Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Just what is it that makes today's boys so different, so appealing?

This is a photographic series which I wrote about last year when the Bill Henson naked children controversy flared up. I showed 4 of the images there. Here's the complete series. The series' title is Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Boys So Different, So Appealing? (of course referencing the title of Richard Hamilton’s famous collage). I cropped snapshots of junior high school students from Japan to focus on certain individuals. Here's what I wrote before: "It consists of close-up shots of Japanese students I knew when I lived in Japan. There is nothing sexual about the photos, just snapshots, but the title instantly evokes paedophilic desire. The work was meant to draw attention to the way that paedophiles (or indeed any paraphiliacs) can use images for purposes other than those for which they were intended (for example, collecting advertisements of children in pyjamas, or as David Marr mentioned on Insight, foot fetishists watching The Sound of Music for the scenes where the von Trapps run around in bare feet!)."

This is an installation shot from the Kudos show where I showed them (20 of the 21 photos) years ago:

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Liverpool City Art Prize Entry

The Liverpool City Art Prize entries are closing Friday, October 2. I'm entering a series of paintings. I've been working on these for awhile. I had 5 paintings planned, but have only finished the 4 which I'm entering. I wanted to show the whole series when I finish the last one, so for this post I'm showing preparatory sketches for the paintings.

The first one is a work I showed here when I included it in a Match Box Project show. It's called The Artist Renounces His Decadent Profession.

This work is He's a Rebel.

This work changed from the sketch, mainly because I thought the writing was too small to paint. It's a reworking of a quote from Jenny Holzer (Abuse of power comes as no surprise). Even though the quote is not in the painting, the title is still Abuse of Children Comes as no Surprise.

This is, not surprisingly, Curb Your Animal Instincts.

The four works above are the ones for which I have completed paintings. The one below is still in progress. The title, Scouting for Boys, is also a book by Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scouts movement. No-one seems to have noticed the ambiguity of the title at the time.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Urine Heaven

The image above is called The Places You Find Love. There was a certain wabi-sabiness about this particular Japanese junior high school bathroom. I thought I'd do a series of photographs of urinals. I think these were all taken in Tokyo. I've never exhibited them. I guess the collective title of the series could be the same as the title above. If nothing else they give an idea of the types of urinals common in Japan today.
Hmmm... I've also realized that the title was supposed to be "You're In Heaven"... Clearly my punning has gotten away from me!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Kill Me

This is a new painting I finished the other day. I'd found that an acrylic paint I had was cracking when it dried, so I thought I'd use that as a feature of the work. The text came from a friend, possibly dyslexic, or maybe just deranged, who misinterpreted the earlier painting which follows which says MILK. This is on an 8x10" canvas board.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

I'm continuing my look back at memorials I researched for my MFA with a study of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The above shot is one stretch of the wall. It was impossible to get a shot of the complete memorial because of the number of tourists visiting the site. Below is an article which I originally wrote for The College Voice in July 2006.


For my MFA I have been researching memorials around the world. My main interest is group memorials that list the names of individuals, where the individual within the group is just as important as the group itself. I have been looking mainly at war memorials, Holocaust memorials, and memorials to people who have died of AIDS. The people commemorated by a memorial, as well as the people to whom the memorial speaks, affect the design vocabulary that a memorial uses.

During a visit to Washington, D.C., I saw two memorials that provide interesting insights into the uses of memorials and their meanings. The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial (VVM) and The National World War II Memorial (WWII) are only 500m or so apart, but they occupy vastly different spaces in the American psyche. I offer a brief overview of these two memorials to see how they differ in their symbolic language and meanings. WWII is a national memorial that celebrates the American victory in World War II, remembering the deeds of all those who fought in the war, and not just those who died. The VVM, however, is aimed at the veterans of the war, not the nation, and not in memory of the war itself.

The design of the VVM reflects this emphasis. It is a wall of polished black granite engraved with the names of the dead or missing servicemen from the Vietnam War. The names are arranged in chronological order so that one can see the rise in the number of casualties as the war progressed. And that is all that the memorial has - no arches, no colonnades, no domes. It is a minimalist memorial where the emphasis is on the individuals who died. The WWII has no names of the dead, although it does have the Freedom Wall with its 420 gold stars, each representing approximately 100 dead.

This difference in the type of commemoration (names vs. no names) reflects the emphasis of these two memorials. The WWII is a celebration of life, of liberation from fascism, and for freedom and democracy. The VVM is about remembering dead comrades when the public and government seemed to wish that they would be forgotten - to pretend that the war had never happened. As one walks along the VVM’s walls, one slowly walks downwards until the walls are towering above. This is a descent into the earth, like a grave, with the black granite panels resembling tombstones. The WWII, in contrast, is mostly level with the surrounding ground, it is light and open, and the white stone arches and pillars resemble classical temples rather than a graveyard. The pond and fountain in the centre evoke the middle of a city, a place where people meet and celebrate.

The style of architecture of the WWII fits with its place on the Mall, and the axis of history there. It is between the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial, and along the same axis as the Capitol building, all built with white stone. A text engraved at the entrance to the memorial explains its historical placement:


So World War II was a noble war, and one that affirms America’s sense of itself as a country that has a divine mission to bring freedom to the world.
The Vietnam War clearly doesn’t fit with this view. One view is that the United States sought not to liberate Vietnam, but to prevent its citizens from exercising their democratic right to elect its own government. That, and the fact that the U.S. lost the war, has resulted in this memorial being put to the side of the main axis of history. Even knowing where it was located, I had trouble finding it in the grove of trees which surrounds it. Maya Lin, in her design, however, has attempted to connect the memorial to the history of the nation – one arm of the wall points towards the Washington Monument, and the other towards the Lincoln Memorial.

Although President Clinton signed legislation to establish the WWII Memorial in 1993, it was not dedicated and opened to the public until 2004. I can’t say whether the current administration unduly influenced the shape of the WWII, but I feel the memorial is connected to the current war in Iraq through the use of quotes engraved at various places. On the flagpoles is written:


And on one of the walls is this quote from General George C. Marshall:

My feeling is that it has been designed not only to celebrate a past war, but also to link the meanings of that war with the current one. It is, in my view, a propaganda exercise designed to remind people of the values that America allegedly stands for, and the rightness of the mission to spread those values around the world.

The VVM, despite the opposition to it in the beginning, has become part of the establishment, and is firmly on the tourist map of Washington. By concentrating on only the names of the dead, Lin was able to focus the memorial away from the contentious war, and towards the sacrifices made by those in the armed forces. Her focus, however, was undermined once the project was underway by those who felt that the memorial wasn’t military enough, and was perhaps too critical of the war, even though this is what makes it successful. After the wall was completed, a sculptural tableau of three soldiers was placed 100m away, and, nearby, a large flagpole flying an American flag has been permanently erected to add further meaning to the memorial site. Of course this is an attempt to make Lin’s design fit in more with the kinds of memorial evoked by the WWII.

These added elements are, to my mind, clumsy and unnecessary, and were strenuously opposed by Lin herself. Along with the rather sorry state of the landscaping around the wall, these parts of the memorial detract from the elegance and simplicity of Lin’s design.

This brief examination of two of dozens of memorials in the U.S. capital illustrates the way that design elements shape the meanings of that which they commemorate. The two wars remembered in these memorials were different kinds of war, and needed to be remembered in different ways. The two memorials, although vastly different in style, are both successful at communicating meaning to the viewer.

Rodney Love is a Master of Fine Arts student in the School of Art.

Photos courtesy of the author.
1. Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, Washington, D. C.
2. National World War II Memorial, Washington, D.C.
3. National World War II Memorial, Washington, D.C.
4. Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, Washington, D.C.

Here are images highlighting some problems with the VVM - too many tourists squeezed onto a small path; not being able to step back to get a wide view of the memorial; poor landscaping around the memorial; tacky fencing to prevent people from walking above the memorial.

Lastly, here's a rubbing I took at the VVM.