Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mirror Carousel


Right now in New York, a fabulous experience is on offer for visitors to the New Museum. Belgium-born artist Carsten Höller takes inspiration from amusement parks, zoos or playgrounds to give us an experience we will never forget. Removed from their normal contexts, rides that we are familiar with become an abstract experience by being placed within a pristine museum with white walls and polished concrete floors. Mirror Carousel (2005) gives us that abstract experience, far removed from the rusted playground swing carousel we may have ridden on many times in our childhood. 

Mirror Carousel is created using mirrored panels, Hollywood style lighting and cold steel chains. It allows us to ride around, slowly, watching as the world around us becomes fragmented in it's reflection. But what world are we watching become fragmented when we are within a white walled gallery situation? Had the work been placed out in the middle of Time Square to distort the 'heart' of New York, would we have missed the point of what the carousel was created to reflect upon? I say yes! We would be distracted by an environment that is foreign for most of us and by this, not given a second thought to the 'ride' we had just undertaken. The blank canvas that is the gallery situation allows us to truly reflect on the environment we have created for ourselves in our own lives, as we are left with nothing else but our own thoughts to ponder as we ride around, slowly and contemplatively. 


This makes me think of an image that floated around Facebook a few months ago. A message attached to a mirror warned the viewer that their reflection may be distorted by socially constructed ideas of 'beauty'. Höller attempts the same idea but not just about self image and constructed ideas of beauty; his vision is larger. Höller brings our attention to all that may be socially constructed about our own lives, the environment we find ourselves in and what we have created within it.

If in New York before January 22nd, go put aside an afternoon and have a play with Höller. Showing at the same time is Höller's Untitled (Slide) which allows the visitor to ride a slide installed through the floors of the building! Love that! It will be an unforgetable experience as the title of the show suggests. 


Thursday, December 1, 2011

"Horses Shed Their Tails Once A Year In The Fall"

Photographer Gennady Revzin

I have had the most amazing few weeks with it's climax being on Tuesday night; the opening of my first solo exhibition influenced by the carousel. WOW! What a great night and great response to my installation. If you're in Melbourne anytime between now and the 17th of December, please do pop into BUS Projects and check it out. I'm very proud of this little baby!

I've decided to upload the catalogue essay written by Laura Castagnini who is a Melbourne based curator, writer and artist. She has her own blog and you can find it here. You may notice a spelling error with the word 'tail' within the title and throughout the essay. This was my mistake as I ran around like a headless chook on the day of the opening to get the catalogue printed. Crazy, I know. I should've taken ten extra minutes to read through it before sending it to the printer, but, alas, I didn't. The funny thing is that this was a TOTAL DISASTER for me when I realised it but now, as the days go by and I'm noticing articles written about the exhibition are doing the same with the spelling, I'm kinda liking it! It is one of those mistakes that seems really, really right.

I have included video documentation of walking through the space at the end of this post. Please enjoy the essay and the images of the work and feel free to post a comment below.

Photographer Gennady Revzin

Santina Amato: Horses Shed Their Tails Once a Year in The Fall

29 November- 17 December, 2011


When Santina Amato was volunteering at an antique carousel restorer’s studio in Los Angeles, one of the ladies working there, a Mrs. Caverly, told her a story that has since remained ingrained in her memory.  At the turn of the 20th century, when carousels became widely popular in the United States, wooden carousel horses were affixed with a tail severed from real horses.  The ugly truth is that the hair was bought from animal disposal companies, who collected dead horses and sold their tails to carousel makers. Often children were riding on the carousel would ask Mrs. Caverly where the horse tails came from, to which she replied: “Horses shed their tails once a year in the fall.” Her reasoning behind this white lie was that “you can't possibly talk about death to children, and especially not in front of such a beautiful carousel!”

This protective “sheltering” of the carousel from the dark truth of its own manufacturing is a powerful symbol of its perceived innocence. It sheds an uneasy light on the ways that adults structure childhood and nostalgia. For Amato, for whom this solo exhibition is the result of a year- long research project, the fascination lies in the sinister edges of the subject. As written by the artist, “a universal symbol for childhood and heavily surrounded by nostalgia, my initial attraction to the carousel was to investigate how I could intertwine a child-like aesthetic into society’s perspective of feminine beauty, attraction, sexuality and death.” Hence, the eroticization of the carousel in popular culture has been an important element of Amato’s research. Her blog,[i] which functions as an electronic visual diary of her discoveries, is sprinkled with historical facts and insights into the manufacturing of carousels but perhaps most interestingly it examines images of carousels created and circulated in contemporary media. For example, Louis Vuitton’s Spring/Summer collection of 2012 presented pastel clad models perched atop a spinning ice-white carousel, while the Joe's Jeans Fall 2011 collection campaign boasted Fellini-esque imagery of a model ‘reverse 'cow-girling’[ii] a carousel horse. Amato’s blog reveals how the carousel has in fact been transformed into a loaded fetish symbol, embodying at once female sexuality and childhood innocence. Carousels are lacquered, candy-coloured, thrilling and safe at the same time, thereby employing an aesthetic that befits fetish aesthetics quite readily. This sensory experience combined with the carousel music might lend itself to both nostalgia and eroticism.

Elements of Amato’s research emerge in Horses Shed Their Tales Once a Year in The Fall, however she has avoided overt references. Instead we are presented with an intelligent reimagining of the carousel, carried via three structures that remain in constant dialogue with one another. Cohesion is emphasized by recurring visual motifs; all three structures utilize red as their focal colour, employ an oval or orifice shape, and have their back side painted black.  

The first structure is a hand crafted “funhouse mirror,” the type often seen in carnivals that distort the viewer’s reflection to be fat or skinny depending on the angle viewed from. The mirror’s sleek shape and red glossy frame is reminiscent of lipstick packaging, forming a seductive sculptural object. We are reminded here of Amato’s earlier work, I want to swing on an invisible swing (2009), which presents a pair of legs dangling from an oversized office chair wearing size 16 red high heels. Combining a voyeuristic ‘under the desk’ shot with the childhood notion of being ‘too small’ for furniture, the work complicates the connotations of women’s fashion items. Horses Shed Their Tails Once a Year in The Fall returns to this mode of thinking, demonstrating the infantilisation of women through their various, mass-marketed, accouterments and accessories.

The central structure in Horses Shed Their Tails Once a Year in The Fall is the most obvious aesthetic reference to the carousel. A white antique door, with its central oval panel removed and the frame painted red to function as an orifice- shaped viewing device, has been redecorated with gold detail painting and a country landscape inhabited by a flock of sheep. This element of the installation exemplifies Amato’s interest in redefining domestic objects, first explored in her graduate piece Tea Party (2007); a large antique cupboard whose open door revealed a tiny teacup, into which was projected a video of the artist spinning in a green field. The playful, child-like aesthetic employed in Tea Party is echoed throughout most of Amato’s work to date, and it again resurfaces in Horses Shed Their Tales Once a Year in The Fall.
The final structure is a wooden screen, onto which is projected the image of a dark haired girl in a red dress. She stands still aside from occasional blinking, yet her mouth is stuffed with horse- hair and a long tail flows out of it. An uncomfortable scene unfolds; the tail been inserted through a hole in the screen, therefore the viewer sees what is unbeknownst to the subject. Voyeuristic tension is a recurring theme in Amato’s work, exemplified most explicitly in her video Vito (2007), in which she filmed herself watching Vito Acconci’s sleazy video Theme Song (1973). Vito is a highly personal work that functions simultaneously as performance documentation and video art, however the use of a model for the video in Horses Shed Their Tales Once a Year in The Fall reveals Amato’s shift towards a more distanced narrative.

Horses Shed Their Tails Once a Year in The Fall is inspired by the artist’s investigation into the carousel, yet the ensuing installation drives us towards something deeper, something darker, that lies beneath it’s lacquered surface. Amato divulges the truth of where carousel tails came from- but she does so in a voice no louder than a whisper, as the faint sound of carnival music fades into the background.

Laura Castagnini, 2011

[i] Amato’s blog can be found at: http://myyearincarousel.blogspot.com
[ii] ‘Reverse cowgirl’ is a sex position in which the woman is on top facing away from her partner.

Photographer Gennady Revzin

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Carousel carved jack-o-lantern

Karyn T. Fort Worth, TX

Happy Belated Halloween!

I've been EXTREMELY busy lately getting ready for my exhibition at the end of November that I haven't had much time to cook let alone write blog posts :0( I am missing it horribly and looking forward to writing some more as my work comes to a finish over the next few weeks.

Until then I do hope you all had a wonderful Halloween and attempted to carve a pumpkin as intricate as this one carved by Karyn T. Fort Worth, TX.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Louis Vuitton 2012 Spring/Summer Collection

On October 5th 2011, in the fashion capital of the world; Paris, Louis Vuitton decided to use the carousel as a source of inspiration for the release of their 2012 Spring/Summer collection deisgned by Mark Jacobs. Below is the full length event which shows the unveiling of a white carousel and proceeds to the performance of models getting off the carousel in an orderly fashion, to walk around and parade their wares. 

The visual imagery of the white carousel turning around and around is stunning. Completely stirpped of colour and decoration, the carousel becomes a place of innocent fantasy. "A carousel of 48 horses, one for every model, each of whom looked adorable, in their sugared almond coloured princess dresses and twinkly skirt suits." (Telegraph.co.uk). Adorned with oversized cut out daisy fabrics and buttoned-up blouse collars, the models wore baby blue, soft yellow and mint green outfits creating an innocent-girl look about them.

Even though the models are dressed in 'pretty, innocent, feminine' clothing, there is something eery about the whole performance. As they strutted around with their hair pulled back into a tight bun framed with a tiny tiara, I couldn't help but look at the expressions on their faces. They were more reminiscent of little girls forced to do something that they just did not want to do, rather than the fun filled expressions you would expect to see on children's faces who were surrounded by a carousel. 

The icy white surrounds confirms this as the carousel looks more like an ice sculpture, a place of coldness; without emotion. The horses move up and down, ever so slightly, suggesting a slow and painful escape if one is to try. The models appear to be trapped in an alternative world, a place where they cannot escape. They eventually do escape and at the end of the clip, we see the designer come out in all his white glory, triumphant in his creation.

The music chosen was perfect in creating the eeriness of the show. It is by Islandic musician, Bjork, from her album titled Vespertine, released in 2001. I ended up doing a google search on the album and found it described as "creating a quiet, introverted world." The definition of the word vespertine is; 1. of, relating to, or occurring in the evening <vespertine shadows> 2. active, flowering, or flourishing in the evening. Flourishing at night. Hmm. These models were to look like the perfect image of feminine innocence but the music suggested they would 'flourish' at night creating a perfect contradiction to what the designer had intended with the look of his show. 
I came across these photos as I did my research and what I found intriguing was the long list of comments posted by people about the photographs. Below are some that I pulled out; 

October 7, 2011 at 2:55 am
I love the photography and the outfits, but what really makes it is the “it’s a merry go round, but whatever” expressions they show.

October 6, 2011 at 5:31 pm
Frothy, fantasy, pastels. The models have a little girl lost look about them (emphasized by the fact that most of them have little bruises and blemishes on their legs, possibly enhanced by the colors and lighting). The shoes are killer, though, and seem to act as a reminder that this is not a little girl’s world.

October 7, 2011 at 2:20 pm
Wow, those vapid ladychildren on the plastic horses are creepy and gross…

If you do click on the photos link, you will see the bruises on the models mentioned in these comments. I find them an accidental addition that makes this performance all the more interesting.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Irregular Choice

“Recapture your freedom which eloped with your youth’’ Creator and Designer, Dan Sullivan

When I was in New York last month, I came across this shop while walking to dinner with a few friends in the East Village. We stood gazing through the window like stunned mullets for about five minutes as it was the most incredible shoe store any of us had come across. Fun, vibrant, bold and colourful. The image of this store definitely captured our inner child's imagination as we oohed and ahhed at the shoes that were more like kids toys then adults shoes.

The quote under the photo is by creator/designer Dan Sullivan of Irregular Choice. The store was very childlike, almost like a toy store. His quote made me think of how we do associate certain things to childhood, leaving them behind in our adult world whilst creating new associations that would not enter the mind of a child at all. 

The most interesting thing for me about this store was the carousel horse, perched up high on a golden pole in the center of the store, with a base covered in lush red velvet. It seemed to be a cross-over between the two worlds; childhood and adulthood. The universal symbol for childhood being the carousel is perched way up high, out of reach and completely unobtainable, whilst the lush red velvet round seating (where you would sit to try on the shoes) representing adulthood is on ground level and becomes a destination spot once in the store. This red velvet seating placed in the center of the store with a golden pole protruding up from it reminded me of pole dancing and sleazy strip clubs.

No matter how much we want to 'recapture' the youth of childhood, it seems as adults, with the experiences we have that is generally protected from childhood, this is not possible. A child would walk into this store and see it as a wonderland, wanting to grow up just to be able to fit into the shoes and walk around in them feeling the way they imagine they would as children. But as adults, we walk into this store, feeling nostalgia for our childhoods, but then are placed under a golden pole on lush red velvet, instigating our desire to be attractive to the opposite sex. Afterall, isn't that what adulthood is mostly about; attracting a mate?

This post comes quite timely as this morning I fiddled around with my hair, pulling out an old crimper from the eighties my friend had recently given me. The child within me just wanted to wear crimped hair today. Simple. Full and fun is the way my hair looks right now. Maybe ridiculous to some and really uncool to others. I had a moment of thinking I look like a complete mad woman and not sexy AT ALL. Can I actually leave the house looking like this right now? Will I be an eye sore to potential mates? Then the child in me said "Who cares?!?! This is FUN!" So here I am about to head out the door wearing crimped hair, crazy eye make up and an eighties dress. Yes I look silly, but I feel great and my inner child is happy too.

It is ironic that this shoe store, in the middle of the world's fashion capital, is telling us to 'recapture' our freedom which left us as children. As adults, this ideal becomes a life long struggle for some; to live without self-consciousness, to live with reckless abandonment and to be untouched by what others think...just like a child.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Has a carousel horse ever looked sexier?


I'm back in Melbourne, Australia now, frantically applying for grants to fund my residency in New York next April. I'm looking forward to spending time there to further investigate the carousels that I briefly touched on a few weeks ago. I'm preparing for my exhibition at the end of November at BUS Projects, sitting on the edge of my seat while I wait for Australian Customs to call me. You see, I brought home two horses tails and yep, you guessed it, Australia was going to have none of that! They are at the fumigators as we speak. Hopefully no damage will eventuate and I will receive them in plenty of time.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in a local beauty salon in L.A waiting for my turn to have my eyebrows waxed, when I came across this image in a magazine. It is L.A based company, Joe's Jeans Fall 2011 Collection campaign. Creative Director Joe Dahan and filmmaker/photographer Tao Ruspoli are responsible for the Fellini-esque16 second video commercial and the images associated with the campaign.

Ten shots make up this black and white commercial, with French music complimenting the circus theme. The scene begins with a puff of smoke entering the screen, seemingly from a faceless figure wearing a hat. The actress Paz de la Huerta introduces herself to what appears to be an interviewer off camera. She looks down and away as she begins to announce her name. As she says her name, the scene quickly cuts to three different shots of the actress; writing on a dresser mirror with lipstick, but we don't see what it is that she is writing, swinging on a large circus ring while fondling her hair and then reverse 'cowgirl'ing a carousel horse.

Back to the mirror scene we go where we see her looking at herself announcing 'These jeans are pretty sexy'. We notice the writing on the mirror 'I <3 Joes'. The scene then cuts to a man wearing a beanie throwing a knife which lands near the actresses head as she is strapped to a spinning wheel. He attempts to kiss her and she violently pulls away, rejecting his affections, but not before almost being seduced.

Again, back to the mirror we go and so does the actress, climbing up and onto the dressing table, posing and rocking on all fours with her bottom protruding outwardly. The commercial ends with her back on the carousel horse, alone but looking satisfied.

This commercial has voyeuristic overtones and portrays the carousel in the most sexiest way I have come across so far. Very little is said by the actress during the 16 second clip. Basically, she tells us her name and then announces the jeans she is wearing are sexy, even though her movements and actions are telling us a lot more. The jeans are sexy indeed becuase she is making them sexy. The actress has total control over what we are watching, telling us that we think she is sexy, even if she is using her jeans as a guise for what she knows of herself.

Now I don't want to be giving you all a sex education but the 'reverse cowgirl' position suggests the woman is sexually superior/dominant to her partner (the carousel horse), and with the voyeuristic overtones,  superior to us as the viewer. The image below allows us to have a closer look at the very short shot of the scene. I do love how the horse holds a pose that seems to react to the woman who is reverse cowgirling, holding it's head ever so that way so she may be comfortable on it's back.  The horse definitely exudes character and is definitely participating in the act itself.

I really do like what the filmmakers have done with this ad campaign. It oozes confident female sexuality within the confines of the old world circus days; a slice of life from yesteryear portraying a contemporary woman and item of clothing within a classic turn of the 20th century setting.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Friedsam Memorial Carousel Central Park, New York

New York City boasts eleven carousels, including the Bug Carousel in The Bronx and two still underway to be opened very soon. Yesterday I visited the carousel at Central Park here in New york. The last time I was here, the carousel had closed for the winter, which was so disappointing. I must admit this carousel is the least favourite of the ones I have visited so far. I just don't think it is as opulent as I want a carousel to be, but the folk art skill is amazing nevertheless. I ended up standing on the horses saddle for half a turn today, just to feel what it would be like. I wanted to do a full circle but had to sit right down as the carousel was going past the operator. I didn't want to get kicked off, but let me tell you, it was a total thrill!

The carousel at Central Park has such a huge history (read this great article). The current one is the fourth that has been placed into position at Central Park since the original in 1871. The first was powered by a real live horse or mule who would spend it's days hidden under the carousel waiting for the operator above to signal with a stamp of his foot to start walking around in circles. It has been said the animal was blind. This carousel was used until 1924. The following two steam powered carousels both had an abrupt ending due to fire. The replacement of the last carousel to burn down in 1950 is the one that stands today. It was discovered in an abandoned old trolley terminal on Coney Island and was made by Brooklyn firm Stein & Goldstein, who were Russian immigrants in 1908. It is the one of the largest carousels in the United States and features 57 hand-carved horses, two decorative chariots and four rows of 'jumpers' (horses that go up and down during the ride). This was very impressive indeed.

The operator's room in the center of the carousel was covered in sculptures recreating a story amoungst naughty clowns. This would be the influence of the carousel being made for the Coney Island area. The images below show the operators room in detail. I snapped as we went around and then put it all together in photoshop so you could see the fun that surrounds the mechanism. You can see the painted and sculptured band organ that accompanies the carousel.  

The clown theme was carried on over to the pillars inside the building. This isn't a great phot but you get the idea.

Cherubs lined the outside top of the carousel, creating their own little world above.


While swans graced the inside top of the carousel in a flustery fashion.

There are some antique carousels that have real horses tails as their own (which I will make a post about soon) but these horses had carved wooden ones, which I do find disappointing, even though it is a creepy story behind where the real tails actually come from.

The cage surrounding the carousel had cute cast iron mini carousel horses, which I thought was a lovely touch.

Coloured lights lined the top brackets of the carousel. I'm not too fond of coloured lights on carousels but I do understand why it was decided on this one. The carousel itself is full of bold colour and I suspect the coloured lights are placed there to enhance this. The center bars of each carousel was a plain steel. I do like the brass 'rope' style much better.

My favourite part of this carousel was the tongues of the horses. Almost all had them hanging out as if exhausted from riding fast and hard. Extremely expressive in their emotion, all I wanted to do was touch all the tongues of the horses.

Just outside of the entrance to the carousel were these two pillars (shown below). One is a lullaby written in 1934 and the one is a memorial to a little girl who died in 1987.

Don't you cry,
Go to sleepy, little baby,
When you wake,
You shall have
All the pretty little horses,
Blacks and bays,
Dapples and grays,
Coach and six-a little horses,
Don't you cry,
Go to sleepy little baby

All The Pretty Little Horses,
From American Ballads and Folk Songs
1934 John A. Lomex and Alan Lomex.

Michelle Bernstein
March 25, 1984 – June 19, 1987
The Carousel Landscape
was restored in 1991
in honour of Michelle
who loved
all the pretty little horses

This was strange indeed to come across. I did a little research but could not find who this little girl was, why this memorial was made for her nor how she died. It just made the experience even more strange.

The Central Park Carousel was featured in such movies as Up The Sandbox, I'm Not Rappaport, The Spanish Prisoner, and The Producers. I'm yet to watch these movies but will surely make a post about them soon enough.