In what way do we get to know ourselves? How do we identify ourselves in a historical and political context? Adrian Piper, as an African-American female, has brought the thought to the masses with her processed photograph series- The Mythic Being project. Piper overlaid her pictures with paints and added thought balloons above her head, giving the fixed objects in the photographs meanings of art. Such activity helps to transform the objecthood, to use Michael Fried’s term of non-art, of the photographs into a form of art by implanting a theater for the viewers.
One of the themes in Piper’s project, Locus, took place on the street in Massachusetts, provides us with a closer examination of how Piper utilized the ordinary street scene and passersby to lodge a theater through our understanding of the historical context of the 1960s and Piper’s awareness of her being an African-American. She transfigured objects into art through her creative installation of the viewer’s theater context in the photographs, regardless of Fried’s claim that such condition actually destroys the essence of art (Fried, 152).Order now
Object, as defined in Webster dictionary, is “something material that may be perceived by the senses; something mental or physical toward which thought, feeling, or action is directed (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary). ” As we further analyze the word, we find that “objecthood,” with a suffix ? ‘-hood, represents more by giving the word a condition of the material state. In the discussion of Fried’s essay, he alleged that a generally acknowledged art could degenerate if the art is more of a state of objecthood then the center of focus to the spectator.
Objecthood, coming along with a theater, which is the condition of viewers interacting with the artwork, is what Fried perceived to be non-art. (Fried, 152) The “objects” in Piper’s photographs are the street and the random people who happened to be at the site when the pictures were being taken. Do we consider a person an artwork? In the eyes of one’s parents, the answer might be positive; from a religious perspective, one may argue that human beings are an artwork made by god. However, our intuition tells us that we usually consider a person an artwork when one is being painted or sculptured by an artist.
Do we recognize public infrastructure as an artwork? As a modern citizen with a basic economic sense of the functions of an efficient government, we have already taken for granted the public goods, the streets, for instance. Even though the public provision of goods is, to some degree, aesthetically oriented we would all appreciate visually enjoyable public goods. It is the game that Piper played that gives us a new perspective to look at her pictures in a social context beyond the surface of the photographs.
In The Mythic Being series, Piper tried to appear like a male African-American, with a conspicuous Afro wig, a pair of big sunglasses and the fake mustache. Here, she successfully made herself an artistic object in the photograph by contrasting her indifferent appearance and rather “excluding” image to the rest of the photograph. In addition, she constructed a theater to the photograph by provoking the fact that she is actually an African-American female in disguise. She led us to read the purpose of her art and guided us to walk into the theater of her photographs.
Piper once noted in her 1978 installation Aspects of the Liberal Dilemma, one’s main concern is “to understand and recognize the work, to master it and fit it in with art you already know, that is, to come up with an appropriate comment about it at the appropriate time. ” (Schollhammer) That is, Piper encourages the spectators to recognize her work with the viewer’s own understanding and interpretation. In contrast, Michael Fried concluded that, “whatever the dedication, passion, and intelligence of its creators,” the mode of such work seems to be “corrupted or perverted by theater (Fried, 168).
Piper’s art philosophy directly conflicts with that of Fried’s. The Locus photograph series, now exhibiting in the Smart Museum as art, allows the viewer to appreciate the artwork in a context other than only the picture itself, a fact that starkly challenges Fried’s theory. Fried proposed “the espousal of objecthood amounts to nothing other than a plea for a new genre of theater, and theater is now the negation of art (Fried, 153). ” So, what’s the theater of Piper’s photographs? It is the political and psychological theater in the viewer’s perspective at work.
Is Piper’s work the negation of her own art? Certainly not. The black and white photograph and paints seems to have taken away the possibility of biased interpretation of racism, and avoids the differentiation between peoples. It constructed a theater for all to read and to appreciate the meaning behind the scene. Moreover, according to the viewer’s personal background and past experience, the theater of the photographs can be very flexible. One of the main reasons can attribute to the preconceived recognition of one’s identity and subconscious.
Piper effectively brought such human psychology into play and successfully built an interacting theater for the spectators. As noted that the colorless work might have seemed to eliminate any racism intention; nevertheless, Piper’s work actually involves, rather, a political consciousness. As indicated in the Thames & Hudson Dictionary of Art and Artists: “Piper’s work incorporates political content and rejects preconceptions that isolate the aesthetic from the social, form from content? … her position affirms the belief that moral issues can be dealt with rationally, conviction that illuminates all her work. ” (Xreferplus)
In the Locus series, Piper, both because of her peculiar dressing and her drawn emphasis, always “stands out” among all the people on the street. Despite her stillness and nearly no facial expression, we observe the exclusiveness of the male Piper even more because of the contrast between Piper’s pensive manner and the passersby’s natural appearance.
All of those forms a theater that expose the stereotypical impression of a juvenile black male. The theater now is not about how people give meaning to the photographs; it is now how people feel at the first sight of the photos. The indifferent look of Piper reveals her intention to experiment with society’s reaction and perception toward African-American, especially male. The photographs, collecting all the information that words cannot fully convey, embodies a political theater for the society and a psychological theater for any individual viewer.
As Fried insisted, “The success, even the survival, of the arts has come increasingly to depend on their ability to defeat theater. ” (Fried, 163) However, Piper’s performance and her reputation in art industry both braces that she is a thoughtful and creative avant-gardist. She exhorts her audience to analyze and examine her work (no matter what object she used, either the interaction in the crowd or the overlaid title bubble over her head) within a theater that is both political and psychological.
Piper’s photograph-posters transcended the conventional theater of art and achieved to foster an interacting context that Fried failed to consider of. Fried examined the time and space factors that are generated through the viewing activity, believing that the theatricality affects between the viewer and the artwork (not “art” itself); however, Piper not only defeated his theory by her Mythic Being Series and others, her work also extended our attention of Fried’s discussion to a broaden theater, politics as well as psychology.