OPP Art Critics Series: Anastasia Cazabon's Sleeping Beauties

By Ruth Lopez

An image from photographer Anastasia Cazabon’s series From the Secret World depicts a slim woman in a pink dress leaning into a kitchen sink, her head lowered so deep that just some stray red hairs from the nape of her neck are visible. The water is running.  Is she retching? Preparing to take a sip? Its status as the image on the artist’s website’s landing page invites a read as an introductory statement. Over the sink, a thin yellow curtain glows behind an assortment of glass fruit and orbs on a corner of the windowsill. Diagonal bands, painted yellow across the white kitchen cabinets, are angled to the same degree as the torso. Even the faucet is swiveled in the same direction. It is evident that every detail in this mise-en-scène has been carefully arranged and considered.[1]

The Boston-based Cazabon has worked on several series of color narrative photographs that are informed largely, according to an artist statement, by fairy tales and childhood memories. Images of beds and napping appear throughout Cazabon’s work, encouraging fairytale associations to beauties who have fallen into deep sleep. In an image from the series Love and Rivalry, a Band-Aid, complete with the specks of blood, is stuck to a window framed by red gingham curtains. Perhaps Briar Rose, who pricked her finger with a spindle, left it there after she woke up from her 100-year sleep. Even the photograph of a piece of blackberry pie with nearby spoon and coffee dribbles on a kitchen counter, in this context, seems to suggest that after one poisonous bite, someone collapsed out of the frame and onto the floor for a good long nap. 

Anastasia Cazabon, from the series Love and Rivalry

Cazabon explores the deep bonds of female friendship with its secrets and adventures. There is frolicking and hair grooming. The women who appear in Cazabon’s work are often partly out of the frame. They run off nearly out of view, into the night or the woods or sit with their back to the viewer on an unmade bed. One slips headfirst into the crack between a wall and a twin bed. Another naps on a mossy green velvet sofa, an arm shoots out from under a floral throw pillow with only the back of her blonde head visible.

Poetic still lifes add another layer of psychological drama to Cazabon’s magical realist-tinged images. The work of Gregory Crewdson also comes to mind as a sort of learned uncle to these much smaller and far less elaborate narrative images. While Crewdson takes on entire towns, Cazabon stays close to home, incorporating what exists nearby—from insects (dead or alive) to the texture and sheen of domestic textiles—into her compositions. 

There is narrative overlap and familiar motifs can be spotted in other series titled Stories and I lost something in the hills. At times, the story is linear as in the image of a wad of pink gum stuck on the black hair in the back of a head. Another character, partially obscured, seems ready to examine the situation. The following image shows a small, hairy wad of gum on a neutral carpet. A pair of scissors poke out from under a dresser nearby—like evidence purposely left behind for forensics. 

Anastasia Cazabon, from the series Stories

Anastasia Cazabon, from the series I lost something in the hills

Cazabon excels at planting small clues or mirthsome details. In an image of a woman’s torso behind a glass door, there is a bee that blends into the honey brown wood and is almost unnoticeable despite being at the center. Mostly the narrative sequences are less obvious and somewhat mysterious. 

Cazabon’s sensibility is expanded in her video Dream Logic—with the bonus of seeing ants move across the surface of a book while a woman naps nearby and hearing a chorus of crickets. Less successful are the eight images in the series Learning, where the application of hair, sleep and play motifs come off as clumsy and seem imposed onto what might have been straight-on documentary shots. Her recent video work also seems to still be finding its way. If any of Cazabon’s images have titles, they are not made known to the viewer. Perhaps the omission of titles is meant to foster ambiguity. Viewers are already being told a story, however, and while words might add a layer of meaning, they could still hold mystery. 

Anastasia Cazabon, from the series Learning

In general, Cazabon’s repetition of ideas and motifs speaks to fidelity and is part of the process of working out a problem or exploring a connection to an idea. For instance, there is a photograph of a pearl necklace being pulled out of the dirt at the base of an abandoned building and another image of a necklace caught in the rocks of a stream. Both are compelling and lovely and point to the artist’s commitment to refining her visual language. The danger, however, is that driving over the same ground can easily become a rut. At this stage, the artist appears to be under a spell but there is enough strength in her work overall to suggest she will awaken refreshed. 


Editor: Alicia Eler

August 20, 2013

Chicago, Illinois



[1] When I was invited to write an essay for OPP, it was with the understanding that I would only have access to an artist’s website. Normally, I will not review work that I can’t see in the flesh. Digital photography and video are two mediums that I felt I could study online comfortably because I see the screen a natural habitat for digital work. 


This is the sixth and final essay in the  OPP Art Critics SeriesCheck out essays from the series here: 

  1. "Four Tips from a Critic to Artists" by Abraham Ritchie
  2. "Get Back (to the present moment)" by Claudine Isé
  3. "Look at Them, Please" by Danny Orendorff
  4. "Autobiography and Its Documentation" by Jason Foumberg
  5. "The Child is (Un)dead: Taxidermy Art as Victorian Post-Mortem Photography" by Alicia Eler (Managing Editor, OPP Art Critics Series)

OPP Art Critics Series: Four Tips from a Critic to Artists

By Abraham Ritchie

Viewing art through the internet has fundamentally changed the way we experience it. This OPP Art Critics Series challenge, which asks a collection of critics to look at art through the "lens" of a website, recognizes that reality and places a premium on the art rather than a geographic location. The OPP challenge felt similar to a typical anonymous online web encounter of artwork. After looking at a number of artists’ websites,  I found the site of Patrick D. Wilson, an artist I’ve never met and who lives and works literally on the other side of the world from me in China. There’s no replacement for experiencing artwork in person, but there’s also no escaping exploring the online experience of artwork, either. The artist should not try to deny this reality but rather embrace the possibilities and make the most out of it they can. This essay will give a broader view of what makes for a successful and effective online viewing experience, especially for those seeking more information about an artist and their work.

Patrick D. Wilson. House Crisis (2010). Wood and laminated photographs, 33" x 33" x 28"

When it comes to a critic looking for more information on an artist they’ve just encountered, my first recourse is almost always to do a quick Google Search to find their professional website, then maybe seeing if the artist is on Facebook (if they have a Facebook Page or a publicly viewable profile) or Twitter. It's hard to overstate the importance of this tenuous first encounter, which is completely passive from the side of the artist, and intensely active from the side of the critic. When I'm researching more about an artist, I delve into what the artist has set up on their website, exploring an artist’s oeuvre, academic career, exhibition history, personal history and social media accounts in order to have a more informed opinion about the work.

Incomplete or unsatisfactory websites hinder a critic’s work and in some cases even causes them to skip writing about an artist altogether. During one panel I recall a colleague being asked how he decided which works to write about. Given the choice between works of similar quality, his very honest answer was simple: "Usually the ones with the best images online." Without a complete, well-maintained web presence that successfully makes that first connection to someone seeking information, artists may be losing crucial coverage of their work—without even being aware of it.

Wilson made that first connection, immediately drawing me in with the single work on his landing page. House Crisis immediately struck me as Buckminster Fuller-esque with hints of dystopian elements as a polyhedral, skyscraper-like object burst through and over a more traditional wooden house. As an image, the photo communicates the artwork clearly. It’s a straightforward, high-resolution (consider making your images suitable for print publishing with 300 dpi resolution at least), well-lit documentation of a compelling sculpture that lets the artwork stand alone as the center of attention. Here are four tips for artists who want to create compelling websites.

This encounter on the artist’s homepage illustrates my first word of advice: Lead with your best work. You wouldn't apply for a grant using an artwork you were unsatisfied by, so why put anything less than that on your homepage? I wanted to learn more about the artwork on Wilson’s landing page, since the title was nowhere to be found (hint, hint). I clicked on the image but it was not linked to another page.  

Here’s a second suggestion: Follow up on a successful first encounter by making it easy to access more information or other artworks. Fortunately, websites are easily organized by the artist and easily navigable by the visitor to the page via tabs up top. This made it easier to view more of Patrick Wilson’s artwork. 

That’s my third piece of advice: Keep your site organized by eliminating page redundancies, encouraging exploration within your site, and keeping navigation options simple. Since the work itself hinted at something domestic and ominous, I wasn’t surprised to see that the work that interested me from the homepage was titled House Crisis, and dated 2010, a significant year in the global Great Recession and attendant global housing bubble crises. Wilson’s other work intrigued me and I kept exploring his ideas and art. I particularly liked the polyhedral motif that recurred in many artworks, but in ways that seemed fresh each time, not like a crutch or a “brand.” Infinity Crate (2009) struck me as a creative, not to mention alluring, response to the way science tries to understand massive concepts—like how a simple equation can explain the mind-boggling relationship between mass and energy.

Patrick D. Wilson. Subdivision (2013). Work in progress, laminated C-prints.

Letting visitors know what you are currently working on is essential, too. We can track the development of ideas from an array of past work into the new works that are in-progress. You let us know that you are actively creating something, which is a good time to inform the visitor of your upcoming exhibition where we could see the piece in its completed form. Showing your newest work and the creative process behind it starts a virtual relationship between critic and artist. I was able to see the new work that Wilson was making. I learned through his website that he was working in his studio on the piece Subdivision (2013), which again employed a polyhedral structure creating a sprawling construction of housing construction. Through its rubble, this piece creates close-up views of angles depicting both detritus and new construction scaffolding. Leaving the geometric approach, Solar Storm (2005) took basic and familiar materials like track lights and light filtering scrims and transformed them into an indoor Aurora Borealis. Similar to Wilson’s other works, this concept was aided by the aesthetic appeal of the piece that came through in the photos online.

Patrick D. Wilson. Solar Storm, 2005. Aluminum, acrylic, computer controlled LEDs. 300" x 84" x 84.

Properly interested in these works and more besides, I attempted to find information about the artworks and the artist himself; if the pieces had been exhibited before, if Wilson shows with a gallery, his CV all of which are unfortunately absent from his page. 

That’s my fourth and final word of advice: Tell your history. Most people online don’t know you, so introduce yourself through your work and don’t forget to include exhibition and educational history. Tell people about your artistic interests with a brief artist’s statement; don’t worry about including the latest trendy theoretical terms, just tell it like you’d tell me in a bar. Cheers!

Abraham Ritchie is the Social Media Manager for the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. He writes for Chicago’s Newcity Newspaper  and Bad at Sports. He has written for the National Endowment for the Arts, the United Kingdom's Spectator and Madison Newspapers, Inc. His opinions and commentary have been featured on Chicago Tonight, Chicago's WBEZ 91.5 FM, WGN 720 AM, Chicago Tribune and Art21. Abraham Ritchie is the former Senior Editor for ArtSlant and former Deputy Editor for FlavorPill Chicago. He holds a BA in Art History from University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MA in New Arts Journalism from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Follow his adventures on Twitter: @AbrahamRitchie.

This is the fifth essay in the  OPP Art Critics SeriesRead the previous essays: "Get Back (to the present moment)" by Claudine Isé; "Look at Them, Please" by Danny Orendorff; "Autobiography and Its Documentation" by Jason Foumberg; and "The Child is (Un)dead: Taxidermy Art as Victorian Post-Mortem Photography" by OPP Art Critics Series' Managing Editor Alicia Eler. 

OPP Art Critics Series: Get Back (to the present moment)

By Claudine Isé

When asked to consider the role that digital images play in our understanding of and engagement with works of art, I was drawn to exploring parallel questions about non-visual artworks. I think most of us can agree that a digital reproduction (or any form of reproduction, really) can never replace an in situ encounter with a painting, sculpture, performance piece or installation–or even viewing a photograph in person, despite its own status as a reproduction. But what about audio works like Michael Rakowitz’s The Breakup: A Project for Jerusalem, comprised of a ten-part radio series and a live home to and reenactment of the Beatles’ last concert that the artist created for a 2010 exhibition in Jerusalem

Michael Rakowitz
The Breakup, Episode 1
radio broadcast
30 minutes

Of course, the concert was a one-time-only event, but all ten radio episodes can be accessed through the project’s website.  I began to think about how artists’ websites also function as archives. I wondered if, in some cases, it was possible for a website-archive to serve not just as an image repository but to also provide a way to extend an artwork’s life indefinitely?

But wait: Let’s take a few steps back and consider the project’s original context. Written and narrated by Rakowitz and broadcast over a series of October evenings through a Palestinian radio station in Ramallah, The Breakup blends documentary, autobiographical and poetic elements to offer a sustained exegesis on the events, emotional and otherwise, that led to the Beatles’ demise. At the same time, its narrative also draws connecting lines between that band’s ultimate inability to “come together” and the collapse in negotiations between Israel and Palestine, and going back even further, to the Middle East’s failure to unite under the banner of Pan-Arabism in the late 1950s and 1960s. Rakowitz created the show in response to the exhibition’s call for works addressing the context of and conditions faced by the occupants of Jerusalem, the city at the core of the Israel-Palestine conflict which is itself “broken up” into alienated parts.    

Working from archival material—a complete, 150-hour set of raw audio tapes of the Beatles, recorded during the so-called “Get Back” sessions by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who was filming the documentary Let It Be at the time—Rakowitz crafted an alternative Beatles’ narrative that, although it doesn’t significantly depart from Lindsay-Hogg’s construction of events, nonetheless homes in on key moments and factors leading up to the end we already know is coming: John and Paul’s rivalry, Ringo’s apathy, George’s sense of isolation from the others, the incursions of Yoko Ono. 


The radio show was broadcast over ten successive evenings, but through the website I was able to compress my listening of all ten episodes into a three-day time span. I’d planned to download them onto my iPhone so I could listen while running errands or taking care of various household chores. No such luck. As far as I can tell, the episodes can’t be downloaded, which meant that I could listen to them only in the vicinity of my computer. What’s more, the website playback required “real time” listening, just like radio: no fast-forwarding, no rewinding, only pause.(Playback requires Flash, which meant I couldn't play it on my iPhone or iPad, as Apple doesn't support Flash media—it's possible to play Flash media through the use of certain apps, but despite downloading several of them, I couldn't get playback to work consistently.) 

I don’t know if this enforced propulsion was due to technological limitations, copyright issues, or something else, but I didn’t have to listen for long before I recognized that the restrictions make perfect conceptual sense. The Breakup is about fruitless attempts at return, about the impossibility of moving backwards in time. “Get back…back…back…. Rewind. Rewind further…there. The beginning begins.” Rakowitz says this early on, soon after the start of the series’ first episode. The desire is primal: to “get back” to where you once belonged, and to get back what once belonged to you.

But let us get back to the questions I posed at the beginning. To my ears at the time of listening, The Breakup’s narrative seemed heavy on Beatles analysis and surprisingly light when it came to addressing the situation in the Middle East, its history of lines drawn and redrawn, of promises made and broken.

“This is all about the Beatles,” I remember thinking more than once. “He’s not really talking about any of the political stuff!”

Or maybe I just couldn’t hear everything Michael Rakowitz was saying. In the end, I still think context is defining. The place I couldn’t “get back” to was one that had never been possible for me to reach: the work’s first Radio Amwaj broadcast in Ramallah in October of 2010. I can’t know for sure, but I suspect that, were I another woman–a woman not unlike myself and yet in many ways so dissimilar from me, living in that troubled yet vibrant city I can read about with a mouse click, but which still seems very far away from where I sit now–if I were that woman instead of me, living there instead of here, I would have heard Rakowitz’s words differently. 

Despite that sense of removal, what I did hear resonated. Through the Beatles, Rakowitz talks about empathy, about love, about the all-consuming devotion of the fanatic, a figure he presents not as a faceless terrorist planting bombs in the shadows but as a diehard follower  who cultivates inspiration and even hope from the lyrics of songs like “Hey Jude” and “Let it Be.”

Throughout the program, Rakowitz’s cadence is steady and measured, his tone gentle, not unlike that of a father reading a bedtime story to his child. But the underlying message of The Breakup is a tough one: you can’t rewind, and you can’t fast-forward past present difficulties either, no matter how exhausted you feel, how desperately you want to get to that hoped-for place of future promise.  All we have is now, and if “now” sometimes seems unbearable, Rakowitz, towards the end of “Episode 5”, offers consolation through the phrase that memorably titled George Harrison’s first post-Beatles solo album: all things pass. This, too, shall pass.


Editor: Alicia Eler

Copyeditor: Claire Potter

Chicago, Illinois

June 25, 2013

This is the fourth essay in the  OPP Art Critics SeriesRead the previous essays: "Look at Them, Please" by Danny Orendorff, "Autobiography and Its Documentation" by Jason Foumberg, "The Child is (Un)dead: Taxidermy Art as Victorian Post-Mortem Photography" by OPP Art Critics Series' Managing Editor Alicia Eler. 

Look for our next installment on July 9, 2013. 

OPP Art Critics Series: Look at Them, Please

By Danny Orendorff

Left: Yves Klein (French, 1928–1962). Leap into the Void negative (top), 1960. Right: Yves Klein (French, 1928–1962). Leap into the Void negative (bottom), 1960. Both images © Yves Klein, ADAGP, Paris; Photo: Shunk-Kender © Roy Lichtenstein Foundation. Image via the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

One day in 2007, I eavesdropped upon a lunchtime conversation had by two smartly-dressed women whose lanyard press credentials implied that they work in media. They were joking about a male coworker one had taken to calling “the predator.” The other delighted in the viciousness of the nickname, due to what I perceived to be her basic contempt for this coworker of concern. Then, suddenly, the originator of the nickname clarified: “predator” was, in fact, her abbreviated way of referring to the male coworker's simultaneous professional roles as both “producer” and “editor” of whatever news program employed them all. Producer and Editor. Or, in brief: Predator

It had never really occurred to me before how both producing and editing one's own journalistic news program, purporting to showcase “reality” or “the truth," might constitute an act of predation. But, then again, considering To Catch a Predator, Fox News, TMZ, “reality” television, and the whole fact-bending concept of “infotainment” altogether (replete with respective owner and advertiser conflicts of-interest): “predator” quickly becomes an incredibly useful turn of phrase.  I suppose its usefulness is why this act of eavesdropping has stuck with me

Luckily, performance artists are not journalists (usually), but they nevertheless produce their own actions in the world or for the camera, and later edit those same actions for public consumption, or (I mean) exhibition. This is, perhaps, no better illustrated in the history of performance art than Yves Klein’s infamous “Leap into the Void” work from 1960, the iconic photographic “documenation” of Klein’s leap actually being a photomontage composite of the two negatives seen above. Just what might Klein have been preying upon with this early gesture of image culture deceit?  

All performers are manipulative, and always have been. This is not a bad thing. I live with one, and have dated more than a few. They're going to use your mind, and your time, and your attention, and (often dreadfully) your participation. This is true whether you view something live in the moment, or something documented, edited and republished elsewhere. You're in luck if you need to feel needed, because performers are the neediest of all artists. Look at them. Look at them, please. Only you can give them what they need. 

Take, for example, Tampa-based artist Sarah Lynn Kelly. She spends a lot of time in front of the computer, as many of us Netflix marathoners, online daters, and bored, late-night Internet grazers are prone to do. Grazing, as a matter fact, is just one act of many forms of predation. The grazer does not kill their food source, but instead picks at it slowly, bit by bit, allowing the source to regenerate between feedings. The Internet, it might be easy to argue, is the ever-replenished prey of Kelly's parodic and maniacal performance practice exploring hyperlinked girl culture under advanced capitalism.

Sarah Lynn Kelly, Like, Y R U Sooo Obsessed w/ME?, Digital Video, 2012

In performances for the camera like 'Say You Wanna Dance, Uh Huh Ya' and 'Like, Y R U Sooo Obsessed w/ME?' (both from 2012), we see Kelly within the familiar digital rectangle of lo-fi online videos. It is likely Kelly owns a Mac of some sort, and has simply pressed record on her Photo Booth application to document these later transmissions of exorcized youth-culture melodrama. Utilizing the inherited language of Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston lyrics, Kelly performs teenage heartache, tragedy, and redemption within the vernacular of pop music and their accompanying visuals. Here she is using cheap visual effects to multiply and parade her sexuality following an adolescent rejection, and here she pierces through the saccharine anguish of being dumped in a Lisa Frank inspired clip appropriate for your local Korean Karaoke chamber. 

Just last year, Semiotext(e) published the English translation of Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl, originally written in 1999 and attributed to the French literary critics group Tiqqun. In it, the writers propose that the complete subsumption of desire by consumerism has reached its apex in the theoretical figure of the Young-Girl—a figure whose youth, sexuality, and, so-called 'freedoms' have been so totally designed, controlled, and manipulated by capitalist Empire into something seemingly natural and already inhabited. Capitalism is a predator, surely, but it operates much more like a parasitoid in this case: one that forms a symbiotic relationship with its host.  So fully internalized, it is perhaps the Young-Girl's only recourse against the slow-death brought on by capitalist predation to bite-back, and I believe Sarah Lynn Kelly may be attempting to do just that.  

Sarah Lynn Kelly, Say You Wanna Dance, Uh Huh Yah, Digital Video, 2012

Do you think Kelly is actually this way? Do you believe Klein actually took that leap? Interestingly, as an educated MFA-grad performing some grossly media-saturated form of adolescence, Kelly chooses to embody the artificial capitalist monstrosity that is the Young-Girl almost literally—replete with come-hither Internet gazes, make-up in excess, and an apparent relationship to celebrity that falls some sinfully entertaining place between deity worship and frenemy shit-talking. This is what capitalism has “made” of her, and Kelly pushes the artificiality to the fore with her use of glitchy visual effects, Tumblr-style graphic overload, and digital-lingo shorthand. She may appear naive or vulnerable to the lechery of the Internet (aka “the void”), but she is not; this is exactly Kelly’s way of luring us in to her own antagonistic form of media mania.

Perhaps this is lending Kelly’s practice too much weight, or perhaps not enough. Either way, for those like Kelly, performing strange ways in the bedroom or in the art gallery (on camera, or off), independently producing and editing real action allows the individual some small, self-authored method of rebuttal. 


Editor: Alicia Eler

Copyeditor: Claire Potter

Chicago, Illinois

June 11, 2013

This is the third essay in the  OPP Art Critics SeriesTo read the previous essay, "Autobiography and Its Documentation" by Jason Foumberg, click here. To read the first essay in the OPP Art Critics Series, "The Child is (Un)dead: Taxidermy Art as Victorian Post-Mortem Photography" by Managing Editor Alicia Eler just click HERELook for our next installment on June 11, 2013. 

OPP Art Critics Series: Autobiography and Its Documentation

By Jason Foumberg 

Claire Greenshaw 



Banana, paperback

Every thing is an image. The Internet, that luminous machine, makes this so. Today’s images are casual; they are detachable; they are found objects; they are anonymous. 

This essay is about one image: Claire Greenshaw’s Autobiography. This artwork and its documentation are inseparable, until I view it in person, which, given the odds of fate, may be soon or may be never. 

I am tasked with a writing experiment: to interpret artwork seen only via an artist’s website. I chose to write about Greenshaw because her artwork, as viewed online, exemplifies, for me, art that is a symptom of the Internet. Greenshaw’s studio practice seems to sprout directly from this web.[1]

Who is Claire Greenshaw? I do not know. I have not scheduled a studio visit; I have not emailed any questions. I have made a rule: Autobiography will tell me everything I need to know. Will the artist like this game? I do not know. What I do know is that images on the Internet are intrinsically coherent and inherently whole. They have to be. 

A surprising byproduct of the Internet’s freefall velocity and infinite space-time is stillness. Pause. Performances, videos, objects, and post-objects are converted to stills. This is, in part, a consequence of viewers who demand that all art objects be documented and depicted online, making the Internet a repository of readymade images. 

A banana peel draped over a paperback constitutes Greenshaw’s Autobiography. As a sculpture (medium: banana, paperback), Autobiography, now documented, looks perfect as an image; it is a three-dimensional collage. Presumably the sculpture no longer exists as it did on that day in 2010 when it was photographed. The paperback is likely shelved, the peel now mold and dust. (As I write this, I can look out my window and see a banana peel that someone tossed onto the roof of my garage weeks ago, now putrefied. The time-based object does not retain its banana-ness.) But, the documentation of the sculpture survives, as fresh as if it were a Scratch ‘n Sniff.

The banana peel is a gag. It is also a memento mori. The paperback is a Diana Dors biography from 1987–my generation may best know the British actress from her appearance in a film still on The Smiths’ Singles album cover. Greenshaw combined the two elements, each image like Clip Art with its own pre-fab signifiers, to make a tragicomic artwork. Here today, gone today. It tiptoes on slapstick. Like images on The Jogging, Autobiography delivers a punch line, however obscure it may be.

Documentation of art is a practical task performed in response to an impractical object. Documentation and image-distribution accidentally turns artworks into disposable omens and intuitive icons. Accidents, as a creative strategy, can be very fruitful. Greenshaw’s found culture is a funny thing; it is nature—our nature. Culture is naturally occurring. It slips into your day like a banana peel or a dead actress. Culture is a given. It exists before you, through you, and beyond you. You can even go foraging for culture: in magazines, museums, or mirrors. Like nature, culture comes with its own anxieties: if we don’t grab it, it will disappear forever; it may already be too far gone. Autobiography is made of cultural rubbish, and rubbish is, of course, the mark of life, the residue of being alive, proof that we have a shared language and exist in a shared ecology, however diverse and anonymous.



[1] As such, Greenshaw’s artwork is in cahoots with the art strategies of Brad Troemel, Brenna Murphy, Andrew Norman Wilson, and many others.


Editor: Alicia Eler

Copyeditor: Claire Potter

Chicago, Illinois

May 28, 2013

This is the second essay in the series OPP ART CRITICS for the OPPBlogTo read the first essay in the OPP Art Critics Series, "The Child is (Un)dead: Taxidermy Art as Victorian Post-Mortem Photography" by Managing Editor Alicia Eler just click HERELook for our next installment on June 11, 2013. 

OPP Art Critics Series: The Child is (Un)dead: Taxidermy Art as Resurrected Victorian Post-Mortem Photography

By Alicia Eler

Slipping the fur skin of a dead animal over a perfectly crafted taxidermy form produces a visual illusion of life, much in the tradition of a trompe l’oeil painting. In traditional taxidermy terms, the relationship between man and animal is that of a hunter conquering nature. The tradition of taxidermy as art dates back to English Victorian-era taxidermist Walter Potter, who created anthropomorphic dioramas of squirrels playing cards in a parlor, a classroom of rabbits seated in rows of long wooden desks, and many other assorted scenarios that more closely resemble illustrations from a Beatrix Potter children’s book than Damien Hirst or Maurizio Cattelan’s respective, well-known animal form artworks. In the works of taxidermy art by AC Wilson and Peregrine Honig discussed here, however, the taxidermy of a young animal (or, in human terms, of ‘children’) locates the work in a tradition much more akin to Walter Potter’s delicate dioramas. Wilson and Honig’s works stand in contrast to the more brash, cynical nature of Hirst and Cattelan’s works by allowing the darker underbelly of childhood fairytale and fantasy to speak through their forms.

Walter Potter was initially inspired to create his taxidermy dioramas by his sister, Jane, who showed him a book of nursery rhymes. He displayed his taxidermy works in his very own Walter Potter’s Museum of Curiosities, located in Sussex, England, which first opened in 1861; by the time of his death in 1914, the museum housed about 10,000 taxidermy objects. Potter’s dioramas embodied a sort of morbidity of childhood, which coincided with the Victorian era’s idealization of childhood, as evidenced by Charles Dickens’ portrayals of children as ‘innocents’—the symbols of all that was “good in the world,” before the onset of adulthood institutions and behaviors.[1] Quite literally speaking, the perceived morbidity of childhood is subject of a vast visual tradition, established and popular throughout England in the late 1800s, known as post-mortem photography. Contemporary artists Peregrine Honig and AC Wilson harken back to these visual representations of dead children in artworks that suggest the absurd, circular proximity of life and death.  

Walter Potter's taxidermic creations via thelovebiscuit.com
Before we discuss these contemporary works by Honig and Wilson, however, it is important to contextualize contemporary taxidermy art. Damien Hirst’s 1991 The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living is a dead tiger shark floating in formaldehyde, preserved in a glass vitrine for the eyes of onlookers. This work marked a new trend of taxidermic technique as part of ‘high art’ that often had very little to do with childhood and is likened more so to the tradition of taxidermied animals as hunter’s trophy. Italian conceptual artist Maurizio Cattelan’s satirical, morbid taxidermic sculptures utilizing horses, dogs, mice and donkeys emerged a few years later, in 1995.

Peregrine Honig's Twin Fawns sculpture consists of taxidermy fetal twin deer curled inside each other, housed in a womb-like vitrine created by the artist. This work imagines the preservation of a state other than life or death—that of resurrection and/or un-birth. The twin fawns occupy an in-between state—since they did die inside their mother’s body they were, in fact, never born, but here they are in their taxidermic after life. Complicating the matter, the twin fawns do have a life online, housed at their internet domain, purchased and maintained by the artist: twinfawns.net. Here they are viewable in their post-mortem-pre-natal flesh, and visitors can read about how they came into being through an accompanying story, written by Honig, in which the artist muses on the nature of the fawns' manmade preservation and our cultural relationship to death and dying:

"We dress death in lilies and bronze the names of our dead sons on walls. we erect altars of toys and hold candlelight vigils to express hope. my twin fawns sleep endlessly on their baby blue block in my studio. the twins never opened their eyes yet their wondrous fatality evokes an acceptable alternative to death."
The fawns’ exaggerated features embody a cartoonish surrealism. I have watched the twin fawns ‘grow up’ in the way that cartoons do—meaning I, the viewer, grow up, as they resemble the same age forever. Psychologically, Honig has constructed them in a fictional, virtual space, available for public viewing, much in the manner of Potter’s taxidermy art dioramas housed at his Museum of Curiosities.

Yet, unlike a Beatrix Potter story, there is no narrative to the fawns. They exist because a man found the carcass of a pregnant deer on the side of the road, and felt compelled to cut it open. Upon doing so, he discovered that the deer had twin fawns inside of her belly, and decided to taxidermy them both. Honig later discovered the twins at a mom ‘n pop oddities store in Kansas City, and went back repeatedly until the owner agreed to let her purchase them. The previous owner, he told her, returned the fawns after repeatedly having the same dream about them. Honig recalled the dream to me:
“It’s a dream that you are in a field and they are running around,” she says. “The dream does not change, it’s just that you have these two sidekicks with you. They are more like a shadow than something that is making noise. [In the dream,] they are neutral objects.”
The shop owner sold the fawns to Honig with the agreement and understanding that she would not return them. Every night for the first few weeks after she bought them, Honig notes that she had the same dreams about them as the previous owner. Nowadays she still dreams about the fawns, but less frequently.

Peregrine Honig, Twin Fawns via twinfawns.net

In AC Wilson's taxidermy animal series (Appear and disappear (2012), Rut (2012) and What happens when you die (2011), the artist uses a rabbit, a plethora of chicks and a single fawn to discuss loss. In Appear and disappear, a taxidermy rabbit sits atop a magician's stand next to a picture frame that has been turned upside down. The piece references the ‘hat-trick,’ in which a magician pulls a rabbit out of a hat, astounding onlookers. In Wilson's rendition, no such hat exists, and the rabbit's taxidermy form, instead, is the visual illusion used to reference human mortality. 

AC Wilson, What happens when you die, taxidermy fawn, bed, cremation tag (2011) via ac-wilson.com

AC Wilson, What happens when you die, taxidermy fawn, bed, cremation tag (2011) via ac-wilson.com

In his artist statement, Wilson considers his work in relation to ideas of loss:

"My work deals with loss. This includes feelings of abandonment, worry, and reflection. Materials are chosen based on our general awareness of them, including any references to ideas or narratives they may possess.”
Rut features a grouping of taxidermy ducklings arranged in a circle on top of a clean, white pillar. There is an absurd, existential quality to these tiny birds, who are forever marching in a circle going nowhere fast. Maurizio Cattelan employs similar humor in his piece Bibididobidiboo (2012), in which a taxidermy squirrel lays slumped over a tiny table, empty shot glass nearby, a gun resting on the floor as though dropped from his tiny paws. This humorous take on suicide, or on the way we use anthropomorphism to discuss subjects deemed morbid, is ambiguous enough to be open-ended, and funny enough to make light of death.  Similarly, the chicks in “Rut” march on to nowhere, suggesting a similarly absurd act of futility.

"Appear and disappear"
taxidermy rabbit, picture, magician's stand

taxidermy ducklings

In Wilson’s work What happens when you die, a single fawn stands atop a bed, the kind it might’ve had had it been a human child. The fawn’s ears are alert, and its big, black eyes are childlike and wide-open. Nearby, a circular black cremation tag hangs from one of the walls. This subtle anthropomorphism of the fawn nudges viewers into imagining someone they love dying quietly in the middle of the night, only to be reawakened in this animal form.  It might be the afterlife of the post-mortem childhood death, a visual representation of what would a have been a post-mortem photograph of a child during the Victorian era. The tiny fawn straightens its legs, digging its shiny black hooves into the soft white mattress. Its glass eyes reflect the white gallery light—like a ghost or, perhaps, a long-exposure mirror of death itself.

"What happens when you die"
taxidermy fawn, bed, cremation tag

[1]Hugh Cunningham, The Invention of Childhood, “The Victorians,” pg. 149

Editor: Danny Orendorff
Chicago, Illinois
May 14, 2013

This is the first post in the OPP ART CRITICS for the OPPBlog. Look for our next installment on 5/28!

OPP Art Critics Series for the OPPblog: A New Feature for our Readers!

Awhile back, we asked OPP’s Facebook fans what types of articles they wanted to see us add to the OPPblog. Topping the list was the idea that we should invite art critics to write about OPP artists. We know a good critic or two, and of course, were more than happy to oblige . . . but since OPP artists are from all over the globe, how would we set up studio visits? 

Instead of having the critics visit a show or do a studio visit, we decided to ask them to look at artists' websites and write about the online experience of the work. Unconventional perhaps, but it makes perfect sense for OtherPeoplesPixels, especially since these days our art is probably seen more often on our websites than in any physical setting. Though this may be an unusual challenge to pose to an art critic, these experimental essays aim to address an important facet of the contemporary art viewing experience. 

We all look at art online. We spend time on artists' websites, search artists' names on Google Images, lurk on their Facebook pages, reblog and heart art we like on tumblr, and organize collections of our favorite images on our iDevices.

In fact, most of us probably encounter a great deal more art online than in museums, galleries, artist-run spaces and as public art installations. We think of the work of our favorite artists, but perhaps we've only seen it on the Internet, never IRL (that's "in real life" for Internet newbies). Nevertheless, this work continues to be inspiring and meaningful to us.

But we haven't really come to terms with whether or not this is a valid way to see, experience, and understand art . . . or have we? Is this a discussion we still need to have, or is the discussion already over simply because we've all implicitly accepted that we can understand, be influenced by and judge art that we see online?

If we assume we can readily understand a painting or photograph we see online, what about performance art, time-based works or installations? This is not a new issue, since these media have always faced the issues of documentation, but when we don't experience art firsthand, and then mediate further through a screen, how does this alter our experience of the work? One thing we know is that documentation becomes increasingly important, since we all know bad photography can make good work look bad, and poor presentation can make complex works hard to understand.

In the spirit of continuing to explore/explode Mr. Walter Benjamin's idea of the "aura," OPP is tackling this idea head on by asking art critics to look at artists' work—not at a show in a gallery or museum—but through their artist websites. 

The Critics Series for the OPPblog will see some of our favorite art critics writing about OPP artists' work, the challenges of online art viewing, and the website as gallery. Keep your eyes out for our first post on May 14!