bulbs. I figured it would take about 30 bulbs to contain the whole thing. It took 21, but was significantly more tedious than I expected. I almost dreaded sitting down to press the text. I sat on the floor so I could leave the letter stamps out and organized. After I finished and cleaned up, the rug still had traces of the red clay in the spots where the frequently used letters were kept.

The red clay from my fingertips left traces on the carpet where I picked up each letter.

Would you recognize short fragments of the Declaration of Independence, isolated from the whole and out of context? How many of us have read the whole Declaration of Independence? Recently? I read each section as I pressed the text into the bulb, looking for those sections that led to negative reactions on Twitter. I don't know that I'd ever read the Declaration in its entirety before. I could see how some references to King George could seem to relate to the current president, but what I was most surprised by was the section relating to Native American people: "...the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and condition." Perhaps I am just revealing my limited memory of basic social studies, but I'm also fairly certain this language wasn't discussed in high school.

cutting the hole in a new bulb

While I pressed text into theses bulbs (over and over and over for days), I was listening to A History of the Supreme Court by The Great Courses. We take some things for granted, in our country today; one of those things is that the First Amendment applies to state laws, which is not specifically stated in the Bill of Rights, and another is that the famous phrase from the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..." is true and it was only warped interpretation that led to it not applying to men with dark skin and maybe even women. Our society suggests that the founding documents are perfectly just and flexible enough to be applied to contemporary society despite the fact that our founding fathers had some warped ideas about freedom, equality, and democracy. It was jarring, to me, to examine the document more closely and find this offensive and hateful prejudice written right in to our initial bid for freedom.


It is also surprising, for someone who hasn't read it all before (that I recall), to realize how crabby the Declaration is. Most of us only read or hear the first two paragraphs, which are fairly inspiring. But the rest is a list of grievances. It was interesting to think, then, in this project, of how these distinct sections read as individual chunks, removed from their textual context. 

homeless man in progress

It also raises the question for me, as an artist, of whether the 21 text bulbs work together or separately, as part of this project. The bulbs, by nature of their shape, are not particularly easy to read, and there are now so many of them with text. The installation of abstract textured bulbs is meant to be read as a whole, where some viewers focus on one bulb or another, but no one is able to focus carefully on all 60 or 100, because there are just too many. Like faces in a crowd, they are meant to blend together. 

abstract bulbs at Yakima Maker Space in April 2017

I embrace the idea of the bulbs alluding to individualism, diversity, and difference and the collective democracy or "melting pot" of the (ideal) USA. The imagery I have been working on this spring and summer works well, to my mind, with this overarching idea of the individual in the group. With so many text bulbs, it is not feasibly for a viewer to read and understood all of them or all of the text together, but I think it might still be feasible for them to work together with the entire work and support or contrast against the imagery. Individuals may stop to read some text on some bulbs. What they notice in the text might be the familiar or the less familiar text. 

First Amendment bulb at Larson Gallery

I didn't carefully control the spacing and legibility of the text or individual phrases or sentences. By cramming the whole document onto 21 bulbs, I didn't force jarring phrases, such as ones that seem to apply to the current president, to be isolated on their own bulbs. Perhaps I should have. I also didn't avoid juxtapositions that may show up in display. I made some discoveries in the development of this work. I suspect the work installed will tell me more about what it is, but I also look forward to talking with people who see the work without knowing what to expect or what I was aiming at.

bulbs, including two text bulbs at Larson Gallery

Since I finished the text bulbs, I am back to working on the imagery heavy bulbs. Among these bulbs are more clear and more ambiguous bulbs. Hopefully they each represent something about our culture. Though my slant is more critical than not, I've changed the working name of the pieces and the group to "Patriot Bulbs" and I want to critically consider how the imagery represents the country as a whole.

1 comment:

  1. a marvellous project - I hope it is well received


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