Monday, 21 January 2013

Memento Mona

“Memento Mona” 2008

This piece of work evolved out a project concerning appropriation in art, in which several artists were invited to work with an image that is arguably the most well-known and familiar in Western art.

Much of its initial construction came about by chance: while I was working on it, I was given a discarded shoe, which I realised was proportionate to the face: having removed the face, I realised that it fit exactly, on its side, into the décolletage: having done this, I realised that the postcard size I had of the face fit exactly into the eye. The background I replaced with a collage of Van Gogh landscapes, and the text was taken from a reworking of Walter Benjamin's "Arcades Project" by Steffan Boehm - the face  collaged with 'The Prostitute', and the cut-up from 'The Collector'.

The piece as a whole represents several interests that I was exploring or developing at the time: assemblage, collage, text, cut-ups,  and the Vanitas. 

The bouquet turns the notion of a gift of flowers on its head through usage of traditional Vanitas metaphors - the skull (here, a rabbit's, complete with ears), the guttering candle replaced by a burnt-out light bulb, the dead flowers, the pheasant's tail - representing the bird as psychopomp. Working with found or reclaimed objects, working with animal remains as metaphors for human experiences, to create new narratives out of old icons.

It's a piece of art that has been interpreted by viewers in any number of ways. Some see the shoe as a symbol of the Nazi concentration camp victim, others as representative of a lost childhood. The fact of the shoe in the face inspired its usage to illustrate a paper about organisational politics. The removal of the famous face has been seen as a political statement in itself; and the addition of the Vanitas bouquet, as a memento mori - for the death of art, of the meaning of art: for where is the 'aura' of an artwork that has been so reproduced and defiled?

I had hoped, with this work, to make the viewer reconsider his or her relationship to the familiar, to create uncanniness out of the homely by 'defacing' the iconic visage. But in the end - as with many artworks that are not either politically didactic or purely decorative - I hope that the viewer will create their own meaning, narrative, or relationship with the work.

                                                                  Marcel Duchamp "L.H.O.O.Q." 1919

Further reading:
Boehm, Steffan The Consulting Arcade: Walking Through Fetish-Land

N. Butler, C. Land and M. Sliwa “Throwing Shoes...”

Benjamin, Walter “The Work of Art in the age of its Technological Reproducibility and other writings on media”  and "The Arcades Project"

Freud, Sigmund The uncanny”(1919) in Art and Literature London: Penguin 1990

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