Roland Barthes’ “Mythologies” has been a very influential text for me recently. Often it just takes a small, beautiful moment in a text or lecture or time in my day that triggers the idea for the next piece I make. “Mythologies” is chock-full of these nuggets. Barthes constantly reinvented his theory on what he was doing, but contributed to the theoretical schools of structuralism, semiotics, existentialism, Marxism and post-structuralism. The text and the meaning of the defined objects are dated almost to a point where the become unrecognizable. Barthes is so specific in his references to particular ads and brands that it makes it hard for the young, contemporary reader to absorb the complete meaning of these texts. I do, however, enjoy reading these as short essays as both an artifact, as a way to evaluate change and (as intended) to evaluate cultural meaning.
I really enjoy subject writing and with my thesis on it’s way, I thought I would engage in an exercise of defining modern mythologies. Whether or not they go directly into the thesis writing, I imagine this will be a helpful in the creation of my work as well as understanding what it means. Much like Barthes writing (I’m not equating myself to him, I swear) my work deals with the mythology of an object, idea or trope of culture which I present physically and highlight what it is and what it means. I was thinking about why the banal subjects in “Mythologies” become so interesting. I mean, he’s discussing plastic and soap and Einstein’s brain….shouldn’t these things be interesting on their own? All he’s doing in his writing is putting into language what these things are–defining them. I suppose this is the entire scope of semiotics-the relationship between the signified and the signifier.
In some ways, this is what I am trying to do in my work only the signifiers are summoned; they exist in the mind of the viewer and are therefore open to whatever he/she brings to the piece. For example, the floor boards I have been using have deep dark cracks in them. The constant bubbling coming up from below highlight a whole world of “underneaths” from experience or imagination. It could be the crayons that used to fall into the depths beneath the deck. It could be the way the rabbit hole is imagined. It could be swimming under the dock. It could be the lyrics from The Drifters “Under the Boardwalk”. I am summoning any and all of these ideas. By isolating what is happening and placing this object in an art context where we demarcate signifiers more than we naturally would I am engaging in a sort of physical semiotics (if that’s even possible).
A To-Demystify List
A Pork Chop with a Butcher Knife in it on a Cutting Board
A crack in the floor or sidewalk
Art that is only a joke runs itself thin, but the one-liner that opens up into a new bubble of thought that is funny and provocative is intriguing and hard to find. Ceal Floyer does it well in her piece “Today’s Special” (the first part of the video covers this piece and the rest shows the rest of her exhibition at 303 in NYC-April 2009).