In Air Guitar, Dave Hickey wrote an essay about truth and beauty and Liberace in which he asks the reader to decide if they prefer “the genuine rhinestone or the imitation pearl.” He writes, “Most prominently, Liberace was, without doubt and in his every facet, a genuine rhinestone, a heart without malice, whose only flaw was a penchant for imitation pearls—a certifiable neon icon, a light unto his people, with an inexplicable proclivity for phony sunsets. Bad taste is real taste, of course, and good taste is residue of someone else’s privilege – and Liberace cultivated them both in equal parts and often to disastrous effects.”
My life in the San Francisco Bay Area has been blessed with showers of genuine rhinestones – the subcultures and undergrounds where the rules of abundance and affluence are rewritten. Lush fake furs worn with pride and rhinestones carefully glued on for glitz as if to show the wealth of our own created fantasy world. I have found more joy with genuine rhinestones than diamonds could ever provide.
The work I make is a tribute to those stories, of the traps and pitfalls, of the peace and beauty, and, of course, of the cost. So many of these stories go untold because their nuances get lost in trying to pin them down with words. As Jon Berger wrote in his book Why Look at Animals?, our language is born from the symbolic animal. In studying this idea and Derrida’s ideas about the abyss created between man and animal by language, I have found that many of these non-verbal truths lie still trapped in that abyss.
The animal forms I use are chosen carefully. The fables the sculptures tell come first from the study of the behavior and history of the animal itself. The giraffe becomes a story about how we have to adapt to our adaptations. The giraffe has a complex circulatory system dedicated just to its bending its head down to drink water. In the same way, those of us who adapt to these underworlds have to readapt our adaptations to fit into daily life. By starting with the animal, I use the animal as a indexical symbol, pointing directly back to the validity of the animal, rather than as a cipher that strips the animal of its meaning. Moving back and forth between the animal and the human, my sculptural animals tell the viewer the nuanced stories that might otherwise hide behind the weight of language.
Humans are drawn to gaze at the symbolic animal. Using this attraction with glitz and glitter, I try to include a wide range of viewers. However, while keeping my art accessible, I remain committed to a critically engaged conversation. In this way, my art creates a gateway for the casual viewer into the often-exclusionary conversations being had in the art world.
Moving forward from the work shown here, I am currently creating a body of work at a residency in Northern Marin. While I am still basking in the ideas of the spectacle, I’m also looking at the lines we draw between domestic and wild, useful and pest. The same animal in a different context has a completely different meaning – tells a completely different story. While exploring the visual of that, I’m reading and thinking about the way that we humans become defined in our lives – both as how we define ourselves and how we define others. Is this choice between the genuine rhinestone and the imitation pearl just a casual illusion or a necessary evil truth?