Archive for November, 2011

Two Simultaneous Series’: A Self-Published Article

November 26, 2011

For a period of roughly six years my creative development has revolved around two series’ of ceramic sculptures: Synthohumans and Orphaned Teapots. While making both bodies of artwork, I noticed an interesting relationship between the two. How and why these works developed is unique to each series. While both groupings evolved from my early Gizmology series, Synthohumans and Orphaned Teapots have different aesthetic intentions and content, yet their connection is a unusual. Though unintentional, this intriguing relationship begs consideration; in this article, I reflect upon my art making process and the artistry of these bodies of work.

The Synthohuman series developed as the Gizmology series transformed from fictitious machines to figurative sculptures. Several transitional Gizmology sculptures began my exploration of, and concern about, Western society’s male and female divisive gender roles.

A group of five life-sized ceramic sculptures, Synthohumans, aremy response to society’s gender conflict. I believe, as many people do, that the gender war should have ended long ago as this conflict is detrimental to everyone. Because of this divide and dual sexism in our culture, every male and female is in some way emotionally, spiritually, and physically suffering. Perhaps potential for healing lies within humanity’s third sex: the hermaphrodite, a being of both genders.

To explore this idea, I abstracted the figure by referencing an amalgamation of medieval armor, mid-twentieth century appliances and toys, tools, weaponry, mannequins, cyborgs, and various other objects. In addition, within the Synthohumans, I visually discuss my hope that future enlightened beings lie within the physical and emotional hermaphrodites of this world.

In today’s Western culture, hermaphrodites are hidden, shunned, physically mutilated, and emotionally harmed; the English language does not have a singular pronoun to represent the presence of both genders in one being. However, I believe it is the spiritual and physical nature of the third sex that may be able to heal the conflict between the predominant male and female genders. I find it interesting that, in some, but not all, ancient cultures, hermaphrodites were revered and were often spiritual leaders and medicine people of their communities:

 “The presence of gender-variant people historically and cross culturally is indisputable. They have been respected and reviled, subjected to high social honor as well as ostracism and annihilation. They have served humankind as shamans and warriors, as priests and prostitutes, as healers and artists, as political leaders, and as child raisers. They have also served as the scapegoats and guinea pigs of religious zeal, political xenophobia, and medical inquisition. Indeed, the transgender experience has been rendered invisible historically, leaving people today to imagine that cross-gendered behavior is a symptom of modern life” (Lev, A. I., 2004).

“The presence of gender-variant people historically and cross culturally is indisputable. They have been respected and reviled, subjected to high social honor as well as ostracism and annihilation. They have served humankind as shamans and warriors, as priests and prostitutes, as healers and artists, as political leaders, and as child raisers. They have also served as the scapegoats and guinea pigs of religious zeal, political xenophobia, and medical inquisition. Indeed, the transgender experience has been rendered invisible historically, leaving people today to imagine that cross-gendered behavior is a symptom of modern life” (Lev, A. I., 2004).

Good-Ole-Boy: Synthohuman. 2006, Terra-cotta, 36″ x 18″ x 12″

“The presence of gender-variant people historically and cross culturally is indisputable. They have been respected and reviled, subjected to high social honor as well as ostracism and annihilation. They have served humankind as shamans and warriors, as priests and prostitutes, as healers and artists, as political leaders, and as child raisers. They have also served as the scapegoats and guinea pigs of religious zeal, political xenophobia, and medical inquisition. Indeed, the transgender experience has been rendered invisible historically, leaving people today to imagine that cross-gendered behavior is a symptom of modern life” (Lev, A. I., 2004).I see George W. Bush’s Texas tough-guy swagger, his hawkish use of the US military for Iraqi oil, his catering to big business, and his father’s buddies for his political gain, as well as his incompetence that he disguised in American machismo to be an extreme abuse of American male privilege. I perceive George W. Bush as a playground bully who took his masculine anger and testosterone globally and the world has suffered severely as a result.

To portray my distrust of the good-ole-boy network and its nepotism, Good-Ole-Boy, employs various Wild West objects such as the cowboy hat, sheriff’s badge, bullets and pistol, to represent male roles and masculine anger that I see in many American men, including myself. The cowboy hat is intended to broadly depict Hollywood’s portrayal of the American male through iconic individuals such as John Wayne. Such representation is an extreme, narrow, and unnatural depiction of maleness. The revolving bullet head/mind represents our culture’s obsession with male-imposed violence that I see as unnatural and unhealthy. The six-shooter in the sculpture’s back speaks to my interpretation of the good-ole-boy network’s self-centered world view: “I will scratch your back if you scratch mine” or as “W” stated, “you’re either with us or against us.” The arms/hands are ceramic recreations of cannibal forks that were once used for removing brains from human victims.

Even though Good-Ole-Boy represents the negative aspects of Western society’s masculinity as well as the accepted violence and “boys will be boys” attitude that children are reared with, the sculpture is also effeminate and hermaphroditic. I incorporate such dual-gender characteristics in all Synthohumans to represent what might be an intellectual and emotionally enlightened being: an individual that is a humanist, and is respectful and appreciative of all life. I accomplish this humanist representation more effectively in the four other Synthohumans as they are more benign in nature.

Air Head: Synthohuman. 2004, Terra Cotta, 69″ x 12″ x 12″

For example Air Head reflects my philosophy of the importance in recognizing both the physical and emotional human hermaphrodites of this world. As with all of the Synthohumans, I do this by creating a figurative representation of a hermaphrodite that has both mechanical and humanoid characteristics. The head of the sculpture is a tromp-le’- oel (French for “trick the eye”) representation of an early twentieth century electric fan, finished in the iconic baby blue and pink used for infant and toddler’s apparel. While today, blue is associated with boys and pink with girls, a quote from 1918 cited by the Smithsonian Institute reveals that this was not always the case “…the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. The reason is that pink being a more decided and stronger color is more suitable for the boy; while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” The fact that these two colors have changed from one to the other in their gender representation is interesting and substantiates my use of blue and pink to represent the interchangeable gender within the Synthohumans.

The iconic baby blue and pink along with the representational fan points to the irony of the gender biased term “airhead.” Though a male, I consider myself a good candidate for this derogatory term due to my forgetful nature, and not the negative sexual connotations that is embedded in the term when used to refer to a female.

I also use pink and baby blue to question, why we as a culture continue to define our children’s sexual characteristics with these colors before they are capable of defining their own individuality? The practice seems harmful and disrespectful to a child’s psychological development. Yet we continue to do so and, in the United States, it is challenging to find gender neutral clothing for children, especially infants.

Like Synthohumans, Orphaned Teapots, a divergent branch of the Gizmology series that emerged for several reasons. First, I wanted and needed a playful and humorous artistic outlet that would allow me to concentrate on pieces that were driven by form. Second, I also needed to work smaller in scale, because at that time, fitting my art practice within my academic and teaching responsibilities was difficult, especially when creating large scale ceramic sculptures like the Synthohumans.

Finally, these sculptural works were my response to the current market trend and interest in fun and funky teapots. While the Synthohumans focus specifically on the future of human gender, these playful metaphorical teapot creatures and implied orphaned objects were born in response to science fiction’s question: how will all of society and the world appear in the future? I created these ceramic teapots by combining a variety of three-dimensional influences, including toys, industrial machinery, tools, biological life, and mechanics, within a teapot archetype.

All Tanked Up: Orphaned Teapot. 2008, Terra Cotta 10.5″ x 13″ x 5″

With each new teapot, I reinterpreted science fiction’s cyborg and robots as they may appear in beings other than humans such as birds and insects. As a result, many of these metaphorical vessels reflect how I envision a fantastical future life might appear humanity and technology’s impact the environment and biological. In addition, to questioning the appearance of future sentient beings, I intend the Orphaned Teapot’s to represent orphaned creatures that – due to mutations, loss of habitat, etc. – will not be able to reproduce and thus become extinct.

All Tanked Up, with a gas pump handle and zooamorphic qualities, directly addresses humanity’s degradation of the natural world. The teapot spout/gas pump is a blatant response to American society’s addiction to oil and love affair with motor vehicles. The United States is so drastically dependent on this valuable and limited resource, and we continue to pour extravagant amounts of oil into our personal vehicles, infrastructure, products, food production, and economy. Unfortunately, global warming and oil spills have made it evident, that if we do not come clean of our addiction to oil, we will continue to slowly destroy the only home we have and cease to exist.

Construction Beetle with Black Tribal Tattoos: Orphaned teapot. 2006, Terra Cotta 7″ x 10″ x 4″

A more playful toy-like character, Construction Beetle with Black Tribal Tattoos, has a rusty looking yellow and green tromp-l’oeil surface with black markings that reflect America’s contemporary popular culture and the current interest in tattoos and body embellishment. It is interesting that tattoos, once a taboo in American culture are now popular and prevalent, especially, since their rise in popularity happened during the George. W. Bush administration’s reign of socially conservative agendas.

In both Orphaned Teapots and Synthohumans, I create surfaces inspired by aged-induced patinas, reminiscent of rust and decay. I do this to represent nature’s ability to recycle and reuse — an aspect of our world that I fid inspiring; I am obsessed with humanity’s discarded and decaying orphaned objects. These surfaces are intended to represent nature’s ability to re-incorporate and recycle our abandoned junk. By using tromp-l’oeil weathered surfaces, I intend to represent a hopeful visual narrative for viewers concerned with the current dystopia and the possible end of “life as we know it!”

At this point in my career, it is evident that I tend to work is series’, rather than a related string of individual artworks that evolve over time. However, much of the formal influences that inspired the Gizmology series also influenced the Synthohumans and the Orphaned Teapots. In addition, all of my artwork tends to contain social/political commentary. Thus the question remains, how are the Synthohumans and the Orphaned Teapots uniquely linked to each other?

Blue Bug with Tail and Graffiti: Orphaned Teapot. 2005, Terra Cotta 9.5″ x 12″ x 6″

Directly, the relationship is similar to that of a parent and child. The Synthohumans birthed the Orphaned Teapots. While the parent/child connection is rather simplistic, when I reflect upon my artistic intention behind these two sculptural series’ and the experiences that inspired the artwork, the parent-child relationship most effectively explains how the Synthohumans and Orphaned Teapots relate to one another.

At the time when I was working on these series’, much of my psychological life was spent struggling with the idea of bringing children into this world. These serial artworks are a result of my inner struggle with procreation. Fundamentally, I am completely disappointed with the havoc and destruction humans have leashed upon the earth, as well as the cruelty we inflict upon ourselves, each other, and other living beings. As a result I questioned the ethics of bringing another person into this painful and destructive world. While struggling with this, I studied literature about current environmental degradation, agriculture, bioengineering, and developed an interest and a philosophical belief in the importance of hermaphroditic individuals in contemporary society. Wendell Berry’s novels, poetry and social/political/agricultural essays also profoundly impacted my thinking at the time. All of these influences, questions, thoughts, and living during what seems to be humanity’s rapid implosion, has coalesced into two contextually related bodies of artwork that are also the culmination of my psychological and intellectual life prior to the birth of my son.

The Synthohumans are hermaphroditic characters embedded with a science fiction-like typology that question and consider the possibility of humanity’s evolution into a hermaphroditic being and/or psyche. This may not be so farfetched, when you consider the fact that many of the planets creatures, like reptiles and some polar bears are currently born single sexed as a result of the degradation of their habitat and global warming.

While simultaneously creating the Synthohumans, I began to consider the Orphaned Teapots as the Synthohuman’s children thus the teapots developed into odd and playful creatures. Each one has a unique characteristic or personality, although, they all share the same maker and are derived from the same place of origin, similar to a sibling group. While not siblings, the difference between the teapots and siblings is that their place of origin is derived from a single artist whereas many, but not all, siblings, are birthed are conceived from the genetic material of two creatures. Therefore, if we accept the cliche that the works of an artist are their babies, than artists like myself are artistic hermaphrodites. At the very least, most artists intellectually understand the reason why this cliche is used to reference the emotional attachment to our work.

As I continue pushing my artistry, I have realized that the content of my work is influenced by the present. Thus, these two series’ are derived from the world and the time period I live in, much like their predecessors in the Gizmology series. However, the concept and content of Synthohumans and Orphaned Teapots are born from an external and an interior struggle; I see these two bodies of artwork as direct evidence of my thoughts, concerns, and feelings, during the time that the work was being made. This is nothing new when considering the history of art and art making, but fascinating to me when reflecting upon my creative process and its progeny.

Written by Gerard Justin Ferrari

Bibliography

Lang, C. and Kuhnle, U. (2008). Intersexuality and alternative gender categories in non- western cultures. Hormone Research; 69(4):240-250. doi:10.1159/000113025.

Lev, A. I. (2004). Chapter 2: The legacy: Gender variance in history. In Transgender emergence: Therapeutic Guidelines for working with gender-variant people and their families. New York: The Haworth Clinical Practice Press.

Smithsonian Institute. (n.d.). Boy’s sailor suite, 1908. Retrieved from History Wired: A Few of Our Favorite Things website: http://historywired.si.edu/object.cfm?ID=477.

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