Final installation Semester 2

This semester has been a very productive time for me. I’ve focused on the ideas of queerness as it relates to public space and performance of queerness by the audience and individual.

Through my research that my own personal biography very much affects my concepts of queerness and my relationship to it. I’ve realized that my sexuality, how I express it, my personal trauma relating to intimacy, sexual trauma, and touch/body issues are inseparable from one another. As much as I would like to focus on just the aspect of queerness within my work it invariably reflects my own narrative as though it were a book spread open for the world to view.

I find these objects to be beautiful and although not the standard beauty as the public may perceive it, rather a perverse and terrible beauty that reflects the nature of a life lived. The experience engaging these objects is visceral and reactive, all the while leaving an imprint on ones psyche for later reflection.

The world and life are both terribly beautiful things. Much like Queerness.

Advertisements

Sketches

I’ve been completing a series of sculptural maquettes and sketches to base some larger forms off of. This gives me a better sense of materiality and how the viewer responds to specific forms, shapes, colors, and material compositions.

I used parts of my everyday routine to create these sculptures. The base is crafted from eggshells, which I consume daily for breakfast. These eggshells have been collected after each day’s breakfast. It has now become part of my routine to collect them, clean them, and store them as part of my creative process. I also used my own hair from trimming my beard, which I do weekly, within my sculpts.

This process has spoken directly to the habits I have not only as a human person, but also the actions I take as a queer individual to take care of my body and make it presentable to the public or potential partners.

Semester 2

This semester has been a whirlwind for me. I’ve been really exploring bodily queerness within my work in a more direct manner. I am examining the need for touch that humans have in developing and maintaining intimate relationships, specifically as it relates to queer identity and relations. Tactile and material qualities and how these correlate to the desire or repulsion of touch is my focus. This has consisted of an ongoing installation project that highlights the need for touch within interpersonal relationships or a community.

 
I have been creating large- and small-scale sculptures that emerge and invite the public to engage them both visually and physically. Since my practice focuses on intimacy and touch, members of the public can physically engage with the sculptures. Placing the work in a public setting has emphasized the act of touching an object in public we may otherwise only be inclined to touch in private.

This shared public action further underscores the need for touch as a method of interpersonal expression and collective experience as a community of bodily entities. Exposing bodily sculptures in a public setting allows for the space to be both public and intimate at the same time, allowing the viewer to experience an uncannily queer environment in a visibly grotesque way. The viewer can either engage in this queer space or reject it.

To create these sculptures I use a method of integrating silicone, oil paint, acrylic paint, human hair, and armatures to manifest organic/abstract bodily formations. These invade the space of the viewer in such away that it creates a bodily relation to the space, sculpture, and other bodies present within the space.

Digital Culture

The project I completed focused on the engagement between the audience and the sculpture, creating a new narrative than what was previously present within the sculpture.

The technology I used was a sonar sensor which I placed within the head of the fish, attached to a breadboard on which I installed LED lights, which was then attached to an arduino. I programmed it to change color and brightness as the person gets closer to it. It essentially functions as a reward system for engaging with the face of the sculpture.

I was very satisfied with this project and learned a great deal about technology and art. The method of engagement and how technology can aid in the realm of Uncanny was essential to my research this semester.

The Theory Behind my Projects this semester

This is another long post, but feel free to read if you’re interested in the concepts behind my final project this term!

Uncanny Queerness

Phil Weasley

December 9, 2018

 

There is a recollection within the human psyche that is called upon when one observes the world outside oneself. This memory recall allows the human mind to place the body in relationship with that which is around it thereby allowing the human to understand his or her place within the wider world in which he or she occupies. Doing so will then compel the individual to make judgements about others and evaluations on objects, animals, or even other humans. These findings will determine whether this experience between the individual and the object of their attention matches their previous life experience or if this is an entirely new experience. The uncanny, or unheimlich, is the point at which the new experience and memory overlap thus creating an entirely new experience. The new uncanny experience is in its essence bizarre and queers the original memory of the individual by creating a new memory through a new understanding.

Something odd occurs when one recalls an object, animal, or person, what Patricia Piccinini might call a creature, but the placement of this creature within the world doesn’t match the memory which is then evoked. The creature present before the human is then simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar to the individual, creating an uncanny experience – that which occupies the space of the knowable and unknowable at the same time. Patricia Piccinini becomes both a master of and coconspirator as she explores this disjointed experience of the uncanny within her body of work. Piccinini creates sculptures and installation art from seemingly commonplace materials such as silicone, acrylic resin, leather, and fiber glass.

Piccinini’s use of the materials is far from commonplace. Often relying on the image of a figure (either bipedal, quadrupedal, or sans-pedal), she composes creatures which seem to be an amalgamation of human and animal characteristics. Human features such as specifically human like eyes, skin features (such as wrinkles, moles, sagging flesh), primate like arms/legs, and tails are arranged to create beings that appear to be both self-conscious and sentient. [1] Piccinini’s focus on a humanlike form is far from accidental and she employs it in such a manner that the viewer is drawn in due to the natural connection humans have with other humans. Upon further inspection the viewer is then granted a closer look into Piccinini’s world and enthralled with a sense of otherness that can only be accomplished through her tactics of employing recognizably human characteristics within an otherwise inhuman form.

Viewers are only able to get a glimpse at the world that Piccinini creates through her use of the figures, their relationships with each other, and their seeming self-awareness in how they interact with the viewer. The sculptures which she fashions do not vie for the audiences’ attention nor do they implore the audience to come into their space through their actions; however, viewers are drawn to the sculptures all the same. This is primarily due to the recognizability of the human physiognomies within the work. The sculptures employ a sense of their own purpose in the way the faces, eyes, and appendages are sculpted. They do not directly engage the viewer’s gaze unless the viewer places themselves within their line of sight. Though she relies on the human-like materials to form her work, what she truly relies on to build relationships between her audience and her world is the skillful use of what Sigmund Freud called The Uncanny.[2] Freud referred to this concept as Unheimlich, or that which is unhomely. This term leads one to believe; however, that the images and representations which Piccinini creates are not of the home (or known) and completely foreign. Piccinini’s creatures would discredit this assessment simply upon viewing, as can be seen within her piece The Carrier (Figure 1).[3] Within this sculpture an elderly woman is carried by a humanoid creature, which has distinctly human characteristics – including body hair, human eyes and mouth, torso, and ears – but there are also distinctly inhuman characteristics which are present – such as the snout and simian like hands, feet, arms, and legs.

The combination of these known and unknown features is what creates the pull and push which Piccinini revels in within her work. Freud states this experience which Piccinini creates is “…the uncanny (unheimlich) [or that which] is something which is secretly familiar [heimlich-heimisch], which has undergone repression and then returned from it, and that everything that is uncanny fulfils this condition”.[4] This uncanniness is precisely what is explored within Piccinini’s world. The viewer is invited to not only explore her world but also become a part of it. This is a world in which evolution is necessary to determine the survival of the fittest. Evolution becomes a tool that consumers can use in order to mass produce and bioengineer creatures to fulfill their own desires or needs. However, within Piccinini’s world simply combining different non-human, animal features are not enough – as these creatures’ roles require a more human touch than any animal can give on their own to complete their designated tasks. As a result, human DNA becomes combined within animal DNA to produce solutions for the consumer. The beings which Piccinini creates and the manner in which they are conceptualized directly relates to the concept of transgenics – the combining of genetic material from different sources.[5] This technique forces the fracturing of the mental categories in which a human may organize the ideas of what it means to be human and what it means to be an animal.

The hyper-realistic sculptures which result from this combination of human and inhuman form are the key to the success of Piccinini’s work. Meticulous craftsmanship and incredible detail are used to convince the viewer of a nonexistent reality.[6] This attention to detail is what serves to create the uncanniness which is felt by the viewer and intended by Piccinini as the artist, thereby bridging the gap between what she as the artist imagines and what one would be ale to consider as reality. These features that convince the viewer of the reality of her consists of getting absorbed in every skin-blemish, wrinkle, pore, hair placement, and ensuring that each figure has exceedingly expressive human eyes. Piccinini is aware that what makes one human is not extreme beauty and takes care to include the grotesque features which also make a figure human, such as disgusting toenails, veins, or welts.[7] The human connection is clear from her aesthetic choices in the deconstruction and then reconstruction of the human form. The tendency of humans to anthropomorphize objects and animals alike is also leveraged using these methods.

Anthropomorphism is an action by which humans go beyond what is directly observable to make inferences of humanlike behavior within nonhuman entities. Aristotle suggested that other people were the required ingredient for an individual to obtain supreme happiness, and this would appear to be confirmed simply through our need to anthropomorphize.[8] Piccinini emphasizes this tool by stating that although humans are known to anthropomorphize animals, it may not simply be a case of recognizing human traits within animals. It may be a case by which shared animal traits are recognized within humans, thereby questioning the role and authenticity of what it means to be human.[9] Not all Piccinini’s work is directly related to the identity of being human. At times, the work she creates also relates to the role which humans play on our environment and the creatures within our care.

Nature’s Little Helpers was a series of work created by Piccinini in 2004 – 2005 to explore just that – the role that humanity plays and our responsibility in cleaning up the messes that humans create through consumption and natural resources. She questions with this body of work the paradox of humans intervening through technological means (genetically engineering) to create a solution to a problem that the initial intervention of human technology created. Specifically, within her piece Bodyguard (Figure 2) in which a creature is designed to help and aid an endangered bird in its struggle for survival. In this instance, Piccinini is utilizing the uncanny in a way which highlights and references political, social, and ecological situations. Whereas the uncanny can at times be thought of as simply a symptom of a work of art, in whatever form that work may take, it can also be thought of as a metaphor when used in social or historical contexts. [10] The simple answer to the question presented in Bodyguard is to utilize our natural resources in a manner which doesn’t cause a species to become endangered, but the answer that is actually present within the sculpture is the genetic modification and creation of yet another species to aid in the survival of the endangered species.

Piccinini doesn’t provide answers to the questions that she explores within the work she creates. There’s no right or wrong answer to be found or sides to be taken for her as an artist. The tools that she utilizes all lead to one concept – what does it mean to be human and what is our role in nature?  She further reflects on how this role relates to the environment and animals around us. These topics have been discussed philosophically, socially, politically, and religiously since the technological age began. The hyper realistic techniques Piccinini uses and the uncanny images she creates through sociopolitical and technological situations engages the viewers without forcing the dialogue about the ramifications to be had from humans meddling. Piccinini is blurring the lines of what is real and unreal. She uses simple materials but complex tools to create a reality which is not so far from our own. The technological advances which she references are readily available, and although her creatures come from her imagination it is not entirely unfathomable for these situations to be present today. The possibility of this other truth which is formed from the recall of a memory that conflicts with a newly presented reality is what truly makes the world that Patricia Piccinini creates uncanny.

The exploration of the uncanny is as much about the experience an individual has emotionally and mentally as the experience he or she has visually. Hyper-realism is a fantastic tool to be utilized when an artist is attempting to create an uncanny experience; however, it is not the only tool at his or her disposal. The uncanny experience is primarily focused in the act of memory recall. When an uncanny event occurs, it is an experience which does not match a previously recorded experience within someone’s psyche. That individual may have a sense of some bizarre occurrence in an object individual, or event affecting them. This definition of the uncanny experience correlates directly with the concept of queerness. In English, the term queer directly correlates to something weird or bizarre. This could relate to a weird or bizarre sexual experience or to an individual’s performance of gender or individual identity as these aspects are recalled within the viewer’s being.

Just as Piccinini creates an intra-psychic conflict within her sculptures and installation to make them successful, queer individuals manifest as an experience which does not match with the expected understanding a person may have previously had. This conflict could correlate to how someone may be expected to act within a public versus private space, how one might act sexually, or how they may identify themselves to the outside world. A person adopts what might be labeled as a queer identity only through the process of memory recollection by the viewer. The viewer observes the individual whom has not yet been identified as queer. Once he or she is observed, the viewer then correlates what has been seen to what they have previously experienced or had been trained as socially acceptable. Any behavior that doesn’t match the expectation, or social norm, is then deemed to be queer behavior and creates an intra-psychic conflict.[11] That which has previously been experienced is challenged and the viewer is now presented a person that has been revealed as a queer, or unheimlich, person.

Much as one does through the act of animism, which Piccinini directly explores through her sculptural installations, there is an uncanny queerness which is experienced when something previously believed to be only imagined is forced onto the viewer. When the ego is formed it looks for sources outside of the individual to create a defense against concepts that might implicate the destruction of the self. Children often use dolls, teddy bears, or toys as extensions of themselves or as a replacement of the mother figure. As the ego develops these concepts are rejected and repressed, allowing the child to form their own independent, self-sustaining identities. The moment when these repressed external identities are recalled creates an atmosphere in which the double, or a repetition and recollection of that which was once an extension of the self, can exist.

The concept of the double is emphasized within the anthropomorphic post-humans illustrated within Piccinini’s work. These creatures are made to fulfill a need for humanity and reflect strengths of humans by means of bioengineering while at the same time highlighting the separation of this strength from humanity. In terms of Freud, this would symbolize a castration or removal of what makes humanity strong and giving that human strength to another using transgenics. The subjects are neither human nor animal and create a sense of disembodiment through their combined parts. Fitting in neither role, they become an uncanny and queer new subject which the viewer is unsure where to place in terms of their own social narrative or identity.

Within my own work I have been focusing on the concepts of disembodiment, castration, memory recall, anthropomorphism, queerness, and the uncanny. My most recent sculptural installation, Consummation, has combined several elements to form a world which is both whimsical and uncannily queer. (Figure 3) Following in the footsteps of Piccinini, I have utilized the method of anthropomorphism to create a figure that has a face reminiscent of a human face. The body and fins of the figures are clearly fishlike; however, the face draws the viewer in because it is neither a fish nor a human. It is a dreamlike combination of each drawing the viewer to engage with the sculptures. The materials I used within the installation are not hyper-realistic in the same way Piccinini uses. The fins are made from construction silicone, which give them a lifelike and tactile quality akin to real fins. It also allows the fins to be positioned using a very representational method. The bodies are made from resin, which give them the ability to be semi-transparent and allow light to pass through them. This gives them a very lifelike quality. This projection also creates a very crude double of the fish from the sculptures’ shadows, further enhancing the whimsy and engagement within my installation, as the viewer actively traces where the shadow is originating from.

Although the sculptural details within the resin give them a realistic quality, they are left open and separate from the fins and the head. This allows the viewer to actively use memory recollection and mentally put the separate pieces together. This method of installation highlights the queerness of the figure by allowing the viewer to recognize that although these forms are in the throws of a reproductive cycle, they themselves are but separate pieces and would never be able to fully function as a living, breathing fish. This is where my installation, Consummation, differs from the installations which Piccinini created. My sculptures within this installation are not meant to be believed in the same way that Piccinini’s are; however, the fluidity of the forms and the way memory is activated produces a similar effect of whimsy and the uncanny.

The uncanny and queerness are represented both within my own work and the work of Piccinini; however, the methods and application of each are different. Although many would be drawn to Piccinini’s work due to the hyper-realistic quality of it, just as many would be drawn to my installation for the opposite reason. My work, although not hyper-realistic, creates a space in which there seems to be a revelation of that which is normally hidden. Consummation functions as a living, dreamlike state present within the real world. It is a queerly uncanny space which allows the viewer to place themselves within it and act as a participant in a world which they may otherwise be denied.

Bibliography

Bourseul, Vincent. « The “uncanny” and the queer experience », Recherches en psychanalyse, vol. 10, no. 2, 2010, pp. 242a-250a.

Delgarno, Paul. 2017. Pursuit – BEAUTIFUL AND UNSETTLING: THE WORLD OF ARTIST PATRICIA PICCININI. March 31. Accessed October 2018. https://pursuit.unimelb.edu.au/articles/beautiful-and-unsettling-the-world-of-artist-patricia-piccinini.

Epley, Nicholas, Adam Waytz, Scott Akalis, and John T Cacioppo. 2008. “When We Need a Human: Motivational Determinants of Anthropomorphism.” Social Cognition 143-155.

Kelley, Mike. 2004. The Uncanny. New York, NY: Tate Liverpool.

Messenger, Jane. 2011. Patricia Piccinini: Once Upon a Time… North Terrace Adelaide: Art Gallery of South Australia.

Robertson, Jean, and Craig McDaniel. 2013. Themes of Contemporary Art: Visual Art After 1980. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Thompson, Nato. 2005. Becoming Animal: Contemporary Art in the Animal Kingdom. North Adams, MA: MASS MoCA Publications.

 

Figure 1 The Carrier – Patricia Piccinini – 2012

Figure 2 – Bodyguard – Patricia Piccinini – 2004

Figure 3 – Consummation – Phil Weasley 2018

Figure 4 – Consummation – Phil Weasley 2018

 

[1] Jean Robertson and Craig McDaniel. Themes of Contemporary Art: Visual Art After 1980. P. 312 (New York: Oxford University Press. 2013)

[2] Sigmund Freud, The Uncanny, (CommaPress.com 2018), https://commapress.co.uk/resources/online-short-stories/the-uncanny-sigmund-freud/

[3] Patricia Piccinini, The Carrier, (Patricia Piccinini 2012), http://www.patriciapiccinini.net/44/81

[4] Sigmund Freud, The Uncanny, (CommaPress.com 2018), https://commapress.co.uk/resources/online-short-stories/the-uncanny-sigmund-freud/

[5] Jean Robertson and Craig McDaniel.. Themes of Contemporary Art: Visual Art After 1980.P. 313 (New York: Oxford University Press. 2013)

[6] Jean Robertson and Craig McDaniel. Themes of Contemporary Art: Visual Art After 1980. P. 314 (New York: Oxford University Press. 2013)

[7] Jane Messenger. 2011. Patricia Piccinini: Once Upon a Time… P. 11 (North Terrace Adelaide: Art Gallery of South Australia.)

[8] Nicholas Epley, Adam Waytz, Scott Akalis, and John T Cacioppo. 2008. P. 143 “When We Need a Human: Motivational Determinants of Anthropomorphism.” (Social Cognition 143-155.)

[9] Nato Thompson. 2005. Becoming Animal: Contemporary Art in the Animal Kingdom. P. 105 (North Adams, MA: MASS MoCA Publications.)

[10] Mike Kelley. 2004. The Uncanny. P. 43 (New York, NY: Tate Liverpool.)

[11] Bourseul, Vincent. « The “uncanny” and the queer experience », Recherches en psychanalyse, vol. 10, no. 2, 2010, pp. 242a-250a

Unheimlich and Me

The research that I’ve completed so far this semester has led me to some interesting places. When I started the graduate program at CCAD my focus was on toys and consumer culture. I didn’t understand why I was drawn to toys and plastics within my work. My focus on toys and early childhood or memory recall led me to explore Mike Kelley and his exhibition on the Uncanny. Although the work in this show was primarily figurative and my own work is not, I was able to relate to the techniques used in many of the pieces present within the exhibition.

Many of the works exhibited within this show also included bodies that were not complete in form and structure. They were pieces of bodies included within a composition. This reflected my own use of bodies and the figure. Most of the time when I am using the body and figure I break it apart in order to allow memory to activate within the viewer. When memory activates in the viewer the recall places the viewer in a position where they must question the nature of the object and how it relates to themselves.

This recollection and use of memory, as well as the craftsmanship required to create the association between the content and viewer, allows me as an artist to leverage the uncanny, or unheimlich, within my own art. I didn’t realize it, but this was exactly what I was accomplishing when I crafted my waterfall and projected water piece. I was relying on a form of memory recall as I created the textures and patterns of water flow within the pieces to make them successful. Understanding and knowing the way water flows, the way light reflects onto it, and the structure it has was what allowed me to create pieces that captivated my audience.

The use of transparent or translucent materials was also important to this work and led me to using silicone to create an appropriation of the body that also presented an uncanny experience for my audience. These are the pieces that I created:

As can be seen here, I needed to focus on creating a texture and coloration that was convincing to the viewer. To accomplish this I studied the work of Patricia Piccinini, who’s hyper realistic sculpture also captures her audience using the uncanny as a tool. I learned how to tint and color construction silicone and I taught myself how to hair punch effectively. This created a reflection of what Freud was call the castration effect within my viewers.

I’m also exploring the use of transparency and the castration effect within a planned sculptural installation piece for my final critique. This involved creating molds and using translucent resin to form a humanoid fish head and body. I then created molds using silicone for the fins. Next week I will be testing the way I install these with the six I have completed so far; however, if I can accomplish it I would like to have more present.The anthropomorphic quality of the head is a tool I’m using to pull the viewer in, and the queerness if the body and form of the final product I am using as the push effect within my work as described by the uncanny.

I’m continuing my study of silicone as a material and installation as a technique as well. I’m creating a ball of hollow silicone and playing with various ways to install them. I would also like this to accompany my “fish” installation. I’m very excited about where my work is heading and cannot wait to complete more of it!