“…my family despised Faberge objects as emblems of grotesque garishness.”
― Vladimir Nabokov
What does it mean to destroy your own art? To have that destruction be writ into the very bones of it’s conception and execution? (no pun intended) I’ve spent five years and counting making seed bomb simulacras of trash for the Urban Camo Seed Bomb series – I’m used to turning my art over to the rains, the winds, and the trash collectors. But what if I’m tired of passive submission; of fading and melting and other synonyms for a gradual slide into non-being? What if I want to dream big, to let those dreams edge into darker terrain, to Fuck. Shit. Up.
Inspired to take the themes of the Urban Camo Seed Bomb series in a more dynamic direction; I thought on destruction, value, and taboo; as well as their inverses creation, unimportance, and social acceptability. How is cultural importance conferred and what crises are caused by the non-consensual revocation of that status? The more I thought, the more I kept coming back to the works of Peter Carl Faberge. I remember the 1996 Faberge show at the de Young and the captivating, glittery insincerity of it all. Those charmingly vacuous objects d’art branded with a name that personifies elegance, excess, luxury, and their negation; the beauty of the object irretrievably mired in the fate of their owners. The last gasps of an empire can be heard in their presence and it turns out that eggs, like tsars, don’t do well up against a wall.
So I decided this new series would artistically explore that hard, severe moment where worth and status are severed from their vessels. No more lengthy disintegrations and ephemeral wastings. This would be about the moment where metaphorical eggs meet metaphorical walls and (every)thing becomes lost in that not-so-pleasant exchange of greetings. Towards this end I would create a series of seed-filled eggs painted to resemble Faberge’s and smash them in an empty Fruitvale lot. This arc from cultural object –> delicately painted rendition –> shattered mess –> blossoming flowers would serve to highlight the arbitrary status of Worth through a crisis point of wanton, uncomfortable destruction – with a bit of deferred transformative growth (albeit on a different value axis) promised at the end.
Speaking of deferred results…
It took six months between finishing the last egg and scheduling Fauxberge Revealed (which I perhaps too cleverly named after Faberge Revealed, the international traveling exhibit of Faberge Eggs). I needed to say goodbye, and after a year of touching paint to fragility I was still intimidated by the subject’s vastness. I needed a better handle on it’s relationship to my art and life in order to let it all go and say,
“This may look delicate but it will only break by choice, never by accident, and I choose to break it now.”
It took six months of studious procrastination to design a show as full of crystaline contradictions as the eggs themselves. For when your art commits suicide, what kind of note does it leave? And how does one craft a eulogy brimming with cheerful optimism and positivity to mark the occasion?
It took six months to finally answer this – you dedicate it to the things you proved stronger than. I never expected to make it through 2010 – I planned to buy a fabulous New Look dress and toss myself in the bay in a dramatic gesture worthy of Kim Novak in Vertigo. Eighteen months later, when depression reared it’s head once more, I sat in the dark listening to trains and contemplating less cinematic acts of conscious self negation. So for Fauxberge Revealed I stole the outfit from one personal crisis moment and the location from another because three years on, I simply refuse to break. Those ghosts cannot pick at my cracks, cannot find a foothold in the life I’ve made in the interim. I am stronger than my art, my goodbyes, my stubbornness, and the constellation of inspiration points that went into this series – and this is where I make my stand.
“This may look delicate but it will only break by choice, never by accident, and I do not choose to let it break. Ever.”
So I wiped away the tears, put on my party dress and egg bandolier, invited 50+ people to meet me on a corner in Fruitvale, and handed them a map to the eggs. In hindsight, I should have pushed people further into the neighborhood or better integrated the eggs into the surrounding civic infrastructure. Afraid of breaking either my friends or my neighborhood, I contracted the exhibition field from 4×4 to 2×3 square blocks; altering the show’s sense of immersion and discovery.
Since all my art is a love letter to place, I feel like this last minute revision amounted to turning “I love you Fruitvale! Let’s make beautiful things together!” into an emotionally avoidant “I really like you a lot! But I’m not really ready to call this a relationship!” The neighborhood deserves more faith in its strength and gentleness; in its self determinism around breaking and brokenness; in its status as an important creative site. By questioning my trust in it, I failed to do it justice in that regard.
However, some measure of my “meh” was redeemed by collecting all the eggs into my bandolier and leading the crowd to the train tracks like some tsarina-turned-1950’s-beauty-queen-turned-cult-leader. This image is worth a dozen painted eggs to me.
And the actual breaking of the eggs? I did not cry, I did not lose my nerve, people seemed equal parts horrified and charmed, and it was a fitting tribute to things destined to break and destined to remain unbroken. I’m not sure where to take my explorations of value, ephemerality, and artistic seed bombing next – I suppose 2015 has an answer in store for me?
Until then, I’m keeping an eye on the train tracks – not for a way out, but for a sign of beautiful beginnings.
All in all it was just another poppy sprouting against the wall…