In this video, artist Sandy Skoglund organizes the preparations for one of her photographs, "The Cocktail Party."
It is not uncommon for photographers to spend a great deal of time setting up their shot long before they load film into their camera. After an artist selects their subject matter, often they will take hours or even days planning the composition of the shot, arranging and rearranging objects, light sources, or even waiting for the perfect time of day or ideal weather conditions. While it's not unusual for photographers to go through elaborate preparations in the creation of a still life, or "scene", it is unusual for them to completely fabricate life size, artificial environments as their subject.
This is not the case with artist, Sandy Skoglund, who spends months creating large sculptural installations, which she later photographs. Most often, Skoglund creates detailed yet puzzling domestic settings such as bedrooms and living spaces, inhabited by people and sometimes threatened by animals. Although these environments are displayed as temporary exhibits in museums or galleries, most often viewers encounter her work in photographic form. The images themselves are extremely large by photographic standards to convey each environment's original scale, while their vibrant colors glisten like wrapped candies. Color is an extremely important element of Skoglund's work conceptually, as she often selects just two colors to create drama and tension between the environments and objects that occupy them.
Sandy Skoglund was born in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1946, and attended Smith College in North Hampton, before spending a year at The Sorbonne in Paris, studying art history. She began her career as a painter in the early 1970's after receiving her Masters in painting from the University of Iowa. Her early works were lavish layerings of various foods such as fudge striped cookies on a plaid plate painted amidst a background of brightly colored patterns of stripes and plaids in contrasting colors. Vivid and vociferous, these early paintings were almost hypnotic in their opulent overabundance.
Skoglund's fascination with the emotional power and visual relationships between colors has been a constant throughout her career. Another constant in Skoglund's work is the variety of suburban settings in which the despondent characters of her surrealistic tableaus often reside. Backyard barbecue's, cocktail parties, bedrooms and living areas are transformed into ironic and unsettling, if not nightmarish, scenarios reflecting themes of dysfunction, material greed and the illusionary security of suburbia and the American dream.
She begins by using materials from the real world to construct ordinary living spaces, such as a family room complete with sofa, end tables, lamps, drapery, and knickknacks, or a bedroom including dresser, nightstand, alarm clock and an actual bed. The next step is to change everything to the exact same color by painting, upholstering or otherwise covering it. These monochromatic atmospheres essentially become the backdrops in brilliant shades of color. In the living room, ("The Green House"), every single item was completely covered in raffia grass, a substance which looks like Astroturf, while in the bedroom ("Revenge of the Goldfish"), each object was painted the exact same shade of blue.
But beyond the bold colors and typical settings are the objects, or characters that Skoglund chooses to fill her dramatic environments. For each installation she sculpts variations of a single animal or organism to occupy the space, each painted in a defiant contrasting color to the scene. Menacing goldfish loom in the watery blue bedroom of a young boy, eerie black squirrels invade a Pepto-Bismol pink patio, while radioactive green cats lurk hungrily in the lifeless gray kitchen of an elderly couple. Foxes of fire scamper across crisp white table linens, bright blue dogs lounge in a lush green parlor, raisins cover every square inch of visible space where a couple dines and even cheese puffs attach themselves to partygoers by the thousands, like a flesh eating bacteria. Much like a plague, the mettlesome organisms appear to shatter any remaining sense of reality in these familiar representations.
What adds to the discomfort many feel when looking at Sandy Skoglund's work is the human element that is both real and implied. While the installations exist unoccupied when exhibited, Skoglund adds actual human models to her environments for the purpose of creating her photographs. While viewing some of the reproductions of Skoglund pieces available to you in the link we have provided, you may notice this element has been included by the artist as a haunting reminder of the viewer's own fears and frailties. Oddly enough, the people who appear in the photographs seem oblivious to the horrors surrounding them. Welcome to suburbia à la Skoglund.
Page author: A.E.