Art: Head Trip: The 80s
HHead Trip: The 80s commemorates my early years as a photographer. My subjects don outrageous costumes and pose amidst colorful, hand-made sets. Like other Pictures Generation artists, my work appropriates images from advertising and the media in order to call attention to and disrupt their patriarchal subtexts. My viewpoint as a feminist is that the personal is political so my awkwardly staged photos are based on my own life experiences and as well mimic the social-political norms of society in order to poke fun at them.
I moved to Baltimore in the mid-’70s after I received a scholarship to enroll at the Maryland Institute College of Art. We lived downtown; as there was no dorm or campus. The streets were our hallways. The crumbling walls of abandoned industrial buildings, the half-lit neon signs on funky dive bars and crusty old strip joints provided the perfect backdrop for an aspiring young photographer. There was no art market to compete for in Baltimore. It was a cheap place to live, and we artists had a lot of time on our hands. Our social life was engrossed in art, and art was the focus of our mutual entertainment. My peers at MICA and UMBC created performance-based pieces that mixed conceptual ideas, film noir, Dada and punk. My early photos record the guerrilla performance group Baltimore Oblivion Marching Band (B.O.M.B.), the pseudo Science Fair held at John Hopkins, the band Da Moronics, the making of Michael Gentile’s film 78 RPM, Cindy Heidel’s Dating Game parody, the conceptual creations of mad scientist tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE and others performative pieces too numerous to mention here. Around this time period, I began to stage my own images using my friends as models incorporating backdrops made with stencils and spray paint.
In was during this decade that conceptual and feminist tendencies in the art world started to expand my consciousness. I took trips to NYC and saw art by Vito Acconci, Hannah Wilke, Martha Rosler, Lucas Samaras, Pat Oleszko and William Wegman. The conceptual framework underlying their work was brilliantly mixed with deadpan humor, simplicity, intelligence and subversive ideas. I was inspired. Later on the grotesquerie, surreal work of David Wojnarowicz, the Chicago Imagist and the figurative political work of Leon Golub and Nancy Spero influenced me.
1984 approached. Nuclear paranoia hovered just overhead. Big money and cocaine were paraded as the new gods to worship, and TV shows like Dallas celebrated wealth and power at any cost. Graffiti covered everything. Neo-Expressionistic painting with its vivid colors referenced the body and embraced erotic and psychological narratives. The works of Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince were shown in Soho. Influences collided and wound their way into my images. It was during this time that I moved. Just as supply-side Reaganomics was about to cut off funding to graduate schools, I enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and relocated to “The City of Big Shoulders.”
My fellow students at SAIC willingly posed for photographs and helped me map out the scenarios in my head. My images spoke about difficult topics. I visualized my struggles with physical and mental illness (Voices in My Head, Corset and Wasted), thoughts on patriarchy (Vogue and Phallic Living Room), and memories of rape and other experiences, which scarred my psyche (Missionary Position and Afraid). I incorporated line drawings of clip art to represent social clichés, while images pulled from the media referenced the nuclear family, women’s roles and hierarchical systems of Playboy and the Catholic Church. Projected images on models’ heads suggest internal and external states of mind, anxiety and the performative nature of consciousness.
To this day I remain consumed with many of the same themes and techniques that characterized my early work. But now, besides working with the camera, I also tactically collage or digitally montage elements, creating compositions that focus on psychology, social commentary and humorous disruptions of original and found imagery.