On Collecting . . .
Susanna Cole and
"To arrange the objects according to time is to juxtapose personal time with social time, autobiography with history, and thus to create a fiction of the individual life, a time of the individual subject both transcendent to and parallel to historical time." -- Susan Stewart, On Longing
For the artist, the idea of the collection creates a strong metaphor for the material and temporal relationships they maintain to their work and to everyday life. In the context of the Visual AIDS Archive where the work of over 250 HIV+ artists is kept in slide format, identifying creative work that engages practices of collecting seemed particularly meaningful. Often taking the form of collections, ledgers, lists, even snapshots and miniature displays, these works address personal history, sites of collective memory and identity, mark special occasions, and honor loved ones. The works in On Collecting . . . have been ordered according to the system that governs their existence in the Archive, chronologically by the date the artist entered. The collection in an institutional framework is traditionally authoritative; however, many of these works explore the collection at the intersection of public and private, the historical and the personal.
Returning to the site where memories are created, artists revise family snapshots that comprise popular collections to create new histories. Erasures and manipulations in Steed Taylor's Me and Sudie (1997) and Mom and Dad (1998) describe the mutability of memory that transforms the past by present circumstances and experiences. Similarly, David Wojnarowicz in an untitled image of 1990/91 uses the innocence of the school portrait to question the position of the individual in relation to the political. Two systems of representation apparent in Bob Corti's Exposed: Suzin (1996) consciously evoke the repressed and the revelatory characteristics of portraiture. By contrast, in Mark Morrisroe's untitled self-portrait of 1980, the subject is constructed indirectly, as if passing by.
Anthropological in approach, the juxtaposition of David Nelson's hole #21 (2000) and a detail from Barton Lidice Benes's Repository (1997) reveal the equally chance-operated and over-determined criteria that form collections. The preservation of objects -- an epoxy cast pulled from a hole in the ground and Madonna's panties bundled and appropriately classified -- curiously relate perspectives on everyday life and the historical record. Alan Walker's Paper Women of the World (1971-96) a suitcase collection of two-dimensional paper dolls combines Marcel Duchamp's boxes with Florine Stettheimer's dollhouse. Akin to the conceptual coding in the work of the former, Walker includes a ledger (a key to the project?) that appears to calculate the average beauty of each pageant contestant.
Cultural displays of remembrance are also relevant to the idea of the collection. The graphic lyricism of Martin Wong's painting Puerto Rican Day Parade (1998) heightens the importance of national symbols in the construction of collective identity. Robert Miles Parker's 7th Regiment Veteran's Room (1993) draws out ceremonial space in whimsical lines and details. Like the array of seashells and pressed foliage surrounding her, the figure in Graduation Day (1975) a painting by Garland Eliason-French is considered a keepsake. Her full skirt, bouquet, and Peter Pan collar evoke the formality of another era while the idea of memory in the work is shaped by a symmetry like that of an open scrapbook.
Most significantly the collection holds the promise of the eternal. As homage and elegy, Becky Trotter's Support Group (1999) creates a group portrait of herself and other members of HIV+/AIDS support groups. Solidly and squarely center, a painting of her empty chair is surrounded by those of Dwayne (d. 1989), Ricky (d. 1989), Brent (d. 1992), Chuck (d. 1990), Darren (d. 1993), Butch (d. 1991), Eugene (d. 1991), and Bud (d. 1990), counterclockwise from the upper left. Remembering . . . Moment (1995) by Michael Ransom creates an intimate domestic scene in miniature. The tableau captures a transitional moment where the neatly made bed is juxtaposed with the shopping bags packed with clothing, either replacing or signifying the belongings of a lost lover.
As 2000-01 Helena Rubinstein Curatorial Fellows, Susanna Cole and Erin Donnelly met in the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program and continue to collaborate on independent curatorial projects. Susanna Cole is a Ph.D. candidate in Art History, Columbia University. Erin Donnelly is completing graduate work in Museum Studies, New York University.
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