Something Strange in Your Neighborhood
Crossing the Streams
Just like we re-envision the awkwardness of our everyday life into sit-coms, rom-coms, and “science fantasy, action-comedy, techno thrillers” (as wikipedia categorizes the movie The 5th Element), I want to refashion the tender occurrences of daily life into a distilled form that brings out the gross, sexual, funny, suspicious, or uncomfortable currents that run under the surface.
Popular movies get to the heart of this, blending the far too familiar with our private fantasies. The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is a mental nonsequitor conjured instantly out of the darkest fears of Dan Aykroyd to foil the Ghostbusters in the end of their first epic. Even the most innocuous childhood memories that fondly warm our hearts with nostalgia always have the potential to be perverted under the right circumstances. Aykroyd explains to Bill Murray after the seeing the unexpected white giant appear behind the skyscrapers, “I tried to think of the most harmless thing, something I loved from my childhood, something that could never ever possibly destroy us, Mr. Stay Puft.” Even though Egon instructed the Ghostbusters to clear their minds so that the mind-reading monster couldn’t conjure beasts from their thoughts to destroy them, their fate of a future battle with the unknown, far fetched, or strange was sealed. If this uncomfortable or anxiety causing current exists anywhere it exists in our minds the moment that the thought is forbidden.
I operate somewhere between the sentiments: "It's all right...but it's not okay,” building narratives and arriving at paintings and videos that operate between the two points; straddling the sides like a drag queen, Slimer, and Mr. Stay Puft alike navigate the faux realness and hilarious spectacle. I strive to capture viewers jumping to conclusions, finding themselves implicated in the madness; a constructed world that triggers and confounds assumed sensibilities and tendencies, thus provoking repulsion and wonder. I invest in the process of exploring our human existence, our collective identity and my personal identity as a vehicle for creating a world where the unspoken rules, accepted codes, and vast generalizations encoded in our daily ritual are played with, remixed, and broken. To put it simply, the dangerous, mysterious, and all powerful “crossing of the streams.”
Situated somewhere between this stream-crossing danger zone and the comfortable tropes of popular culture, my work probes both discomfort and nostalgia. My painting Copacaboohoo merges the idealized photos of sunsets from a tropical vacation, the pleasing and forgettable Photoshop gradients, and the mattress of your motel room or quilted handbag into the likeness of a figure that needs you the viewer to complete his form while the planes and shapes that modulate him shift and wiggle away. The viewer is needed to piece together the portrait, as they recognize the imagery and the peek-a-boo at the same time in a tropical gestalt. The pathos that the figure acquires through your possible misplaced nostalgia related to the images and your inherent role in the characters existence, makes it the pop song you love despite forgetting half the lyrics.
Sit-coms and pop songs become predictable and much loved pieces of memorabilia throughout our lives, no matter how affectionate or displaced the nostalgia is. We re-watch movies, tell the same old jokes, and drive by our old houses years after moving out. Even though you know the ending, or the jokes fall flat, and there are frat boys living in your old place, we relish the opportunity to project our memories in real time, all the while understanding that we may be forced to laugh in the face of awkwardness.
Baudrillard uses Disneyland to explain how our inner self shows its true colors as we create a cleaver disguise or narrative of vacation to mask our perceived embarrassing or debasing desires. Disneyland “is a deterrence machine set up in order to rejuvenate in reverse the fiction of the real…It is meant to be an infantile world, in order to make us believe that the adults are elsewhere, in the "real" world, and to conceal the fact that real childishness is everywhere, particularly among those adults who go there to act the child in order to foster illusions of their real childishness” (Baudrillard 175).
Consumer aesthetics have stepped into our lives as a great generalizer of this phenomenon. They tap into a human desire to relate to something and misplace nostalgia. The excitement at being promised more, better, best by a label’s bubbly text makes up for the fact that the result wanes in comparison. Advertisements, packaging, and product display depend on our ability to relate often-disparate information, usually providing endless arrangements within a given form. Not unlike Dutch still life painting, where the form is a standard within which there is an endless rearrangement of the same symbolic objects, creating different narratives and stories depending on that arrangement. While an untrained viewer might not know the stories being pointed at, the narrative potential of the objects is understood.
Sit-coms and rom-coms hail from this tradition as well. Like the products that cover the shelves and grab our eyes, each one important, and each one the same, we tune in every week to see a new arrangement of our favorite sit-com played out by the same actors on the same set, with expected and anticipated ups and downs. It’s this capitalist chutzpah that allows us to take the long slow dive from Rocky to Air Bud, Luke Skywalker to Jar Jar Binks, and the feature length blockbuster to the book “based on the movie.” No movie is safe from becoming the progenitor to a lack luster sequel. As we watch our once favorite movies become mangled episodic cartoons, we’re committed to our servitude as Egon transforms into a chiseled, torpedo haired, heartthrob, capturing our wandering eye of delusional schoolyard crushing.
My situations acknowledge all of our inner abilities to creep or be perverse, where bad pick up lines are communicated through subliminal messaging. I implicate myself as much as I implicate the viewer. Just like Prince says in “U Got the Look”, “you got the look, you must’ve took, a whole hour just to make up your face, baby, closing time, ugly lights, everybody’s inspected,” I try to reveal the ménage a trios between viewer, myself, and the unspoken ugliness we’re all aware of. Something is happening to us all if showing up to the first day of class in your birthday suit is an archetypal dream. Just like a little kid can turn anything into a hat, it takes an adult to pervert that cone shaped party hat into a phallus. Whether it’s pre-teen boys joking about not “crossing their streams” (of pee) on a camping trip in the woods, the unavoidable duality of the city and it’s civilians being covered in white creamy marshmallow ooze after the Stay Puft Man’s defeat, or a surprise sliming because you accidentally passed through Slimer’s paranormal mass, our world becomes a composite of double meanings, hidden truths, and first impressions.