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Cindy Ji: Artist Report-Sandy Skoglund

Artwork by Sandy Skoglund

 

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Artist Report by Cindy Ji, Copyright 2020

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Sandy Skoglund

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Sandy Skoglund is am American photographer, sculptor, and installation artist. She is known for creating surreal installations and photographing them without creating the space with digital technology. Bright and bold colors and sculpted life size animals set in a domestic setting acts as a motif in her photographs. Created with the Cibachrome process, the aggressive colors contrast greatly with the aesthetic of black and white photography, giving the images an unreal atmosphere. Skoglund took several months to create the set for each image, and used her neighbors as models. As Anne Reverseau writes in AWARE: Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions, Skoglund’s work perfectly symbolizes the hybrid practice of contemporary art; for her, sculpture is the starting point for organizing a space that she transforms into an installation, and which photography records. The photographic medium is vital, allowing a variety of materials to be brought together, contained within one creative process. Her works therefore exist in two forms: the installation and the photographs.”

One of the most renown pictures of Skoglund’s is Radioactive Cats. An old man sits by the table as the woman looks for food in the refrigerator. The man and the woman wear grey monotonous clothes in a grey room, in which the furniture looks broken and the walls unfinished. In that grey room, lime-green life-sized cats fill up the room. Those cats took over the room. The cats are on the floor, on the table, on the fridge and so on. It’s hinted in the title that cats turned lime-green after being exposed to radioactive materials after the atomic bombing. And, as a result, the people struggle to eat and survive. Skoglund’s photograph ridicules a possible devastating situation and turns it into a parody. The lack of color, food, and decorations in human households, compared to brightly colored, lively and healthy cats allow us to imagine a world ruled by radioactive cats. The photograph also makes fun of our physical and mental fragility to survive in a hypothetical post atomic bomb world.

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Artwork by Sandy Skoglund

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The colors and humor in Radioactive Cats is bold, and it immediately takes us to another universe created by Skoglund. This is an interpretative photograph which requires the viewer to investigate elaborate details, and to imagine a post apocalypse world run by radioactive green cats. It’s dark and humorous. When talking about this photograph, the laborious process to make this image needs to be appreciated and mentioned again. The originality of the surreal set and Skoglund approach to photography makes her one of the most important contemporary artists, sculptors and photographers in modern time.

Similar to Radioactive Cats, Germs are Everywhere, is another surreal photograph that shows Skoglund’s humor. A woman sits on a chair with a drink on her hand in a living room. The color of the room is bright green and an overwhelming amount of chewed pink gums are stuck all over the wall, furniture, chair, and even in her drink. The woman does not seem to notice existing gums in her room. The intimate and domestic place is not a place for germ infestation. The woman’s posture and the setting of the photograph remain as our everyday life. However, chewed gums which represent germs, are visible. The photograph creates a very disturbing atmosphere and makes us question invisible bacteria and germs that exist in our private spaces. It’s a nightmare coming to life. This photograph, therefore, allows us to reflect the world that we live in. Even though this photograph was made in 1984, looking at it in 2020 feels very relevant as the pandemic outbreak changes people’s behavior and lives.

Another domestic scene can be seen in Revenge of the Goldfish. This is a photograph of a blue bedroom invaded by orange goldfish. Skoglund’s choice to work with two opposing colors is noticeable in this photograph as her previous work did. The blue room elicits the room as a water tank. The water tank, instead filled with pet goldfish, trapped two humans. The orange goldfish in the room float in the room, rest on bed, and play with the bedroom lights. Revenge of the Goldfish has many similarities as Radioactive Cats and Germs are Everywhere; as the viewer starts to recognize and identify Skoglund’s motif of bright color, surreal conceptual images, sculpted animals, which all take place in a domestic/household setting. Skoglund brings an unfamiliar concept and color pallet to familiar and intimate space, and transforms it into something humorous, bizarre and intriguing.

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Artwork by Sandy Skoglund

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The next image does not take place in a domestic setting, but the way that the photograph is composed feels very familiar. Spirituality in the Flesh is a photograph of a sculpted female figure wearing a blond wig and a blue dress. The person that the figure represents feels familiar and natural. However, her skin and the walls and floors behind and underneath her is fully covered with raw meat. In the process of making the image, Skoglund bought eighty pounds of raw hamburger to cover the figure and the walls. The texture of raw meat is stomach-turning. Vivid handprints on the wall are heightened by the cleanliness of the figure’s blond hair and the blue dress. Human’s flesh became an animal’s flesh when creating a life size human figure. The ‘flesh’ we use to imply our skin because ‘flesh’ refers to dead raw animals. It’s gruesome and jarring but seeing familiar food items in a completely different environment makes it hard to take one’s eye off of it.

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Artwork by Sandy Skoglund

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Last but not least, Skoglund’s Walking on Eggshells, is a photograph of a beige colored bathroom where bathroom tiles are replaced by eggshells, and filled with rabbits and snakes. Two nude models face their back as they walk toward the sink and the bathtub. The footprints are shows as remnants of fragmented eggshells.  are visible left footprints on floor. Unlike Skoglund’s other work (Radioactive Cats, and Revenge of the Goldfish), the color palette used in Walking on Eggshell is limited and muted. Because of this, the formal quality and the composition of the photograph is highlighted. Once again, the viewer sees the recurring theme of the domestic scene, sculpted animals, and surreal quality of the set. Elaborate decorative tiles of hieroglyphic imagery on the wall completes the surreal quality of the image. As mentioned in the title, Walking on Eggshell, the models walk on figural and literal eggshells. Skoglund’s play with visual imagery and idiom is humorous and brilliant. Both in figurative and literal sense, it’s anxiety provoking to think about walking into a bathroom covered with egg shelled tiles and rabbits and snakes.

Sandy Skoglund’s meticulous way of making photographs needs to be praised and recognized as brilliant artists, sculptor, and photographer. She merges two mediums in intricate ways and incorporates her humor to marry familiar and unfamiliar concepts in one space. For these reasons, her photographs are very much praised as one of the best contemporary artworks in America.

Bibliography

Barrett, Terry. Criticizing Photographs : an Introduction to Understanding Images 4th ed.    

Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2006.

Bloomfield, Paul. 2008. “Sandy Skoglund: Radioactive Cats.” Exhibit 29 (5): 39–39.

Reverseau, Anne. n.d. “Sandy Skoglund.” AWARE Women Artists / Femmes Artistes.

Accessed March 30, 2020. https://awarewomenartists.com/en/artiste/sandy-skoglund/.

“Skoglund, Sandy.” n.d. Grove Art Online. Accessed March 30, 2020.

https://www.oxfordartonline.com/groveart/view/10.1093/gao/9781884446054.001.0001/oao-9781884446054-e-7000097698.

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About the Author: Cindy Ji is a Junior at Bryn Mawr College. Class of 2021. To access additional articles by Cindy Ji, click here: https://tonyward.com/flower-show/

 

This entry was posted in Affiliates, Art, Blog, commentary, Current Events, Environment, Friends of TWS, Haverford College, History, Photography, Popular Culture, Student Life, Women.

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