Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Amy Beecher Studio Visit

Amy has an ongoing series based on self-help books, in which she deconstructs and rearranges the language and words found in numerous self-help authors to form her own satirical commentary on the multi-million dollar industry. Amy's method is reminiscent of the Dadaist “cut-up” technique in literature, in which Dadaists literally cut-up and rearranged printed words in order to create new texts. Although the Dadaists were more interested in questioning the nature of language and the limitations of reason, Amy's approach is more visceral and sequential, although no less self-aware. The violence of the blood-drenched prints point to artifice, being no more than an image of an image, or more specifically photographs of acrylic paintings. The recorded voice of an actor accompanies the texts. Both the prints and the recordings reinforce the comi-tragic, expressive urgency of the work.
When I began listening to the recorded voice and reading the texts, I laughed uncontrollably at the pathetic absurdity of the self-help language being used, but it didn't take long before I began questioning my own reaction. I wasn't laughing because I was relishing in a pleasurable and light experience, but because I felt incredibly uncomfortable. The anonymous, desperate voice along with the pitiful, albeit sincere text she was reading created a strange and awkward sensation. 

The self-help industry thrives on exploiting people's feelings of inadequacy and desires to feel understood and accepted. Self-help literature often promises a better, more complete and fulfilled version of the self, along with the promise of a brighter, happier future. It coincides with the mainstream Positivistic attitudes held by so much of the American public, the idea that with the right tools and an optimistic frame of mind any catastrophe can be mended and repaired. This desire to deny and sugar coat anything less than saccharine sweet also helps explain Oprah's seemingly never-ending popularity. Although the allure of such assurances is undeniably appealing, there is something sickeningly unrealistic and neurotic about the constant quest for the bigger, better you. Self acceptance seems like a more productive and fulfilling goal. 

There has always been a disconnect between art and life. The Pop artists attempted to blur the boundaries between the real and imagined experience by placing a spotlight on the ordinary. What's intriguing and unusual about Amy's project is that although she comments on banality and the interests of greater culture at large, she also manages to create work that is witty, personal, and psychologically charged.

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