English 12, CP Period 1
19 May 2008
Sandy Skoglund is a contemporary artist who most famous in her photographs and sculptures. Skoglund was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, on September 11, 1946. Her father, Walter, ran the family gas station and garage. Her mother, Dorothy, was a nurse. When Sandy was three, she became ill with polio, a virus that destroys nerve passages between the brain and muscles of the body. The disease paralyzed her left shoulder and weakened her left arm so much that she had to adapt from being left-handed to using her right hand. When she was eight, her father began for Shell Oil Company. Each time he was promoted, the family moved − from Massachusetts to Maine to Connecticut to South California (Wolf 38-39).
Skoglund discovered her interest in art and art history while attending Smith College (Wolf 39). A year after she graduated from Smith College, she went to the University of Iowa. That was a 3-year Master of Fine Arts program. She got her degree in painting in 1972 but she did everything. She made films; she could intersect with other departments: philosophy, multi-media (Masters par. 10). Skoglund moved to New York in June of 1972, where she started working as a conceptual artist, dealing with repetitive, process-oriented art production (Skoglund The Association of Art Galleries in Switzerland par. 2).
Skoglund first began photographing in 1978 using her husband’s, Al Baccili, camera to photograph still lifes she had arranged from objects in the house trailer where she and Al lived. She liked how the camera made the objects appear real in a way a painting or drawing never could (Wolf 40). She never actually studied photography formally at all, never took a single course in it (Masters par. 10). She then started to created scenes in front of the camera using her other art skills, like sculptures and drawings, which she was more familiar with. She says that she was not confident in making a large scale installation at first. She had thrown out 3 or 4 of the sculpted cats that she did not like into the trash on a sidewalk in New York. People took them out of the trash and then later she noticed someone put them up their windows. This is a firm for her that she was on the right path of making things and the process of making things started to build on itself (Skoglund “Lecture”). She went as far as bringing make-believe to life on film (Wolf 40). She makes many well-known photographs in installation art later on, like “Radioactive Cats” (1980), “Revenge of the Goldfish” (1981), and “Fox Games” (1989).
In Sandy Skoglund’s artworks, there is always a pattern over the real world image, like the “Radioactive Cats” and “Revenge of the Goldfish”, which may cause by her unique perception of the world due to her experience of polio. She was ill with polio when she was three which made her become a bit handicapped. The injury was not obvious, but Skoglund knew it was there and made her view herself different from the others (Wolf 39). This feeling changes her view of the world and even being unsatisfied with it. Her different interpretation of the world makes her photographs look different from the reality. According to the Autobiography of Surrealism edited by Jean, “Surrealism opens the doors of the dream to all those for whom night is miserly” (134) and Sigmund Freud says that dream is actually a wish-fulfillment (Brill 208), this implies that Sandy is not satisfied with the real world and fulfill her wish in the artwork. These make her to develop the unique style of photography. The “Revenge of the Goldfish” and “Fox Games” are the best two artworks to prove that.
The “Revenge of the Goldfish” (Fig. 1) was photographed in 1981. The photograph is basically composed of two colors, turquoise dark and flesh ochre. The goldfish is in flash ochre and the background installation is in turquoise dark. The composition of colors makes the photograph look like a huge fish tank with tons of goldfish. However, it is a bedroom painted in turquoise dark with all the furniture in the same color in fact. The colors of the picture make a huge contrast in which the background is in cool color and the sculptures of the goldfish are in warm color.
The most eye-catching point in the photograph is the sculptures of goldfish because of their sharp and bright color. There are more than 100 goldfishes in different size and pose. Part of them is hanged in the air, part of them is on the floor and the rest is put on furniture. Those are placed on the floor look denser than those in the air. Those are hanged in the air look like swimming in the water. They face all directions.
One interesting thing is that there are many table lamps in the room, like four. Two of them are placed on the drawers on the right side of the photograph. There is a mirror in a classic frame above the drawers with the reflection of one of lamp. This makes the installation have more lamps than it really has. The other two are placed on the top on two bedside tables. Two sets of lamps are in different style; those on the bedside tables have a flatter lamp cover than those on the drawers. There are two big closed windows in the room. The bed is on the middle of the room which in between the two closed windows. The two bedside tables are placed in front of the windows.
Another interesting thing in the photograph is the two real human in the bed. One of them is a woman and another one is a man. The woman is sleeping on the bed in the blanket facing to the left side of the photograph. The nude man is sitting on the bed with the blanket covering his lower part of the body. He is facing the right side of the photograph looking at the ground. They seem to have a close relationship, but look like having an argument right now which makes them facing two different sides.
The camera is set in a specific position which makes the room is viewed in an angle. The corner of the room is facing the camera which is slightly to the left. The photograph shows three sides of the room with only small part of the third side on the left. Other than the special angle and point of view of the camera, the picture itself is also in a special point of view. More than 100 goldfish are in a human bedroom and the human seem to be unaware of this. It looks like the photograph is taken in the animal point of view; the goldfishes are looking at the human. In reality, the goldfish are normally put in the fish tank and watched by human but they interchange their roles in the picture. It is another contrast of the photograph.
Skoglund claims that she was not so familiar with installation art, sculpture and photography at the time she made this artwork. However, she thinks that it is good not to be good at things. It will make people really go back and question and wonder what everything they are doing. So as a result, she kept making the sculptures and became better at it. She believes that if a person work on certain thing over and over again, it would start to become more lively and convincing (Skoglund “Lecture”). She is a hard worker and loves learning new skills and techniques. She puts many efforts in every single artwork. Her attitude helps her a lot in managing all the skills.
In the first impression of the photograph, it looks like a dream; the two people in the bed in the middle are making dreams. They dream is about the goldfish are everywhere around their room. Carol Squiers thinks that the oversize fish are cute in a frightening way, like some freaks of nature that had overrun a human habitation. Goldfish are, in fact, freaks (Skoglund Sandy Skoglund: reality under siege: a retrospective 44). This is definitely a nightmare. The goldfish are believed to be a kind and meek pet; however, they are taking control of the human world. Sigmund Freud suggests that, “The dream is not a comparable to the irregular sounds of a musical instrument, which, instead of being played by the hand of a musician, is struck by some external forces; the dream is not meaningless, not absurd, does not presuppose that one part of our store of ideas is dormant while another part begins to awake. It is actually a wish-fulfillment” (Brill 208). Skoglund creates her artworks like dream simply has the same function, wish-fulfillment.
The “Revenge of the Goldfish” may imply that Skoglund is not satisfied with the real world which needs to be punished by the goldfish. The photograph can be interpreted in two different ways; she wants the goldfish to make the world right and the kind and meek one can be the one who control the world. Human always think that they are superior to the other animals; they are the smartest. In fact, human world may be the messiest world among all animals’. In this artwork, the human world is overrun by the goldfish. Because of the superiority, human always keep other animals as pets, sometimes treat them so badly. One day, the whole world may be changed and human are kept as pets by the other animals. Skoglund may want to make human think about themselves through this artwork. Human should not be that arrogant to control everything around. Another interpretation of the photo is similar to this one, but just focus on the human world. Every single person has different personalities and characteristics. Some of them are nice, kind and meek, which make them easily be looked upon by the others. Many people think that they will not be successful and cannot be somebody in the future. However, they may take revenge one day according to Skoglund’s artwork. Goldfish are once simple and ordinary creatures and being put in the fish tank, but they can break the glasses of the tank and go into human world to take revenge.
Skoglund may be looked upon by the others or thinks herself is inferior to the others. She wants to take revenge to the one who look upon her before. She also wants to step up for herself and makes those people know that they are wrong. She wants to be a successful person. The artwork serves as a wish-fulfillment to her. Although she is a famous artist now, she was not at first. She wants to express herself and her wish through the artwork, which many artists do the same way. The “Revenge of the Goldfish” is a perfect example showing that she does not satisfy with the real world and wants to make it right by her artworks. Not satisfied with the reality also leads to her style of artworks, surrealism. By one analysis, “Surrealism opens the doors of the dream to all those for whom night is miserly. Surrealism is the crossroads of the enchantments of sleep, of alcohol, of tobacco, of ether, of opium, of cocaine, of morphine; but it is also the breaker of chains, we do not sleep, we do not drink, we do not smoke, we do not sniff, we do not give ourselves injections, and we dream, and the speed of the lamp’s needles introduces in our minds the marvelous deflowered sponge of gold” (Jean 134).
“Fox Games” (Fig. 2) expresses herself even more clearly of thinking herself is different than or inferior to the others. “Fox Games” is a photograph created in 1989, eight years after the creation of the “Revenge of the Goldfish”. They share many common characteristics. Both of them have a contrast in color, a pattern of animal over the reality, a special angle of camera and the unaware human. “Fox Games” is set in a western restaurant with about nine circular tables. A vase with a flower inside, a basket of bread and two bottles of seasoning are put on each of the table. All the settings are in grey and also for the wall of the restaurant. There is a chandelier in the middle hang from the ceiling. There are eight lighted candles on it. A picture is placed on the wall on the left, but there seems to be nothing on the picture. There are two big, closed and classic windows on the right.
There are more than 20 foxes in the picture; all of them are red in color except for one. The special fox is in the center of the picture which is in grey, like the background. Some of the foxes are on the tables and some of them are on the floor. They look like having a party or a game in the restaurant; three of them are in a jumping pose which makes them look like playing. They seem to be jumping on the surface of the table, from one table to another. Some of them look like finding things which are looking at the floor. They are like searching in the restaurant. Those foxes on the tables tend to jump from one to another instead of jump onto the floor and those on the floor tend to continue walking on the floor rather than jumping onto the tables.
The grey fox in the middle of the picture is different from the others. It may represent Skoglund herself. When she was three, she became ill with polio which paralyzed her left shoulder and weakened her left arm. Because of her injury, Skoglund felt different from other children, making her became aware of the difference between appearances and reality – between how things look and how they really are. She does not look handicapped, but she is (Wolf 39). Skoglund suffered from a disease and became a bit handicapped, which makes her think that she is different from the others. Suffering from a disease is not a thing that she can control. She may feel unfair and unsatisfied with the world because of the handicap. She may also feel inferior to the others because of this. The grey fox can represent herself since all of them are foxes, but that one is different from the others in her psychological reality. Because of this difference, she starts to focus on differences of the world. This contributes to her development of her own style in her art. Surrealism is a world different from the reality world. Installation art is creating a scene or stage which is not reality either. She uses the photographs, which are believed to represent the truth, to express her art. She just wants to show that there are differences between how things look and how they really are.
There are three human in the photograph, two men and one woman. Two of them are customers and one of them is a waiter. Those two customers seem to be in upper middle class because of their noble dressing; the man is in a suit and the woman is in a classic dress. The waiter is wearing the uniform of the restaurant. They are sitting at the table far away from the lens of the camera. Their table is at the wall with the picture above. The man is drinking and the waiter is serving the lady. The waiter is holding something looks like food on his left hand. All of them are unaware of the red foxes all around the restaurant. They seem to be in different worlds; the foxes and the human beings cannot see each other. Each of them just enjoys their own moment; the human is having a meal while the foxes are playing around. They are in different moods too. The human are relaxed and calm, while the foxes have a faster pace.
The two customers are believed to be upper middle class and enjoying their tea time at the restaurant. Skoglund chooses to include them in the picture may because she was a middle class when she was little. In an interview, she had said that “The thing that I was finally single out out of everything was the class relationship between fine art and low art and, tangentially, to realize the success of Warhol in terms of punching through the fine art barrier…My intention is not to make stuff for museums and rich people but for everyone. I’m from middle class and I’m making work for my own class” (Masters par. 34). Skoglund did not forget her origin even though she is famous now. Art is for everyone.
The camera is set facing one of the corners of the restaurant. The corner is about in the middle of the photograph which makes us only see two walls of the restaurant.
Linda Muehlig indicates that there are sometimes dramatic reversals of palette between the installation and photograph, like “Fox Games”: grey foxes cavort in a red restaurant interior in the installation, but in the photograph, the foxes are red and the restaurant and all its furnishings are grey (Skoglund Sandy Skoglund: reality under siege: a retrospective 57). This changes the impression of photographs in most people’s mind. Photographs are believed to represent the truth. The camera catches the scene that is in front of the lens. Skoglund breaks this impression by creating the scene in front of the camera, which is not the real world. Her photographs show only her installation which is set according to her imagination or thoughts, the psychological reality. She then changes the colors of the photographs. This makes her photographs even not showing the real scene in front of the camera. This implies the theory that the fact that seen by the eyes may not necessary be the truth. It also emphasizes that the focus of Skoglund’s artwork is on the meaning behind the physical artwork, the unseen part, rather than just the photographs.
Sandy Skoglund is believed to be a surrealist whose artworks are different from the reality. In the “Revenge of the Goldfish” and “Fox Games”, there is a pattern over the real image of the reality which makes the photographs different from the real world. The unique style is developed because she suffered from polio and became handicapped in her early age. She started to view the world differently from that time and focused on the difference between how things look and how they really are. She thought that it was unfair and became unsatisfied with the world. She treats her artworks as her wish-fulfillment which represents her psychological reality. She also wants to make the world right through her artworks. Although her handicap is not obvious, it changes her a lot in the perception of the world and her style of art.
Brill, A., ed. The Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud. New York: The Modern Library, 1966.
- Sigmund Freud is a psychologist that studies the consciousness and the unconsciousness. According to his writings, dream is a wish-fulfillment. Therefore, there is a meaning of each dream.
Jean, Marcel, ed. The Autobiography of Surrealism. New York: The Viking Press, 1980.
- It talks about the basic idea of surrealism and its development. Surrealism was created by poets. It opens the doors of the dream to all those for whom night is miserly. This means surrealism involves lots of creativities. Surrealists’ works look different from the real world.
Masters, Greg. Interview with Sandy Skoglund. Sandy Skoglund. 13 June 1988. Sept 1988 http://homepage.mac.com/gm437/fortheartists.htm/skoglund.htm
- Greg asked many detailed questions about Sandy’s attitude towards art. This is a long interview containing a lot of good information. It includes the installation, the main theme of her works, which is resemblances and difference, and also her development in installation arts and photography.
“Sandy Skoglund.” The Association of Art Galleries in Switzerland. 2006. http://guybae.artgalleries.ch/index.html?page_id=18&change_lid=1
- The webpage is simply the biography of Sandy Skoglund. Sandy was born in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1946 and started to work as a conceptual artist in 1972. 5 of her artworks are shown there. Some of them are commissioned by the Universities or museums.
Skoglund, Sandy. Lecture. Boston University School of Visual Arts. College of Fine Arts Concert Hall, Boston, MA. 16 Oct 2006.
- Sandy Skoglund introduced her life in the lecture and also explains many of her artworks. There is also a Questions and Answers session at the end. Sandy shows the audiences her photographs and also the picture of the installation as a contrast.
Skoglund, Sandy. Sandy Skoglund: reality under siege: a retrospective. New York: Smith College Museum of Art, 1998.
- It contains one interview and three essays from the others on her. Those essays talk about Sandy’s attitude towards photographs, or even art, and also explain some of her artworks, like Walking on Eggshells. There are many pictures of her artworks and installation in the book.
Wolf, Sylvia. FOCUS: Five Women Photographers. Morton Grove, IL: Albert Whitman & Company, 1994.
- The book talks about five women photographers including the pictures of their works. The author introduces their lives, and their style. My major concern is definitely Sandy Skoglund. It provides detail information of her, starting from a little child who loves making things to the first photograph she made to a successful artist.
Abstract and Surrealist Art in the United States. San Francisco: The Guaranty Printing and Lithograph Co., 1944.
- In this book, abstract and surrealist are put together. They are two large style of art and there are many classifications of those. The author suggests that the tendencies in both often parallel each other and at times overlap so that there is a fusion of elements from each.
“Animal Symbolism.” San Diego Jewish Academy. 2008 http://www.writedesignonline.com/assignments/animalsymbolism.htm
- There is a long history in different cultures. Animals always have some meanings to them. Also, different animals will bring a different impression to human according to their characteristics and behaviors.
Baccili, Al, dir. WALKING ON EGGSHELLS. 1997. Sandy Skoglund Art Site. 2008. http://www.sandyskoglund.com
- It is a video showing the process of making the Walking on Eggshells. From the installation to the photograph, Sandy cares about each detail. She takes several shoots of the installation.
Benjamin, Andrew, ed. Installation Art. Vol. 8. London: Academy Editions, 1993.
- There are many essays on installation art in this book. It defines what is meant by installation and hoe does it work out. Installation is just like a scene or a stage, but actually there are thoughts and meanings.
Clarke, Graham. The Photograph. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
- The book discusses what is photography and how can we read photography. It also talks about the techniques of taking photos. I was amused by the setting of the photograph.
Davis, Kathryn M. Interview with Sandy Skoglund. “Truth, Commitment, and American Art.” Jan 2004. 27 Feb 2007 http://www.inliquid.com/Fotophile/46/davis.html
- An interview between Kathryn Davis and Sandy Skoglund mainly talks about her artwork and the truth. A picture is said to be telling the truth. However, Sandy creates the scene in front of the camera.
Duplessis, Yves. Surrealism. Trans. Paul Capon. New York: Walker and Company, 1962.
- The book explains the idea of surrealism. It also talks about the surrealists’ thoughts and concept. They focus on the meaning of the artwork much more than the physical art work.
Murray, Matt. “An interview with Sandy Skoglund.” The Printed Monkey. Mar 2007: 18-21.
- The interview basically talks about Sandy’s idea of the world and artworks in general. Her perception of the world affects her artworks in certain way, not much. It also mentions the educational experience of Sandy since she has been an educator for over 30 years. She thinks that art history helps a lot in understanding art and she also thinks that certain values separate from material could be taught.
Rosenblum, Robert. “An Interview with Sandy Skoglund.” Sandy Skoglund: reality under siege: a retrospective. 17 May 1996: 12-25.
- Sandy talked about her view towards art. She also describes how she made some of the installation as most of the things are made by hands. She focus on the unseem part more than the physical part.