Dutch Still Life Paintings


Dutch still lives: vivid and visceral and mundane. The Dutch Golden Age took place in the 17th century. With a relatively small population and no significant natural resources they managed to become the most prosperous nation in Europe by becoming the middlemen of trade. This prosperity led to Art having a predominant role in popular culture, everyone had paintings all over the walls of their homes. The still life painting was originally regarded as the most trite, contentless, and mundane, of the most popular art types.

As their technique became more vivid as to nearly fool the eye, tromp'loi, approaching photo realism before the invention of photography, the subject matter was begun to be understood as being highly symbolic. The vanitas theme —vanitas Latin for 'emptiness', and loosely translated corresponds to the transient nature of vanity-- is most obviously portrayed with the skull but is more provocatively symbolized with the half-peeled lemon (sweet in appearance but bitter to taste), wilting flowers or food left to rot. These are preoccupations of the decadent society of the 17th century dutch.

I am fascinated by how such personal, visceral, and psychological human conditions can be read from just a vivid depiction of the everyday stuff of life. Oysters, fish, a knife, a bowl, a lemon peel, a pie. When reading deep into these paintings, the relationship of the oyster to the lemon slice is charged, a twist of bitterness. The half-heartedly mutilated pie sits ugly, having been sunken and played with absentmindedly with a spoon and left uneaten. A heap of game is both cute and grotesque.



Thirty Table Arrangements



This Slide Show of Thirty Table Arrangements borrows this type of psychological projection onto everyday objects and adds the element of time. As a slide show of thirty, presented in random sequence, it becomes a circumstantial order of events of a mundane collection of objects. It begins to catalyze our innate tendency to construct a narrative from our experience.

With photography in place of paint, we inherently project our own psychology, personal and shared, from a private and collective unconscious, simultaneously onto these objects as we nudge them into a spontaneous narrative.

Further, with a series of thirty, this happens more explicitly through time.  Architecture can be viewed as a framing of views. The arrangement of these images can be deliberate but their how they are experienced is unpredictable. In the same way, the narrative of architecture is non-linear, and across many scales of time.

This slide show encourages our innate tendency to derive meaning from desperate events —from seemingly meaningless or unrelated circumstances.   We demand there to be meaning to our life stories, as haphazardly written and carried out as they are.  Thirty table arrangements is an instance of this happening.


Five Frames of Mind that Don't Seem to Work



Five frames of Mind that Don't Seem to Work is another sculpture that pokes at the tectonic of projecting psychology onto objects. In this case the subject is the process of learning through subtraction.  Often, learning is thought to be an additive process, to add to your knowledge.  However it can also be a subtractive process.

Five found object sculptures are made of objects from the audience.  A string is tied to each, and then the sculptures are pulled apart.  The process of pulling apart is the process of learning through subtraction, by taking something away when you have come to realize it is not working.  Each of the five sculptures is an assemblage, a mishmash of objects, an instance of an experimental identity, an experimental frame of mind.  

This process of learning through subtraction is the subject of the sculpture.  The object is not limited to the five assemblages, but instead encompasses our relationship to the parts and the new whole of each assemblage —sculptural, psychological, or otherwise.  We project meaning by asking ourselves the question: how is this sculpture a frame of mind that doesn't work?  And with the quick act of pulling apart, we enable ourselves to progress beyond it.


In both instances, Thirty Table Arrangements and Five Frames of Mind that Don't Seem to Work, the Art is in a resonance between the object, the name, and the viewer.

This is a body of work that pokes at what I consider to be a fundamental relationship we have to things, and their relationship of these things to each other.  To me, these are the building blocks of the meaning of architecture.  

I relate to the lemon peel as I do a construction site left incomplete.  I feel the overwhelming sweetness in the half eaten pie as I do the saccharine curvaceousness of a concert hall.  The rotting heaps of fish are like festering, unoccupied Mc Mansions.

My point in all this waxing rhapsodic is that the vivid reading of the content within dutch still lives, for instance, is the same as our cognitive experience of the stuff of architecture. This operates at multiple scales —from the object to the room to the city.






One of the most mystifying scenes in cinema for me is from Andrew Tarkovskiy's Solaris. In this scene the woman is mesmerized, perhaps recalling memory from the past, a winter, in a village, home.

Here, in a room decorated like a baroque den hovering over the planet of Solaris, Kris surrenders love again to dead wife Hari, a woman reanimated by the ocean of Solaris. Gravity is gently lost and they float magically —maudlin and gothic— in embrace. This scene preludes Hari's suicide attempt that ends in resurrection --grotesque yet timeless.

Hari is a projection of his Kris yearning, literally a projection of his memory, his psychology. However Hari becomes autonomous, or expresses a desire to be autonomous, and the suicide attempt is an expression of that.

Kris's projected psychology, his projected yearning, cannot die. Perhaps, until he himself dies.

How does Tarkovskiy's Solaris relate to the projected mind?


And so we arrive at a Collage Series Entitled "Still Life City"


Still Life City



Following this presentation at 3rd Ward In Brooklyn on April 16th, organized by Superfront, participants were invited to enact the steps I've traced here as a Workshop.

From the fleeting narrative construction and symbolic projection of the Thirty Table Arrangements, to the constructive subtraction of Five Frames of Mind that Don't Seem to Work, to Still Life Cities, participants will made a model city with found objects and blocks —a cultural still life— give it a name, and pull it apart as an act of suggesting hypothetical urban scenarios, musing over their identity, and embracing their fleeting and transient mark in this light hearted context.  

CLICK HERE to view the documentation from this Workshop.