Monday, April 4, 2011

Wunderkammer: The Work of Karen Mandelbaum

Rarely do we find an artist who dares to pursue their every whim, who tests the waters of every medium, who engages in random acts of play and fun on a regular basis. But today, we have found Karen Mandelbaum, a senior printmaking major whose work is a true reflection of her personality. Like the Dada and Surrealists of the early 20th century, she engages with everyday objects and subverts our expectations of what it means to be an artist, a printmaker. Karen began the semester with the aim of producing one "piece of art" per day. While she is perfectly capable of achieving this pace, she does tend to overanalyse certain aspects of her work. While self-criticism is necessary, too much of it has impeded her progress. The projects were less frequent than 'one a day'; however, she is still producing these objects of interest on a semi-regular basis (3-4 per week.)

If the idea of producing one piece per day is removed, the work has more ground to stand on, as it is inherently interesting. Still, certain questions need to be resolved - such as, "How is the work most effectively archived and displayed?" Karen's initial idea was to create a blog documenting her progress. This may still be in the works, but physical means of archival may be just as effective - like a book with photos of each piece, combining thoughts on the process and problems she faced along the way. The first few projects Karen made dealt with gender and identity issues. These works took the form of various prints. As the semester progressed, Karen became more interested in the everyday/readymade object, and began experimenting with these readymades. They still seem to connect with the idea of identity, but in a different way: this is the identity of an object.

Found Objects: Stool and Painting
These objects could be the modern-day lovechild of Roy Lichtenstein and Marcel Duchamp (Bicycle Wheel, 1951). An everyday stool is repainted white, with preexisting details outlined in black. The interior shadows of the stool are painted black as well, with hatching around the seat edge. This stark contrast gives the stool a comic-book feel; a 2-dimensional effect on a 3-D object. The painting of ships in a harbor was a thrift store find - this too was painted entirely white. The ships were filled in with black and the edges of the frame are lined with black ink, mimicking the comic-book effect of the stool. It would be interesting to see these objects en masse - a whole room interpreted this way would be very striking.

Toilet Paper Fur Roll
If Marcel Duchamp and Meret Oppenheim (Object, 1936) were involved in a romantic tryst, this next object would be their illegitimate child. Karen has taken a strip of white faux fur and created a 'roll' resembling toilet paper on a stand. I believe this, in conjunction with the aforementioned pieces, are most related to the Dadaist movement in their ready-made but slightly altered states; their ability to subvert our expectations and tempt interaction are what make them so Dada.

Felted Screenprint
In this piece, wool is felted to a star-specked, midnight-blue screenprinted square. This piece calls to mind the poem-objects of the Father of Surrealism: Andre Breton, in which unrelated elements (both ready-made and created) were brought together to spark a conversation, usually aided by short lines of verse. The viewer is left to make a connection between the unrelated parts, which becomes more abstract if text is not included. There is something quietly poetic about this piece, as the wool is just entering the printed image, like hairy plasma travelling through a constellation. To be quite honest, I still don't know what it means/is but I hardly think that matters.

Emoticon Prints
Two collograph prints are included in this body of play/work, Karen's "self portraits," in which her facial features are reduced to two dots for eyes and a curved line for a mouth - curved up for a smile, down for a frown. She has stated before that the inspiration for these pieces comes from a book about the psychology of comics, and how faces are often reduced to their most basic forms in order to easily convey an emotion and to allow for readers to place themselves within the comic. I see them as a comment on the internet usage of 'emoticons', or pairings of keyboard symbols in order to create a sideways face - such as :) or :( , for happy and sad respectively. In regards to Dadaism, I see them in light of Phillipe Soupault's Portrait d'un imbecile; a piece in which the viewer literally became the subject (and the butt of the joke.)

Drag Makeup Prints
Karen's brief foray into the exploration of gender/identity issues, and indeed her long-standing obsession with RuPaul's Drag Race led to the creation of these two prints. She applied full drag makeup, then after a performance, pressed her face to a sheet of paper to create a monoprint of the utmost untraditional. I see these pieces as the least related to the body of work; they function well on their own but seem small and out of place when in juxtaposition with the other pieces featured... Number could be an issue as well, I believe they would function better if there were more than two. However, they show a progression of ideas.

Last but not Least, Felted Objects
Karen's latest hobby is felting. This has led to the production of a life-sized set of barbells and bones out of black and white felt, respectively. These items, not pleasantly soft in real life, are transformed into lightweight and almost cuddly little crafts that spark curiosity and betray reality. As with Man Ray's readymade Gift, they subvert our ideas about what bones and barbells should look/feel like; their original purpose is destroyed.

Related Artists:
Man Ray
Marcel Duchamp
Meret Oppenheim
Ray Lichtenstein

Artists to check out:
Pierre Pinoncelli
-Artists of the Fluxus movement:
Alison Knowles
Robert Watts
Dieter Roth

Mark Jenkins

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