As usual, there’s a lot to unpack here. I mean, Freud gets mentioned in the first few paragraphs, which rarely means a subject is going to be particularly happy. Imogen Racz is a lecturer here in the UK and self-describes in her bio using a lot of the same keywords as in the text, particularly relating to experiential art, memory and ideas part of humanitarian exploration. That sounds like word salad, but it’s a little hard to precisely put into words. It does make sense when she puts it together, especially in this well-researched, deftly written piece.
She starts off with some context, on Frued, the Unheimlich (or, the Uncanny), and Dada. I particularly liked her reference to Max Ernst, whose paintings I’m a big fan of, in his speaking about Neo Dada—that Dada was an exploded bomb not requiring reassembly. She goes on to explain a bit about gender roles and femininity as both object and subject within Dada which, though a surrealist and far more egalitarian movement than most previous, was still heavily weighted toward male artists and their viewpoints. Peering into the unique works offered by women in and around the movement, Racz shows us the reclaiming of the home and items therein, using non-art materials for pieces like Méret Oppenheim’s Object: Breakfast in Fur, which I find to be horrifying and wonderful all at once.
There’s a decent amount of wordage devoted to linking Gothic literature and the artists spotlighted that I think is fairly brilliant, especially with the mention of Mary Shelley’s masterpiece, Frankenstein (arguably the progenitor to the Science Fiction genre). All three of the following artists, Louise Bourgeois, Mona Hatoum, and Gregor Schneider, are exploring the uncanny, often looking at the home through something of a warped lens, denying or augmenting the humane, warm, and comforting feelings associated with Home. Frankenstein chronicles the sojourn of a patchwork man and the struggle he endures as an adult rendered without any childhood, attempting to fit in, find his place, deal with his emotions, and face the rage he feels for his creator. He eventually finds that the only cure is complete solitude, to escape into the perfect strangeness of the arctic where he can’t hurt or be hurt by anyone.
Relating that to the work of these artists is not exactly a long leap. Bourgeois’s work often reflects ‘the confined woman,’ deals with the juxtaposition of the physical home and the psychological dwelling, and the effects of trauma and memory on the associations with comfort. Hatoum’s work seems to largely reference her ethnic background and life as a stranger in a strange land, a state of flux within a home that gives ambiguous feelings as to belonging, fitting in with the Feminist movements challenging the home as a natural and comforting place. Schneider, perhaps the strangest, presents altered, not-so-fun-house versions of reality wherein even the air can be affected, where scale and shape conspire to give you a feeling of the dreadful familiar. In all of these, everyday items, spaces and materials we inhabit every day, the artists manage to inspire an “otherness” in the viewer.
Maybe I’m going out on a limb here, but it seems like a great deal of artwork may stem from the alienation of its creator in one way or another. I feel fairly lucky to be alive in a time and place where, in spite of all of the social ills that do exist and persist, I get to hear about the specific estrangements of individuals who come from very different backgrounds than I. Women, people of color, folks of all economic classes, people who may look like me, but not be like me—it’s easier now more than ever to access the thoughts, feelings, and work of others who truly feel like “Others.” And, I get the notion that most of us who are making artwork likely fit into that category in some fashion.