TRANSCENDING THE NOISE
"With electronics, our sensory life is processed differently, and the relationship of touch to sight is made more complicated because of the abundance of unrelated sounds and images"
-Jeffrey Rian (1996)
I will not claim to have coined the phrase, but I have adopted the frequent use of 'jury-rigged' as the descriptive term for many of the art practices I am surrounded by. For me that term brings to mind the 13 year old in the garage managing to build a go-cart from empty paint cans, an old garbage bin, and the abandoned lawn mower. And it works. It is the meticulous application of a piece of chewing gum to end of a stick used to retrieve mom's wedding ring from the drain, or the coat-hanger device that is cleverly fashioned to unlock the car. These little solutions are well designed, functional and immediate. That is the art of jury-rigging: making do with what is lying around. And whatever is lying around, is not likely very refined.
Artists working in the jury-rigging tradition are readily exploring traditional craft materials and discovering and refining techniques common to hobby-craft or folk-art practices. This work ranges from the consciously sloppy to the meticulously adapted, and in all likelihood, as their practice matures, the consciously sloppy becomes more refined, until the application of materials is intricately married to the art-object and their art-practice as a whole.
This gravitation towards that which has been formally considered 'inferior' by academia, has its roots in Romanticism. The Romantics sought to deconstruct dualities and gravitated towards landscape (considered an inferior genre in earlier part of the 19th century) to find a means to transcend pedantic depictions and problematize the fixed relationship between high and low. Likewise, many contemporary young art-makers ('new-romantics'), have gravitated towards the 'inferior' hobby material or low-tech manifestation and embraced a consciously elegant sloppiness in order to transcend technology and frigid conceptualism, resulting in the unmediated, the simple or the authentic becoming a prototypic topic for young, contemporary art. Heavily influenced by early 90s practices (artists like Mike Kelley, Robert Gober, Beverly Semmes, Paul McCarthy, Polly Apfelbaum and others); these emergent artists have been marinating in pedagogical environments populated by those mentors educated in process art, Arte Povera, feminism and Beuys during the pluralistic 1970s.
In the 1990s, the iconographic became the cornerstone of practices concerned with narrating the fields of bodily experience and personal and racial identity. Theories and practices identified as male/academic/white/heterosexual were put aside and the body became a dominant concern. In turn, the domestic and traditionally female sphere became a popular point of reference for the conveyance of narrative; craft materials were embraced as avant-garde, discussed within the postmodern idiom and potentially relieved of their marginal roles. During this time, Mike Kelley was making stuffed animal sculptures and exhibiting them widely. Kelley's adolescent sensibility combined with a punk, DIY aesthetic, charmed young artists and influenced their approach to art-making. His use of used materials, hobby craft, lowbrow technique and assemblage held countercultural appeal. Kelly embraced the hobby material (Fig. 1) as a medium with which to critique societal norms, having flatly stated that he hated nostalgic art, but was able to utilize and manipulate items taken from the domestic in order to critique these very notions. Additionally, he found the dimension of the feminist paradigm convenient for the dismantling of the heroic and the authoritative. "Minimal arts", as described by Kelley, are "reductive, essentially heroic primal forms [which] lend themselves easily to the role of the authority figure. Thus it is only right that we should want to defame them" (Taylor, 1995).