Thursday, December 9, 2010

Turning Dolls into Art
Artwork by Kelly Heaton & Ken Feingold
            Kelly Heaton was born in North Carolina in 1972 and graduated from MIT in 2000. She is interested in the conceptual implications of disposable culture, especially in the area where technology is concerned. Heaton uses found objects in many of her sculptures and installations. This work “Live Pelt” exhibited in 2003 is one piece of a two-part project called “Bibiota.”  The other half of this work called “Reflection Loop,” is a “computer-activated wall of “Furby” toys that react to the viewer’s proximity. “Heaton said, “In my conception of Bibiota, Reflection Loop is my cerebral approach to the subject of machine intelligence as a medium, whereas Live Pelt  is my emotional treatment.”
To create this work Heaton collected 64 previously-owned Tickle Me Elmo Dolls and compiled them into a piece of “fashionable” womens clothing. Heaton chose the Elmo dolls because she said they were a “convergence of machine, character, and culture.” The pelt vibrates and giggles when touched or worn. Heaton likens it to “a high-fashion, full-body vibrator.” This piece was inspired by Nam June Paik’s “Live Fish,” in which Paik disemboweled two vintage television sets and filled one with live fish and on the other was as s simultaneous image of the same fish projected in a closed-circuit video. Both Heaton and Paik are exploring the realms of machine intelligence and the American cultures relationship with these machines.
What drew me to Heaton’s work was the incredible process she went through in order to complete the concept; mocking the process of trapping and displaying animals, a popular American pastime. Heaton claims to have “hunted and trapped” all of the Tickle Me Elmo dolls on eBay. She then lined them up on a table and skinned and gutted them. “I find it horrific,” Heaton says, “but it raises a lot of questions – why would skinning an Elmo doll be any more horrific than a mink, for example?” Heaton diligently documented her entire process. She developed work installation work spaces such as “The Alchemist,” which contained a desk where she worked with the component parts of the Elmo doll, a mobile with philosopher stones, a DVD and equipment and “The Sociopath,” in which Heaton had a map on the wall that marked each and every spot where she bought or “trapped” an Elmo doll, a dress from, a master chart and patterns. Heaton also mounted the heads of the Elmo dolls, all of which were to be resold on  eBay, made a class portrait of all the Elmos and created the haunting portrait of herself, wearing the jacket, which she called “The Fashionista.”
Heaton is also playing with the relationship between the human body and that of the Elmo dolls. “The objects are specifically designed to have a lifesoan because of my choice of media,” Heaton said.

Ken Feingold is another artist that uses toys in his art, though he uses dummies. Feingold is a 58-year-old artist who lives in New York. He received his B.F.A. and M.F.A. from the California Institute of the Arts. Feingold’s work has been exhibited internationally. Feingold had this to say about his work, “So these programs and hardware made by an artist are ways in which their ideas and aesthetics cohere and can be carried out within a computer-driven work. They should not be measured against scientific achievements or information systems, communication networks or educational methodologies. Without putting it on a higher level, or valorizing it as in any way more "advanced" than these other forms, it is still important to understand that art has a role in the culture which is different from those things that seek to accomplish some concrete aim.”
He is  interested in the  relation between “the self and the real, as reflected in media images and new technologies. His work “Box of Men” is displayed on a large flat-panel screen within an installation space. The dummy dialogue is synthesized speech, generated by a computer program.
The program assigns each puppet a character. All the characters discuss an unknown crime. The puppets are basically a jury, deciding the fate of a random criminal. Here is a sample conversation:
[in unison] What happened to him could have happened to anyone.
We think that of course he could have done it.
We know precisely what that means.
It is implied that they never could have done it.
[in unison] Let's talk about life and death.
It is so simple.
How could they have not known?
Obviously, they had to have done it.
[in unison] We think that he knew exactly what they meant.
If you don't want to feel guilty don't do anything wrong.
He knew just where he was going.
We say not guilty.
We say 99 years.
How could she be wrong?
Cruel wind and rain.
It seems that he knew exactly where he was going.
They never could have done it.
            Feingold juxtaposes “appropriating broadcast television footage with original material, he constructs non-fiction texts whose meaning and structures emerge as a meta-language of associations in “the spaces between the images, opening up directly into unconsciousness.”’ These visual sequences “become charged systems of signs, evoking the linguistic devices of metaphor and metonymy as condensation and displacement.”
I found this work compelling because it examines how guilt and innocence is decided in such random and arbitrary ways and how a group dynamic has the potential to strongly influence a decision.
            Both these artist create original software in making their art. They are both concerned with machines and the human relationship to them; where heaton is concerned with human interaction with products from consumer culture, Feingold is concerned with the implications of arbritrary randomness within human activity, especially when it comes in play when making extremely important decisions. Heaton and Feingold both create a fictional process in which to display their concept and bring attention to how we as humans react in the real-life process. By doing this, they reel in the viewer and present what seems to be at first a light-hearted, uncomplicated artwork. While Heaton’s works concentrate on humans and their culture connections to disposable goods and their meaning, Feingold challenges the connection between the real self and objectivity versus the cultural otherness that develops out of conforming to a norm.

Links to further information:
Kelly Heaton
Ken Feingold

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