"Bikinis, Bandanas and a VW Bus"
Graham Gallery, 1014 Madison Avenue, NYC, March 7- April 6, 2002
"Bikinis, Bandanas and a VW Bus" consists of sculptural works constructed from thousands of colored maptacks and flower-power stickers. When viewed from a distance, the maptacks and flowers function as "low-tech" pixels coalescing into photo-realistic renderings of icons and symbols which entered the realm of popular culture in the late 60s and early 70s, and continue to have a strong presence today due to the influence of *Counter-Cultural Capitalist Baby-Boomers, now in positions of power as CEOs, advertising executives, and designers.
"VW Bus: Shower Power," a life size, 3D rendering of a 1967 VW Bus, was inspired by my long-standing fascination with VW buses and my own retro VW Bus. The work is constructed from over 60,000 flowers, laser-cut from **Chartpak Colored Film, and hand-applied onto clear vinyl shower curtains. When viewed up-close, the translucent flowers on clear vinyl in the foreground fade in and out of recognition as the eyes shift focus from the translucent front panels through to the rear panels on the opposite side of the bus. The end result is an image of a VW Bus that is there yet not there, solid yet transparent, present yet fleeting, not unlike the ideals of the 60s in the minds of many Baby Boomers today.
The imagery is derived from photographs and drawings, which I digitally manipulate and translate into "low-tech" pixels. Within the framework of digitization, repetition, compulsion, and obsession, I am interested in the effects of digital technology on issues such as: what constitutes reality, the effects of scale on perception, and how the eyes prioritize. Stainless steel VW hubcaps are positioned on the floor and on the gallery walls so that when the flowers/shower curtains are seen reflected in the mirrored surfaces of the hubcaps, they coalesce into a 1967 hippy-painted VW Bus. The element of surprise functions as a dramatic mechanism to present the idea that there is no one truth or reality, emphasizing subjective reality vs. an absolute truth.
While many contemporary artists utilize digital technology to create high-tech works, I strive to "dumb-down" technology by utilizing lowly materials and low-tech, labor-intensive assembly processes juxtaposing digital technology and low-tech pixels, macro and micro-perspectives, representation and abstraction. I place equal emphasis on the "whole" recognizable image and how the individual parts function as abstract elements, selecting materials based on aesthetic and functional characteristics as well for their capacity to present complex and contrasting relationships with the subject matters.
I selected clear vinyl shower curtains for the VW Bus because they are the same height and can be hung to approximate the same "box on wheels" shape of an old VW Bus as well as for their low-tech, low-art, mundane qualities. The flowers are laser cut from sheets of **Chartpak Colored Film, a material commonly used by graphic designers before computers and software made the product virtually obsolete by the 1990s. The contrast between flimsy, transparent shower curtains and a solid metal VW Bus is complimented by the colored film's graphic design origin and digital demise by the very same graphics software programs I used to create the work.
The bikinis and bandanas are constructed from thousands of ***Moore Push-Pin maptacks inserted in clear vinyl, and have an undulating, cloth-like appearance from a distance and a surprisingly menacing quality up close. At first glance, all of the works appear to be 3D but on closer inspection, some are 3D while others are entirely flat. The bikini patterned as the American flag first emerged in popular culture during the 1970s. Seen today, they can be read as either patriot or subversive depending on the perspective of the viewer and also by the direction of the maptacks. Bikinis with maptacks facing inward exude a sense of danger, pain and suffering associated with the American Flag, while bikinis with maptacks facing outward convey a sense of empowerment, protection and perhaps even defiance.
Overall, this series exemplifies my interest in digital technology, repetitive processes, cultural iconography, "truth of materials," the feminist art preposition of bringing genres into "High Art," and the scientific "systems theory" which focuses on the whole as well as its part to gain understanding.
-Devorah Sperber, 2002
*Counter-Culture Capitalist is a term coined by David Brooks in his book Bobos in Paradise to describe successful baby boomers who incorporate counter-cultural nuances of the 60s in their corporate and business models of today: "The language of the 60s radicalism abounds in the business world. Thirty years after Woodstock and all the peace rallies, the people who talk most relentlessly about smashing the status quo and crushing the establishment are management gurus and corporate executives."
Lucent technologies adopted the slogan "born to be wild", Nike uses Beat writer William S. Burroughs and the Beatles song "Revolution" as corporate symbols. Wired magazine and Silicon Valley advertisers use the color schemes of 1968 Jefferson Airplane street posters. Bob Dylan and Crosby, Stills and Nash now play concerts at private conferences hosted by Nomura Securities.
In addition to the examples included in Bobos in Paradise, a Gateway advertisement in The New York Times on June 9, 2001 included a large photograph of a 60s hippy-painted VW bus with the text "PC Price Wars? We've got a peaceful solution." A current commercial for Lincoln automobiles features 60s counter-culture music. And Musician Lenny Kravitz best exemplifies the trendy nation-wide resurrection of the "mod 60s" look which features bell bottom jeans and corduroys, Beatle boots and go-go boots, Janis Joplin style coats and "Easy Rider" sunglasses.
**Colored Film donated by Charpak
***Partial funding by Moore Push-Pin Company