Updated: May 16
The way we individually experience or understand anything is a hierarchical process. Any object or living thing is made up of different information that tells us about what it is and what it does. In 1965, conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth famously considered different modes of knowing through representation in his piece One and Three Chairs. In this installation, the audience is presented with a physical chair, an image of a chair, and language that describes a chair; all three are very different things materially, but all three represent the same object.
Joseph Kosuth. One and Three Chairs, 1965. Image courtesy of MoMA
Eliza Myrie, an artist currently working in Chicago, goes further and challenges the role of representation and subjectivity in our capacity to understand a human experience. Through the use of sculpture, printmaking, performance, and installation, Myrie constructs intentionally disrupted narratives by employing material and immaterial information. For example, Myrie’s fountain/shake the stick from 2017 is an installation consisting of photography, sculpture, and performance; each element proposing an alternative interaction and interpretation of a shared happening.
Installation images of fountain/shake the stick, 2017. Courtesy of Eliza Myrie.
Nine photographs line one side of the installation. The images, captured by Myrie, are from a distance, each showing different men who share a similar posture and environment; their backs toward the viewer, legs slightly spread, some are looking over their shoulder, and all are in public spaces. The center of the installation is sculptural. Two dry, industrially fabricated fountains face each other from across the room. The sculptures have similar qualities aesthetically and functionally but utilize separate water sources held in different types of containers. Additionally, there is a video that shows the performance of Myrie engaging with the fountains. On her knees, she rhythmically pumps water from its source, through a hose system that flows out of the fountain's faucet head, splashing down on a pile of rose quartz. After a significant amount of water puddles on the floor, Myrie takes a mop and begins to clean.
Video of performance from fountain/ shake the stick, 2017. Courtesy of Eliza Myrie.
The representational elements of this installation are connected by men relieving themselves in public; the photographs document this while the animated fountains are likened to the men in the images. Knowing that Myrie took these photographs places her there and turns the artist into witness as the private act of urination becomes a public event. However, Myrie’s performance opens and confuses any pointed, central subject. As she activates the sculptures, the perspective changes from looking at the grotesque nonchalant act of public urination to considering the positions of gender and social roles in capturing the photographs, which is either extrapolated upon or interrupted by her movements in the performance. This coexistence of multiple experiential derivations, Myrie claims, “interrupts the mainstream endorsement or understanding of a center and gestures towards an acknowledgment of positions that are not centered.”
Similarly, Myrie’s work tameHIM challenges the traditional function of a flag by placing importance on its aesthetic qualities rather than its symbolic nature. Myrie comments that “the formal construction of the flag underlines this tradition of representation and display but circumvents a solidified institution or organizational attachment.” tameHIM uses the formal elements of a flag (hoist, field, symbols, text) but utilizes them in ways that confuse potential meaning.
tameHIM, 2020. Image courtesy of Eliza Myrie.
To compare, a flag traditionally places any strongly symbolic imagery or text (this is called a canton or a tondo) in the top right corner or the center of the flag, layered above a solid color. tameHIM places its tondo, which was designed by sign painter Alan Thomas, in the lower center of the flag, on top of hand-written words that pattern the flag's field. The central image in the tondo is a tiger, surrounded by two garlands, encircled with the text “you can’t tame the tiger, him have sin pon him vein,” which is crowned with more garlands. The background text repeats the language used in the tondo, which is a mixture of Jamaican Patois and American/British English taken from heard and had conversations.
These design elements create a false sense of representation and symbolism that leaves the viewer in a space of trying to align meaning or association to the fallacious flag. Again, testing the preconceptions of the relationship between representation and subjectivity.
tameHIM, 2020. Image courtesy of Eliza Myrie.
Myrie summarizes, “for me, the work that expressly uses visual representations of language, and my position as author, remains ambivalent to the legibility for all viewers, making no invitations or efforts to those who can not navigate access or their own entry points into the poetics; ultimately pointing to who is most often centered in language and what a reversal such an encounter can mark/signal.”
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