Thursday, May 22, 2008
Sandy Skoglund is an artist whose work serves as a symbol for people’s subconscious fears. In her work she uses both a photograph and a three dimensional set to portray her feelings. Through her technique, known as Tableau Photography(Cole 23), Skoglund creates installations that turn our reality upside down therefore causing us to question what’s real and what’s not. At first glance Sandy’s photos seem like extreme, amusing images but a deeper look reveals an underlying threat. This threat plays into people’s fears. The photos themselves are relatively large with very bright colors. The subject depicted in Skoglund’s photo displays her work as acquiring an eccentric and surrealistic feel(Komrska 27).
Sandy Skoglund experienced a lot of change in environment and culture throughout her childhood which had a profound affect on the development of her art pieces. From Paris to California, she was inspired by things she saw. Her desires led her to teaching herself photography which then sparked interests in popular culture as is evident in Skoglund’s early work in the 1970’s. Almost all her works display these attributes but few stand out. These are Shimmering Madness, The Revenge of the Goldfish, Cocktail Party, and Hangers. Overall her photography is exceptional, riveting and appealing to the eye.
Sandy Skoglund was born on September 11, 1946 in Quincy, Massachusetts. As a child Sandy remembers happy childhood memories in the suburbs of Boston drawing fantasy worlds inspired by television shows and images she saw while reading fairytale stories. Sandy Skoglund has said that she sees a storytelling element in her art(Passmore 42a). This is evident in some of her photography. As a child, Sandy spent much of her childhood having to move around until her family settled in California near Disney World in the early 60’s. This change in environment proved to be effective on Sandy. She say’s “there is probably kind of a California sensibility in my work in term of color” (Cole 23). The colors that Sandy chooses for some of her photos symbolize places she has experienced.
As an adult, Sandy went to Smith College in North Hampton, Massachusetts. While in college Sandy had aspirations to become a fashion designer or a cartoonist. She has said that she did not have a clue as to what art was “art with a capital A”(Passmore 42a) After graduating from Smith College, she studied art history at the Sorbonne and The Ecole du Louvre in Paris. It was in Paris that she discovered the power of theatrical images through avant-garde movies(Cole 23). Learning art history provided Skoglund with the realization that there was a “subterranean well of something going on beneath the images”(Passmore 42a). In the 1970’s Skoglund became a professor of Art at the University of Hartford in Connecticut. She desired to eventually document her artistic ideas and so Skoglund taught herself to take pictures(Bartschi). At this time in her life, Sandy Skoglund chose to look for new connections in her art so she became inspired by commercial image making that was then becoming part of American Culture. The idea of reading an audience through the dialogue of an image led her to Tableau Photography (Cole 23). Tableau is the technique she uses to produce her images. American culture intrigued Skoglund a lot in the 1970’s so she began questioning America’s and Europe’s culture because she began to understand that artists draw their inspirations from the society in which they live in. Currently, Sandy Skoglund is teaching photography at Rutgers University in New Jersey where she has been for more than 30 years.
Sandy Skoglund‘s process for creating her art pieces is exceptional and time consuming. Her distinctive technique sets her apart from all the other photographers. Skoglund’s technique is called Tableau Photography and it is used in all of her photos. In the French language Tableau means a living picture and that’s what Skoglund is thinking when she creates her installations, to make a reality. She designs and fabricates the staged environments, called installations, intended to be viewed at the same time. These staged environments range in color and materials. The staged installations are sometimes incorporated with visual elements such as live models like in the Cocktail Party and Shimmering Madness(Florida Trend 25). The process is a long one as well. Skoglund could spend from six months to a year planning and creating each installation. After the room is created she brings the models and takes the photograph before destroying the tableau. Although the process takes long she purposely puts an overflow of a material to fill up the space. “This gives the room a surrealistic dream-like quality”(Reynolds). There is a difference between what is made and what is taken by the photograph. The photograph is the end result but the biggest difference between it and installations is that photos usually contain people. Skoglund says “her work is based on a Frankenstein model where the human beings have created a world that is out of control and turns on them”(Reynolds). That is essentially what almost all of her photos portray.
The ideas behind the photo are important as well. To find the subject that Skoglund wishes to portray she carries with her a little notebook at all times. In this book she writes down the thoughts that pop up in her head during every moment in life. Her subject matter is of an alienating world in which an unusual duplication of animals takes up the whole canvas. Such is evident in photos like Revenge of the Goldfish and Radioactive cats. Overall Sandy Skoglund’s technique of Tableau Photography is a tedious and very time consuming approach to creating an art work.
Tableau Photography allows Skoglund to push something that is three-dimensional into something that is two-dimensional. “Skoglund transforms the content of her sculpted scenes into dream-like images that pique the curiosity of the viewer”(Cole 23). In first laying eyes on the photo entitled The Green House, created in 1990, one can see the abnormality and dysfunction occurring within the photo. At first glance there is also a sense of amusement and enjoyment because of the colors and the subjects depicted in the photo. The overall encompassing background is of a living room. The living room is green but a much intensified green. What used to be an ordinary living room has been overcome by a carpet of green straw. The carpet most likely resembles hay. The living room is very similar to a regular living room; there are throw pillows on couches, end tables cluttered with pictures, a chair, a coffee table overflowed with thrown magazines but the twist is that all have become wrapped in this layer of green. With in this room there lies the underlying threat. The room is also encompassed with over thirty dogs. The dogs have taken over the living room. Some are curled up on the couch, stretched out on the floor or underneath and on the coffee table sitting in an attentive manner. These animals are part of Skglund’s strange multiplication that she enforces in her art work. The dogs are almost depicted as cartoon like. Skoglund has said that “her work is similar to Walt Disney’s fantasies. It is not just fun; there are negative undertones”(Passmore 42a). Such is the case with this photo. The dogs in the photo also range in color. Some are set to match the environment and there are others dogs that contrast the environment in florescent purple. The dogs are different species like Chihuahua’s, Bloodhounds, and Terrier’s. The poses of the dogs seem to display alertness and awareness. Amidst all the commotion of the room there are two people sitting in various parts of the room. A man is sitting in a chair on the far right of the background. He seems to be thinking about something. Then there is the woman who is sitting on the floor of the living room in the far background. She seems to be reading because her eyes are pointed down to the ground. At first glace the viewer is so preoccupied with the color and the dogs that their eye doesn’t quite catch the human beings sitting in the living room. There are many possible explanations as to why Skoglund does this.
“I try to suggest things,” she says, "I want to create possibilities of interpretation.”(Cole 23) is her response for the meanings behind her art work. In the Green House the possibilities are endless. The symbol of the dogs and the color green go hand in hand. The green living room revolves around the fear of Global Warming. Global Warming involves nature and the effect that human actions has on it. The dogs play a big role in this connection. They are part of nature and so the fact that they are alert and aware in the photo shows that nature is very attentive in the actions of the humans. The incorporation any animal in Skoglund’s photo’s usually “suggests menacing phobias or mental obsessions”(Roelgers). The two people in the back of the photo are not being responsive to the dogs so that it shows that humans are not reactive towards Global Warming. The fear of not acting towards something that could eventually end in catastrophe is being displayed. The contrast between colors also factors into the fear of this issue. The green is obvious choice to symbolize nature especially with the hay that’s included in the photo. Some dogs in the photo are green but the others are a shade of purple. This symbolizes that Global warming has already tainted some part of nature. Overall this photo portrays Skoglund’s awareness of the issues facing society. It also takes on the concern for the difference of human control with the impulsiveness of nature. In some of her photo’s Skoglund likes to project real issues occurring at that time period in society and in turn develop this non- reality world. She likes to express the concerns that she obtains about this issue of Global Warming that is affecting the world.
In the next photo done by Skoglund in 2004, color is used to exemplify the fear of death. In this photo there is a man. This man stands out the most. At first glance, the man is what everyone would most likely first see. In the photo the man is depicted as large and orange. She uses this color to make the character in the photo be the first object seen by the viewer. His large size and the position Skoglund places him causes the viewer to first focus on the man. Skoglund displays the man on the left, in the forefront. In the background there is a bedroom which seems to be further away from the man. This room has an orange ceiling, bed and curtains as well as blue walls and then there is the blue bulb on the center of the ceiling. The blue bulb on the ceiling for which the photograph is named after is miniscule compared to the orange man. The orange man is also looking at the blue bulb. His facial expression shows that he is intrigued and confused by this bulb. He also seems weak based on his facial expressions. To the ordinary viewer the bulb is not as interesting. Skoglund portrays the man with great detail on the face and the way his hand looks and located. The man’s hand is clasped and displays the illusion of slowly moving up in the air towards the blue bulb. The detail shows what the man is thinking and trying to express. The position of the man’s eyes allows the viewer to be intrigued by trying to find out what exactly the man is looking at. After glancing at the man, the blue bulb is brought to the viewer’s attention.
The colors displayed in the photo are very important especially when they are the only two colors are displayed. Skoglund prefers to use “artificial, monochrome colors to heighten a unreality”(Roelgers) These are the colors of blue and orange. These colors complement each other. When mixed they make the color grey. The color blue is a cool color and orange is a warm color. This associates with life and death. There is a contradiction on the colors because of what Skoglund chooses to be which color. The man is a shade of orange which is related to a warm color. Warm usually means life and daylight, but the man who is depicted as this nice shade of orange does not at all contains these attributes. He looks ill and very weak. He displays a more cool color. The bulb is a shade of blue which is also a contradiction. Blue is associated with death and darkness. Not at all what a light bulb symbolizes. A light bulb symbolizes life, and truth. So by making the two main objects in the photo contradict each other, Skoglund is trying to show the fear of death. Through the use of monochrome colors, this reality is sharpened to become an unreality. These colors that she chooses to portray also display symbols of horror. Overall it is obvious that Skoglund wants the orange man and the blue bulb to be the main focus of her photograph. The two main colors blue and orange assist in making the two objects stand out. Through the use of color she creates this illusion of what is really there. This photo is another example of Skoglund’s “staged, fanatical images which typically present wacky situations in color-infused environments”(Arnett).
Shimmering Madness is another one of Skoglund’s famous photo’s that has been exhibited all around the United States. This photo created in 1998, is very unique and it is one of Skoglund’s art pieces that is surrealistic. This photo upon first glance is quite intriguing and has a dream-like quality to it. In the photo there are a total of five figures. Each figure is posed in a different way. Out of these five people two are human and the other three are mannequins. The three mannequins are all standing up while one of the two humans in the background is standing on top of his head. The five people all have different attire on. The three mannequins are covered in multi-colored jelly-beans. Their heads are also turned backwards from their bodies. The two humans behind the mannequins are naked and bald. They are not covered by anything. The room itself is just as interesting and fun as the figures in it. The floor is also made of multicolored jell-beans(Florida Trend 25). The walls of the room are covered with Mylar Butterflies on a black wall. Looked upon closely the butterflies seem realistic because of the great detail enamored in the photo.
This photo is unlike any other one of Skoglund’s photos. All her other photos were situated in mundane environments like bedrooms, and living rooms. The installation of this photo seems very plan not a whole lot of things going on. There is definitely fear portrayed in this photo. This tableau seems to be dream-like and unrealistic. It has the clarity of a fantasy. The fantasy is of a mysterious, concealed, unheard world that takes over when individuals are not paying attention(Valdez 171). This points to the fear of imagination. What we imagine can some times trick our minds, gather up fear and even provide excitement in us but that fear of the potential that an imagination could create exists. Overall the photo is unique and Skoglund does an excellent job at creating an art piece that could put fear and pique at the curiosity of the viewer. The surrealistic point chosen is enchanting and appealing to the eye. The fear of imagination captivates Skoglund’s audience and causes limitations as to how far they are willing to go in their interpretations.
The last photo is called The Cocktail Party and it too is a distinctive art work from Skoglund. The Cocktail was created in 1992 through Skoglund’s method of Tableau Photography. This photo is quite intriguing as well but a bit different from the other photos. Skoglund, in this photo, uses an ordinary object to fill up the installation in the photo. This object is multiplied to literally fill every space up in the photo. The installation is of what seems to be a living room. In total there are ten figures. For each one Skoglund has depicted them separately. In the foreground there are two people, a man and a woman. The man is standing up and seems to be walking away from the woman. The woman on the other hand is sitting down on a chair that is situated in front of a small coffee table. Behind the coffee table is where all the other seven people are located. Directly behind the man are two people. Again a man and a woman but this time the woman is facing the man’s back as he is walking away. To the left of this woman in the background are two more people, a man and a woman as well. This man and woman seem to show affection because of the posture of the woman. The woman is grabbing the man’s hand as he to seems to be slowly walking away. In front of the man facing ahead of the woman is a group of four people. Three of these people, two men and one woman, are grouped together while the other woman stands beside them alone. Based on this woman’s facial expression, it seems as if she is gloomy and lonesome. The twist to this photo is that almost everything is covered in cheese doodles. The extraordinary color of the cheese doodles appeals to the viewer’s eye and catches their attention. This ordinary object takes up most of the space. Everything from the furniture to the wall and floor and even some of the figures is covered in this snack. Everything except some of the figures bodies is fully covered. The woman and man directly behind the man in the foreground are not covered completely in cheese doodles only their clothes are covered. Besides these two there is also the man from the group of three and the woman standing alone in the background of the photo.
Skoglund created this to look like an actual party where people are socializing and drinking with each other. Like her other photo’s she takes a reality and has morphed it into a striking image that almost seems dream-like. Skoglund has turned a fun and exciting event into a nightmare by incorporating the cheese doodles. In this photo Skoglund brings forth the fear of the potential humans obtain in order to carry out a horrific action. That potential to do something so horrific is troubling to Skoglund. She doesn’t cover some of the people’s faces because she chooses to show the real facial expressions and emotions the people are displaying. Their emotions are what cause their potential to become a reality. Overall the human beings create a world that is spun out of control and that will eventually in the future turn on them.
In the last photo Skoglund repeats the multiplication of an object in her photo. This photo is one of her earlier works and it is called Hangers and it was taken in 1980. The photo can also be added to Skoglund’s array of unique pieces of art. This photo is realistic yet very bizarre. Hangers are the main focus in this photo as mentioned in the title. Skoglund makes the hangers the focal point of the photo by creating hundreds of them all over the photograph. Picture this, a yellow room and chairs as well as a pink floor. Then there are hundreds, if not more, two-dimensional blue hangers placed on the walls and floor. These hangers are repeated over and over again on the wall as well as on the floor. On the floor there is also a bucket with a couple of blue hangers in it. Even though the hangers on the wall are two-dimensional, they become three-dimensional as they fall and hit the bucket full of paint as well as when they fall on the chair. The chairs are on the foreground of the photo and placed awkwardly on the floor. In the background a door is open and a woman dressed in yellow pajamas is about to walk in. The woman seems in a sad state of mind as she is opening the door.
Sandy Skoglund overflows the room with the same item to make the painting seem surrealistic and dream-like. Again Skoglund has truly transformed reality by building this scenario in which a mundane “room is turned upside by the proliferation of a single element”(Wolf) like in the case of this photo, Hangers. The hangers all around the room symbolize a fear within the artist. The multiplication of more than one hanger shows an underlying threat within the photo. This fear could be of conforming. The hangers are all placed on the wall in the same position. The same position of the hangers symbolizes conforming. When people conform it is usually to become similar to everyone else in society. The fact that one hangers falls into the paint is a symbol that there is always that one person that is different. There is always one individual who stands out the most in this group or society. The fear of being the same as everyone else is a thought worth thinking about. The colors used in this are bright and very peaceful warm colors. Warm usually representing life, is essential to the photo. Overall this photo depicts the issue of conformity. Skoglund does an excellent job displaying this through illusions and symbols which sometimes seem like symbols of horror.
In conclusion Sandy Skoglund is a contemporary artist whose art wok reflects her as an individual. She is known for “large format cibachrome photographs of her bright and humorously unsettling, room-sized installations that poke fun at suburban reality”(Mann). In her thirty plus year span of taking photographs she has managed to explore social issues and even some political issues through her art work. Her unique technique sets her apart from other photographers and it makes her photos more believable. Her photos are symbols of fear that are created through society. Skoglund uses the photos as a way to express her feelings. In almost all of her photos reality is turned upside down and piques our curiosity of what’s real and what isn’t. In general like all artists her past has influenced her art work and created these wonderful masterpieces. Skoglud herself sees her photographs as “the ultimate messenger allowing people to know her art from a postcard that has been flown around the world”(Passmore 42a).