aldrich~LIVE: notes as a docent trainer @ The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Discussing works by Jennifer Zackin with Richard Klein

Thinking about Jennifer Zackin and her work, periods and artists who have turned traditional into modern come to mind. For example, there are similarities between Zackin’s work and the work of Paul Gauguin from his travels throughout Tahiti. In both there is an exoticism that is colorful and salable. Pablo Picasso as another example, incorporated elements taken from African sculpture into his work. This was done from a very formal and distant stance where the mythology and true meaning of such imagery was absent. In either example, one hopes that this type of art making - one that embodies a form of multiculturalism- does so in such a way that all cultures can be equally valid.

There is an argument that one should let the culture speak for itself. Opposed to falsely romanticizing a belief system, a way of living, or a culture as a whole, the burden of representation is palpable in any discipline. Of course, anthropology shows great concern for these issues and even goes so far as to prescribe set methodologies. Equally, if not more concerned with the idea of fair representation, the discipline of art encourages new approach and processes so as to define a period in time. Anthropology seeks to encapsulate culture over time, where art seeks to embody culture in specific time.

Gauguin, Zackin, and artists working in a similar manner, exemplify an embracive methodology of art making. It is a collaborative practice where the artist is allowed to experience a culture from within, and then translate into a tangible form.

These issues are more central to anthropological understandings than they are to artistic understandings. There are two anthropologists who merit mention. The first, Carlos Castanata, is an anthropologist of the belief that one should become very involved with the culture of study. He insists on an immersion. That we should base our findings from lived experience. He thinks outside observation often calls for speculation and his style is defined by the need to document from living within a culture.

A second anthropologist, Margaret Mead, approaches anthropology from a very distant and scientific perspective. Her style is to document a culture from a distance in order to accurately observe the natural occurrences. She notes the human tendency to act differently based on the precept of awareness and approaches documentation accordingly.

Zackin’s approach incorporates elements of both anthropological styles. Separate from anthropology, it is not essential for art to adhere to prescribed methodologies. In fact, most great art defines itself by creating and implementing new and innovative methods. Art is a simplified blending of beliefs whereas the reality it represents is more complicated. Though it may be illusive to the viewer, Zackin is clear about her motivations and brings this work to us from a conscious point of view. As an artist (not an anthropologist), she can preserve the culture from the contemporary world in whatever manner she chooses. In doing so, Zackin has created unique testaments of both a contemporary and a traditional culture. The bringing of foreign imagery together with western perspective combines to form a new artistic hybrid.

“There are no bounds on how you want to express yourself. What a wonderful time to live in” – Richard Klein


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