I am currently in the process of constructing my fifth and final box. I’ve been agonizing over the conceptualization and just a couple nights ago I finally started putting things into the box and making real decisions about it. I’m not sure why, but this has been the most difficult project so far. Perhaps it’s because there is more pressure for a final piece, but I just can’t let myself worry about that because it’s been hindering my process.
For this box, my focus was more on aesthetic choices than a very specific idea that I wanted to capture. The placement and inclusion or exclusion of objects and photographs was guided more so by instinct than logical reasoning. My hope is that this box is unique and yet fits into the aesthetic and nostalgic quality of the five pieces as a set.
The very first thing I did to start the process of this box was to go on a hike (in the pouring rain) and collect materials from nature that appealed to me visually and that I thought could be used in the construction. It was also nice to be out in nature; I thought about Anthony’s project and how many of our projects have turned out to be interconnected. After that I spent time sketching and just trying to visualize how I wanted this assemblage to look. Second, I went in search of the perfect box and fortunately I found something very interesting at the flea market. My next step was to look through the supplies I have at home including old negatives and found objects and pick out the ones that resonated as “back yard” to me.
Going to the darkroom, like always, was another important step. I ended up printing six different photographs and in the end I’m only using one is my assemblage. Since we didn’t have critique this week, I thought I would include those extra photographs in this blog post. I also printed a photo of my mom just as an experiment. I found this photo of her when she was probably five years old (in her childhood yard) on 35mm film, but it was a positive image, so I thought I would take it to the darkroom and see how it looked printed in negative, just for fun.
On Tuesday night I layed out a table of everything I was considering using in my box and just started trying different compositions and made some real progress. I’m excited for our final class and to hear what everyone thinks and to see all the work that our class has produced over the quarter. We’re almost done! I’m going to miss our little domestic group…
My main idea for this box was to make a simplified miniature of a child’s bedroom, and to include some of the things that kept me awake at night when I was little. I knew I wanted to include sharks because for years had recurring nightmares about them viciously ripping me apart. I found small plastic sharks at a toy store downtown that worked perfectly for my vision. In addition to sharks, my ultimate fear was Bloody Mary. I was terrified that she would come into my room through my mirror and hack me to pieces. These were some pretty dark things for a five year old to think about. I wanted to show this Blood Mary fear subtly so I wrote it backwards on a small sheet of paper, and then when reflected in the mirror, it would read correctly.
The actual construction of the bedroom furniture is what too the most time and effort. I made the bed out of an old medication box and used fabric to cover it in a sheet. Then I sewed miniature pillows to match and stuffed them with cotton balls. I used vintage crayons for the bedposts. For the wall mirror I took apart an eye shadow container and stole the mirror from it. I made the rug by braiding yarn together and gluing it to a cardboard backing. This actually was the most difficult part and took several attempts; which is ironic because it is my least favorite part of the box. Oh well. I also bought fabric from Joanne’s (I’ve spent way too much time there this quarter) and used it as carpet for the bedroom. I bought the clock at Fun Junk and cut up paper and drew lines on them to create mini notebook paper for the drawings. Nobody could tell from looking at it, but one of the papers has the initials of my first crush with a heart around it, which is definitely something I drew A LOT as a kid.
The other main part of the process was printing the photos in the black and white darkroom. This is always a time consuming thing and I have found that it is even harder when printing using old negatives because they look really dull are very difficult to print.
This box came together fairly quickly and that is partially because I had been conceptualizing and thinking about it since I made my first box. I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out. There are things I don’t totally love, but hey, that’s the way art is sometimes.
My next box, which I am in the process of creating, is about my childhood bedroom. When I was sketching for this box I realized that my most prominent memory of my bedroom is being afraid to sleep and having nightmares. I am incorporating some of the things that I was most afraid of into my box, but I will write more about that in my “Box #4 Process” post. For now I just wanted to reflect on the fears of childhood. I wonder if other people had more peaceful slumber as kids or if others were also riddled by frightening images of sharks, Bloody Mary, and old lady ghosts. I will admit that I was thirteen years old before I started sleeping alone (my sister was probably ready to get me out of her bed) because I was so terrified. As I got older, it got easier not to think about anything scary and I wonder if that can be chalked up to maturing or maybe as we age we just don’t have as vivid of imaginations. Probably a little of both. Being afraid, and getting over it, was a major part of growing up for me and I think that’s true for a lot of people. I wouldn’t say that I am nostalgic for those times, but those memories certainly hold a lot of power. Honestly, even though I’m an adult now, these photos still really creep me out. Yikes!
For my museum visit, I went to the Seattle Art Museum because I knew they had a diverse range of artworks and had two of Joseph Cornell’s boxes and a few of his collages in their permanent collection. I was disappointed to find that after I looked through everything there and asked a guide, his pieces were not on display at the moment. I was so excited to see a Cornell box up close in person, but oh well. There were a few cool things to see there, along with a lot of, dare I say, boring crap. I tend to be very picky about the art that interests me and I found that a lot of what I was seeing at SAM was either pretty dull or I had a hard time finding the meaning in it or considering it to be “fine art”. However, there was definitely some good work to see.
I was very excited to see four of Carrie Mae Weems’ beautiful black and white photographs. I know we’ve discussed her work around domestic space quite a bit in class, so it was really cool to see her prints so large and in person.
The piece that I found to be most relevant to my project was a black and white photograph entitled Coney Island Boardwalk, Man by Roy DeCarava. It had a nostalgic quality to it that reminded me of the reasons I wanted to use black and white photography in my work during this quarter. I think it must be a pretty rare photograph too because I can’t even find it on Google; which kind of makes it even cooler that I got to see it at the museum. I’ve done a little research on the artist and many of his other photographs have a “home life” quality to them that appeals to me a lot. I think discovering him was the best thing I took away from going to SAM.
There was also a painting that I connected to that was called How My Mother’s Embroidered Apron Unfolds in My Life by Arshile Gorky. This abstract painting coupled with its descriptive title makes me think that is represents a memory or attempts to encapsulate a particular relationship within the artist’s life, which is basically what I aim to do in each of my boxes.
Another thing I enjoyed quite a bit was “The Porcelain Room” because it sort of reminded me of a giant assemblage. They pieced together a huge display of porcelain objects, all found from various time periods and places of origin. The display describes how porcelain was once very valuable but has become commonplace now and that this room is there way of making these artifacts special again. This is similar to the way I want to treat the objects in my work.
So, basically, the point of this post is for me to say that they didn’t have what I went to the museum to see, but I ended up discovering some pretty cool new stuff instead.
For my third assemblage, I am focusing on the front porch. I started with the idea of a bench. There was this blue bench/porch swing on my front porch when I was growing up that I kept thinking of when I was brainstorming for this project. I found this weird wooden thing at Goodwill and thought that if I cut it up and rearranged it I could turn it into a porch bench. So I sawed off various parts and reglued things in different places and painted it blue and it magically turned into this memory I have of my childhood. I honestly spent way too much time on this one component of my assemblage, but I felt that it was the most important part.
The other thing I wanted to include was coffee. I always remember my dad drinking coffee on the front porch and I find myself doing it now. There is just something special about enjoying a hot beverage on your porch on a cool morning. The thought of it makes me feel nostalgic instantly. I found a couple of ways to incorporate coffee beans and grounds into the box.
Another thing I remember distinctly about my childhood porch is that it was always cluttered with random junk and I tried to recreate this look a little bit in this box. I was also inspired by Joseph Cornell’s work to create distinct sections within the assemblage. I got help from my mom and used old scrap wood to create a sectioned look similar to many of Cornell’s pieces. Like this one-
The other part of the process was the photographs. I set up a tripod and took self-portraits on the porch and I also printed using old negatives that show my actual childhood porch.
This box is a little more simplistic than my last two, but I hope the sentiment comes across well. I’m interested to hear what people think about it during critique next week.
I started the process of creating my second assemblage with a few main concepts and objects. I knew I wanted to focus on the bathroom, specifically the claw-foot bathtub, and use small glass bottles to create a medicine cabinet look.
My first step was to take old family negatives of photographs taken in my childhood bathtub to the darkroom. Unfortunately the negatives were so thin that I couldn’t get the look I was trying to achieve. It was a little disappointing and I decided I probably wouldn’t use those prints in the box. Then, I set up a camera and tripod in my current bathroom and chose to do self-portraits using long exposures and sandwiched negatives. I ended up taking two baths (the first one got so cold!) and two separate rolls of film to get the shots I wanted. Then I spent 6 long hours at the darkroom processing and printing but was pleasantly surprised that they turned out exactly how I wanted them to with a Francesca-Woodman-like creepy factor. I drew some of my inspiration from her photo entitled Bath from 1980 (shown below).
I found the box I used at an antique store and ordered bottles to fit into it on Amazon.com. I then brainstormed a list of 24 things that I could fill these tiny bottles with that would tell a bathroom story from my childhood or represent a nostalgic memory. For example, one bottle holds three of my baby teeth, nostalgic for obvious reasons. Another is filled with children’s chewable Tylenol that I once ate a whole bottle of (because they were yummy, and perhaps also a little bit for the attention) as a child and almost had to get my stomach pumped. Once I had filled all of the bottles I spent at least an hour arranging and rearranging the bottles to get the balance and composition just right.
I also used an antique curling iron to create an old-timey look while also commenting on the bathroom as a place for female beautification. I know that as an adult, much of my relationship with my bathroom consists of doing my hair and makeup. I curled the piece of hair that is displayed in the box using the old curling iron and it amazes me that a woman would ever go to such great lengths to curl her hair. That’s some crazy business.
I want this box to serve as an intricate portrait of the small, but important domestic space we call the bathroom and my personal experience with it.
*I will be adding a separate page to my site with a statement and photos of box #2 after our next critique!
Today I shot two rolls of film trying to get the photographs I want for my second assemblage. I’ve never done long exposures though, and it was a lot of work to try to get the lighting right. I took many shots with the shutter open, trying to capture movement, as well as some single shots that I want to overlap onto one another in the darkroom. I still have no idea whether or not any of the photographs from the first roll will come out, but I really wanted to try anyway. I guess we’ll see what happens when I go to process the film tomorrow, I hope I have enough useable shots to make my vision for the box come to life.
In other news, I had to order bottles online so that they would all be the same size and fit into the box I am using and they came in the mail today! Yay! It felt like I was opening a science kit or something.
I started to fill them with things like my baby teeth (because I’m weird like that) and my dad’s grey hair.
I was also able to find some cool objects to use at the flea market including an old pair of nail scissors and an antique curling iron. (see photo at top)
In reading about Joseph Cornell, I have been inspired by the concept and aesthetic quality of glass bottles. For my next box, with the theme of “bathroom”, I plan to use bottles to create the effect of a medicine cabinet, a distinct place of memory from my childhood. I can almost smell all the old creams and pill bottles laying in a dusty row when I think of it now. I was reading about his pieces entitled “L’Egypte de Mlle. Cleo de Merode…” and “Pharmacy” and something about the repetitiveness of the bottles with something different inside each one compels me; like a mysterious treasure chest. Now I just have to figure out what I am going to put inside of my bottles…
So…my first attempt to make a Cornell-esque assemblage is finished. It took many days and a lot of steps to complete, but it’s done and I’m excited to hear what the class thinks of it at tomorrow’s critique. The process involved:
1. Many hours of conceptualizing, trying to figure out how to visually represent my feelings of kitchen and how to give off a sense of nostalgia and a specific aesthetic quality that I was trying to achieve.
2. Looking through old family negatives, deciding which ones to print and spending time in the darkroom getting the photos just right for my vision of box #1.
3. Searching at thrift/antique stores for anything that I might want to use.
4. Days and days of arranging and rearranging the objects and photos until I had them situated the way I wanted, making baskets, hollowing eggs, painting things, cutting paper, and then attaching everything to be sturdy.
Throughout this process I’ve also been working on reading Diane Waldman’s Joseph Cornell: Master of Dreams, which gives an in depth look at the life and work of Joseph Cornell, written by someone who knew him personally. Here are some tidbits I’ve picked up so far:
*Cornell preferred the english pronunciation of assemblage versus the more “artsy” sounding French pronunciation.
*He was highly influenced by the Surrealist movement
*He was obsessed with the performing arts including the opera and dance, specifically ballet
* His family has always been central to his life and definitely a major theme in his artwork
That’s all for now!
For my first post, I wanted to pay tribute to the three artists who have inspired me to do this project: Joseph Cornell, Francesca Woodman, and Sally Mann.
The assemblage work of Joseph Cornell captures the dream-like, surreal nature of memory and nostalgia in the format of boxes. He was fascinated by the past, especially the Victorian Era and he was heavily influenced by his family life, his love of theater and dance, and his strong religious beliefs. His creative mind and attention to detail is apparent in his ability to assemble small fantasy worlds. Here are some examples of my favorite pieces:
Sally Mann has been one of my favorite artists for many years. Now that I have a little experience working with black and white photography in the darkroom, I admire her talents even more. Much of her body of work is centered around her family life. The photos she takes of her children captures the magic of childhood and gives me a sense of nostalgia for my own childhood. Here are a few of Mann’s photographs that inspire me:
Francesca Woodman is a highly respected American photographer whose prolific career ended much too soon when she committed suicide at the age of 22. Her work deals heavily with decay and a fading sense of self, which for me, represents memory and the impermanence of life. The concepts of nostalgia, memory, and identity are deeply intertwined. She used the dilapidated domestic space that her family was living in to effectively combine all of these concepts. Here are some examples of her photography: