Not joyful, exactly, but wonderful! I especially love Denevan’s process shots. There’s something so charming about art made simply, just a man and a stick, and the results are unexpectedly clean and graphic.
With a swiffer! P&G couldn’t make a better ad if they tried.
Seriously though, there was something really joyful about seeing this no nonsense woman assiduously dusting stone abs and bronze buttocks as though they were furniture in someone’s apartment. This is a joy example that doesn’t bear many of the typical signals of joyful aesthetics—saturated colors, cuteness, youth, play, or nostalgia. In fact, just the opposite, here is an instance of work, and not just any work, but manual labor often considered drudgery, seeming joyful. Why?
It hinges on the pleasurable disruption of expectations. The expectations here are unconscious, stemming from the conventions of a museum. In a museum, the boundary between art and viewer is a sacred line. We can look, but not touch. To see someone so matter-of-factly breaching such a barrier jars you out of your normal experience and diverts your attention.
So it’s a noticeable disruption, a departure from the ordinary. But why is it joyful? First, the idea of touching the sculptures is appealing, and it appeals to the unfiltered, tactile inner child in all of us. Children always seek to touch as part of their sensory experience, and it’s only as adults that we learn to control that desire. So watching someone touch the sculptures connects us to our own desire to do just that, and the sensation is something we imagine as pleasurable. (This is well-trod territory, cf. “Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” among others.) Second, there is the fact that most of us never think about the cleaning of the artworks in a museum. We assume that they must get cleaned, but that it’s probably done off-hours, at night with special high-tech cleaning instruments. So the second joyful aspect, beyond the breaking of the touch-barrier, is that it reveals something normally hidden to us, and reveals it to be contradictory to our assumptions. The revelation of hidden aspects of things is naturally pleasurable to us (think voyeurism, or The Discovery Channel) as it satisfies our natural curiosity.
But the kicker is the juxtaposition between the glossy, venerable sculpture and the mundane household cleaning tool with the faintly silly name. The swiffer is a complete oddity in a museum, and that contrast is ironic and enjoyable.
The best part of all this is how it then gets encoded into memory. I don’t think I’ll ever look at that sculpture again without imagining this matter-of-fact woman and her swiffer, and having a little smile at the memory. And I think the Met will always be a little more joyful now that I’ve had a funny little peek into its hidden side.
I love these sculptures by Emily Barletta, a Brooklyn-based fiber artist. Thank you designboom for calling attention to this beautiful work. I’m always interested in artists and designers who are playing with the contrasts between hard and soft, and exploring the possibilities of different textures. But beyond the intellectualizing, these just speak to me.
While I was so recently on the subject of skin, this strikes me as an interesting parallel exploration. Artist Carol Hummel writes:
Tree Cozy is a tree – a natural object representing masculinity and strength –covered with a crocheted cozy – an emphatically handmade blanket representing femininity and comfort. On the most obvious level, it is a piece of clothing, personifying the tree and keeping it cozy and colorful throughout the year, enhancing the beauty of nature….The cozy covering the tree fluctuates between comforting blanket and suffocating cover-up; it conceals as much as it protects; it hides as much as it reveals.
More on Theo Jansen… This lovely little animation shows the movement of the legs. I particularly like how the author traces the paths of each pivot point as it moves. It’s especially interesting to me that such a graceful and complex movement originates from a purely rotational orbit in the center.
Beyond the beauty of the motion, there is also the intriguing mechanism he uses to effectively store the energy of the wind. I don’t understand all the details of the setup, but essentially he uses nested electrical tubing as a pump that feeds air into a series of bottles. The bottles store the air pressure so it can be converted into kinetic energy. It’s basically a non-electrical form of battery.
I also love the casual invite he proffers on his website to his Ypenburg Laboratory. He offers directions with the coda: “At the end of the hill, on the top, you will see a green cottage. That is where you can find me.” It’s all very zenmaster-on-the-mountain and makes me want to get in my transatlantic rowboat and see what wisdom he might offer.
My kids-and-movement furniture project has me fascinated by movement mechanisms right now. I still don’t quite understand how Theo Jansen’s creatures work, but they’re amazing.