SUBTERFUGE (Mock Battle #2)
These large-scale photographic works are a glimpse of a larger artistic process involving mixed media materials such as plaster, wax, powdered pigments, and porcelain clay. I consider the implications of war in our culture – as conjured from toy WWII army men. As Kenneth Clark said about Goya’s The Third of May, “It’s not a record of a single episode, but a grim reflection on the whole nature of power.”
Much contemporary art is about painting, or “not painting” as the case may be. This work is no exception and is in the tradition of painting of Giacometti or Cezanne in so much as their work had to do with a process of discovery or finding, rather than an end. It is an action taking place – the action of ‘being made’, of becoming — a process of creation. In this case: of being molded. Locating a sense of self or identity. Leaving methods exposed – the viewer is invited in, a co-creator of meaning.
Surely the experience of being molded is a painful one– into uniforms and uniformity. But perhaps this molding starts at a younger age, and is found part and parcel in our playthings and what objects and ideals we revere. Molded and shaped by what we do as our job, by our tasks, as Marx suggests. Could molding or molds be a metaphor for this frenetic age we’re all trapped within? Sacrifices for society, for the greater good – the costs of keeping a society? Not being able to move, our lack of socio-economic mobility; being held in place by what silent forces shape us.
Beyond the material nature of painting this work swims in – beyond the pigments and powders and oils bound together, disintegrating–there is also color. Color, and then its absence.
There are several such dichotomies at play in this series: Casts/Molds; Original/Copy; The Generic/The particular; Whole/Empty; Shape/Shapelessness. By taking the generic, homogenous group of green toy soldiers and playfully differentiating them through colorful pigment that at once references earth and paint, they aim to elicit a more personal, emotional responsive from the viewer. The viewer can perhaps no longer regard them as simple, homogenous plastic objects. They are transformed here by imperfect means of repetition, of fragile, more precious materials such as porcelain and materials, which recall art, paint. We suddenly love them, like them, are drawn to them, pity them, simultaneously experience fear or delight by their particular qualities and color.
Color, as in painting, begins to suggest, to be a visual prompt – enticing the uninitiated to take a second look at the banal, plastic, mass produced playthings of childhood and render a specific response.
For others these playthings of the past had already had their own spark to the imagination. They were drawn in by their imagination, to the excitement and challenge of war. Not conscious of what they represent. Among the scenes found commonly in these armies of men: A wounded man carried away on a stretcher. A limp body draped over the back of a medic. These scenarios are given to us as tidy little packages and it is taken for granted that these make good playthings for children. They are a muted, removed reference in our culture; A symbol of romantic heroism but also indirectly to that dark side of human nature – the death and devastation of war as a tactic for negotiation.
If you think of humanity as one large body, then war is like suicide, or at best, self mutilation.
– JEROME P. CRABB, War Quotes and Quibbles
20×30 inches, Archival Photographic Pigment Prints, 2012
By Kimberly Kersey Asbury