If I do what you tell me will you love me?
This installation stems from a desire to create an environment that speaks to concerns close to both of us. While the art objects we make may differ greatly in form and content, our practices are at times united in an attempt to address issues of longing, humor, and identity. Perhaps most importantly, our work shares a desire to explore how objects, texts and images can unlock seemingly infinite storehouses of subjective and collective memories, reminiscences that set off strange or familiar emotions, and form identities that have strong personal and political ramifications.
In this exhibition we present an installation investigating issues of reconstituted memory, gender roles and the decorative elements that symbolically stand for, and emotionally trigger, desire and nostalgia. Our intention is to refocus the viewer’s attention away from the obvious and predictable, and towards the suspicious accoutrements, peculiar phrases, and inexplicable actions that too often go unnoticed yet hold powerful personal and collective resonance.
This installation centers around five floral arrangements selected from Alfred Hitchcock’s classic mystery thriller Vertigo, a continually beguiling film now celebrating its 50th anniversary. While we appreciate Vertigo’s continual importance in the cannon of film history, this installation is not about the film, it’s plot or characters. Instead, we use the film as a springboard, and seek to pick apart fleeting glimpses of objects and tableaus in the film as points of departure for an expansive critique the symbolic interplay between man and woman, the deceased and the living, presence and absence, desire and repulsion.
After repeated viewings of Vertigo, we realized that five important women in the movie are visually and conceptually linked, via a typically Hitchcockian attention to set dressing and art direction, to each five particular floral arrangements. Like Carlotta’s hairdo or the image of a spiral staircase, these flower arrangements evoke secondary meanings when taken out of their original context. In the Chapel at Samuel Freeman we have recreated these arrangements:
- Twelve roses for Midge Wood
- One long stemmed pink rose for Madeleine Elster
- One rubber plant for the unnamed manager of the McKittrick Hotel
- A bouquet of roses for Carlotta Valdes
- A corsage with one white orchid for Judy Barton
A small black and white painting of the back of a woman’s head hangs near each flower arrangement and plant in the gallery. These small, perfectly rendered portraits serve as visual signposts, pointing to the woman to whom each arrangement is attributed. The portraits deny full access to each woman’s face, leaving the viewer to ponder how decorative, yet no doubt crucial, identifying features such as hairstyles, play an important role in constructing of notions of “femininity”.
An instruction manual also accompanies each floral arrangement. These manuals dictate how to recreate each arrangement using a variety of official languages and colloquial terms cribbed from a mixture of how-to guides, advice columns, and pop culture references. These rambling texts oscillate from funny to scathing, direct to bewildering, entertaining to dry and irritating.
The installation also features two wall drawings depicting a gargantuan pair of stocking-clad legs supporting a voluminous green dress and a life-size tombstone bearing the name of Carlotta Valdes. With these strange images we intend to evoke notions of the uncanny, and provoke conversations about appropriate ways of remembrance.
Finally, we leave the floral arrangements to wilt, wither, and die on the gallery’s shelf, this transformation from one state of being to another marking the duration of the show. However, the installation’s temporary beauty is given a new potentiality when purchased, as collectors are able to buy each vase, pot, and painting, with an instruction manual, thereby allowing for the recreation of a recreation. Like Scottie in Vertigo, they are able to play out a fetishistic desire to reconstruct the past, make it more real, more present.