Hall of Portraits from The History of Machines, an on-going project, constructs a disquieting satire that proposes an alternate pictorial history in which two objects of desire become one — the household convenience object and the emergent female form. In looking back at mid-20th century post-war commercial culture in America, the new modern woman begins to be idealized as sharing attributes with objects of domestic convenience, efficiency, and planned obsolescence. Mining the archive of material culture from advertising to the manufactured objects themselves that I photograph, labor-saving domestic machines merge with the body, or vice-versa. The resulting digitally stitched together hybrid women seem familiar yet at the same time we know they are actually a highly fictional, patriarchal fantasy. In exhibitions, historical consumer objects rupture, complicate and curiously authenticate the fictional spaces of the two-dimensional mixed media works.
Carried to the point of surrealism, these new works comprise a taxonomy of the suppressive and prejudicial stereotypes and fictive archetypes with which Americans – all of us – have been, and still are, inculcated and bombarded. To emphasize this artificiality while embracing the surface of the real, each ‘mechanical bride’ is printed out large on canvas and surrounded by a color-field hand-made through the repetitive domestic actions of dragging, pressing and scraping household devices through and into the paint. Always based on authentic sources rather than flights of fantasy, the hybridity of the images conveys a history that reveals how women have been de-humanized while at the same time idealized and desired for machine-like domestic functionality and push-button compliance. Images of the cyborg-like women are purposely not painted in my own hand but rather are constructed from an admixture of photographic sources that retain the pixelization and halftone signatures of the mass-produced image. If hand-painted, the role of the artist would be foregrounded as the inventor of the image, superseding and overwriting the intended message, which is that modern culture itself has created these idealized, problematic images for consumption. Images of the new women complete an implied narrative arc – I would propose – in which women are and have been constructed to be both the consumers and the consumed at the same time. There is a self-awareness, or an emerging consciousness of this predicament embedded in the new fictionalized yet also historically accurate representations of the female form. Works are created on three scales: a monumental size, then medium and miniature versions. At their monumental scale, each portrait measures 109.25 inches tall, which is the exact height of Marcel Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass). In making this reference, the project seeks to invite a deeper look at the invention and representation of woman as an object of ambivalence (both inanimate and animate).