Interior Places

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Fox Games
cibachrome print, woman artist, photographer, designer, sculptor,director, sculpture, tableau, imaginary, juxtaposition of colour/black/white, real and makebelieve, action, interior, dream-like, fear, camouflage, surrealist, dining room, candelabra, barred window, table, chairs, rose, salt and pepper shakers,bread basket,couple, waiter games, Fox, animals, narrative, mysterious, social/political comment,mood, installation,symbolism,survival, story, social and political commentary
description

Sandy Skoglund can be described as a designer, sculptor, photographer and director. “Skoglund controls every detail in her photographs,” writes Marge Goldwater. “Going one step beyond the  traditionTradition is the passing along of a culture from generation to generation, especially orally. Or, a custom or set of customs handed down in this way. The idea of heritage is related to that of tradition. Any activity — as a pattern of celebration, ritual, or other behaviour, etc. — is traditional once it is a precedent influencing comparable activities in the future. (Artlex.com)  of studio photography, she not only directs the actor’s placement and gestures, she also designs and fabricates many of the objects included in the tableaux.” (Goldwater, 1988)

The work Fox Games was  commissionedA contract between an artist and an individual. The artist agrees to create an image or design for the individual for a predetermined price.  in 1989 by The Centre George Pompidou in Paris, France for the 150th anniversary of the invention of photography. Skoglund created a  monochromaticColour scheme using one hue and all its tints and shades for a unifying effect.  grey dining room with a high ceiling, an ornate candelabra, barred windows with no view, a solitary picture with no image, eight tables and a number of curved-back chairs. There is a repetition of vertical lines in the windows and tableclothes, while curving lines can be seen in the chair backs, candelabra and foxes. Each table has a white table cloth and some of the tables have salt and pepper shakers, a single rose or abandoned breadbaskets. There are only three human inhabitants in the room; a couple who sit at a back table slightly off-center, and a waiter who is tending to the woman’s needs while the man is drinking from a glass. All three adults seem oblivious to the action that surrounds them. ”Even without  narrativeRelating to the telling of a story, or the telling of events, etc.  details,” Marge Goldwater notes, “the specificity with which the environments are rendered implies a compelling human drama“. (Goldwater, 1988)

This ordinary yet sparsely-peopled scene is disrupted by the inclusion of 23 foxes in various positions and sizes. They are out of control and extremely active as they crawl across the tables, frolic with their siblings, play games and search for food. Speaking about Skoglund’s work, Marge Goldwater says, “The  naturalismA style in which an artist intends to represent a subject as it appears in the natural world — precisely and objectivly — as opposed to being represented in a stylized or intellectually manipulated manner. Although naturalism is often used interchangeably with the term realism, there is a difference between them. The realism of Gustave Courbet (French, 1819-1877) is more interested in the honest depiction of unpretentious subjects, while the naturalism of Ernest Meissonier (French, 1815-1891) is more a visually accurate depiction of subjects which in other hands might well have been depicted pretentiously. (artlex.com)  in a Skoglund tableau is so reassuring to the viewer that it is easily accepted despite the indications of unreality, be it the  colourProduced by light of various wavelengths, and when light strikes an object and reflects back to the eyes. Colour is an element of art with three properties: (1) hue or tint, the colour name, e.g., red, yellow, blue, etc.: (2) intensity, the purity and strength of a colour, e.g., bright red or dull red; and (3) value, the lightness or darkness of a colour. When the spectrum is organized as a color wheel, the colours are divided into groups called primary, secondary and intermediate (or tertiary) colours; analogous and complementary, and also as warm and cool colours. Colours can be objectively described as saturated, clear, cool, warm, deep, subdued, grayed, tawny, mat, glossy, monochrome, multicolored, particolored, variegated, or polychromed. Some words used to describe colours are more subjective (subject to personal opinion or taste), such as: exciting, sweet, saccharine, brash, garish, ugly, beautiful, cute, fashionable, pretty, and sublime. Sometimes people speak of colours when they are actually refering to pigments, what they are made of (various natural or synthetic substances), their relative permanence, etc. (Artlex.com)  of the cats (green) or the unlikelihood of the activity depicted (flying fish).” (Goldwater, 1988)

While the foxes are crafted to appear realistic, all but one are painted a strong orangey-red, a huge  contrastA large difference between two things. It is a technique often used to create a focal point.  to the subdued grey-white interior scene. They, while unreal, have overtaken the room and reality and represent make-believe gone wild. While Fox Games appears on the surface to represent a fanciful idea or dream, it also evokes a premonition of fear, a reminder of the worst possible nightmare. Goldwater says that the dramas created in Skoglund’s photographs and tableaux, “inevitably touch upon the theme of fear, rational or otherwise, that lurks within us.” (Goldwater 1988)

start quoteI think I am most fond of the unseen part. I mean that the various cultural experiences that I go through, and the behavioral aspects of getting the work done, are just as important as the installation and the photograph.end quote -- Sandy Skoglund

To heighten this sense of fear, one fox is painted using the  paletteA slab of wood, metal, marble, ceramic, plastic, glass, or paper, sometimes with a hole for the thumb, which an artist can hold while painting and on which the artist mixes paint. Anything from ice trays to disposable paper or Styrofoam plates might be used as a palette. A pane of glass with a white piece of paper attached to its underside makes a fine palette. It's especially versatile because the color of the paper back can be made to match a painting's ground, making colors easier to choose. The term "palette" may also refer to the range of colors used in a particular painting or by a particular artist. (artlex.com)  colours of the room. It is barely visible, as in nature, where animals use  camouflageThe means, effect, or act of concealing someone or something — making a person or thing indistinguishable from his or its surroundings. Also, deception, and disguise, usually for either aesthetic or defensive reasons. Numerous living things owe their species' evolutionary success to camouflaging aspects of their appearance. Humans have employed camouflaging colours, textures, materials, or patterns in the design of numerous artifacts in order to conceal them. This is in some ways the opposite of emphasis, a kind of simulation of transparency or erasure. Modernist architect Frank Lloyd Wright (American, 1856-1959) often built with materials found on a building's site to increase the degree to which it would blend into its environment — to make it less visually intrusive. Costumes designed to reduce the visibility of hunters and soldiers are among the most overt human applications of camouflage, each style intended for use in specific environs. It was in the late 19th century that military uniforms began to be designed to make soldiers appear drably inconspicuous. Before that time, uniforms were typically bright and bold. Since the late 20th century, camouflage fabric patterns have been chosen increasingly for reasons other than concealment. Sometimes, ironically, camouflage designs have been employed in persuit of fashion — to make their users stand out.  (Artlex.com)  for survival. One gets the feeling a wild animal or threat could actually be there hidden amidst the confusion and turmoil.

The images Skoglund creates are reminiscent of the surrealist tradition. She, like surrealist artists Magritte and De Chirico, juxtaposes unlikely images to create tension and the impression of a world gone seriously wrong. But Skoglund goes beyond this  conceptAn idea, thought, or notion conceived through mental activity. The words concept and conception are applied to mental formulations on a broad scale. (Artlex.com)  by crafting a fascinating story with her choice of objects and interiors. Marge Goldwater states, ”this is  surrealismAn art movement in the early 20th century based on dreams, and the subconscious, and the distortion of representations.  in the service of strong  narrativeRelating to the telling of a story, or the telling of events, etc.  ends.” She goes on to say that Skoglund, “Transforms the mundane into the mysterious.” (Goldwater, 1988)

Skoglund also uses her work to make comments about society today. The human beings in this interior scene are taking care of their needs while completely ignoring what is going on around them in their environment. ”Skoglund puts  surrealismAn art movement in the early 20th century based on dreams, and the subconscious, and the distortion of representations.  in the service of social and political commentary,” says Goldwater, “as she expresses concerns about the workplace, overpopulation, aging and nuclear war, if not exactly by analogy, then by allusion or hyperbole.” (Goldwater, 1988)

additional resources Things to Think About
  • Can you think of other artworks where an eerie mood is created? What have the artists done to create this impression?
  • What is it about Fox Games that everyone loves? Is it a bit like a cartoon?
  • Is there an incongruity between what is happening in Fox Games and what is supposed to happen? Is this ironic?
  • How do you suppose Skoglund was able to make the foxes look so realistic in their features and movements?
  • What are some of the traditions of dining? Is there an intimacy suggested by the couple and the scene in Fox Games? Could ideas related to intimacy blind someone to what is really happening?
  • Skoglund creates a tension in her work between what is real and what is not. Can you think of other artists who have used this idea of real and unreal in their work?
  • According to Marge Goldwater, ”Skoglund herself does not have a story in mind when she begins a piece, but it is fully developed by the time she is ready to photograph.” (Goldwater, 1988) Have you ever worked in this way? Have you learned about other artists who work like this? (for example Susan Shantz whose work appears in the ARTSask theme Time Telling.)
  • “Skoglund says her work is based on a Frankensteinian model where the human beings have created a world that is out of control and turns on them.” (Sandy Skoglund, 2008)  Learn more about the 19th century writer Mary Shelley and the idea of Frankenstein creating a living man who gets beyond the control of the creator. Do some of the advances in technology and research today appear to be beyond our control? You can find out more about Mary Shelley and Frankenstein at:
  • Could the roles be reversed in Fox Games and the people be like animals in a zoo caged for the foxes’ enjoyment?
  • What could be the interpretations of a dream in which an individual dreams about foxes that are attacking his or her person?
Online Activity
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Look closely at the photographic image Fox Games.

  • Can you find a fox that is different from all the other foxes?

  • Can you find two or more foxes that are made from the same mould?
Studio Activity

Create an interior made specifically for photographing

Skoglund often displays the three-dimensional “staged scenes” beside her  two-dimensionalHaving height and width, but no depth; flat. (Artlex.com)  photographs. View her work here.

Marge Goldwater states about Skoglund’s practice, “When we see the two lined up side by side, “reality” and photograph, we understand and appreciate the differences between working in two and three dimensions. There has been a  traditionTradition is the passing along of a culture from generation to generation, especially orally. Or, a custom or set of customs handed down in this way. The idea of heritage is related to that of tradition. Any activity — as a pattern of celebration, ritual, or other behaviour, etc. — is traditional once it is a precedent influencing comparable activities in the future. (Artlex.com)  of “fabricated” photographs for some time, pictures of situations created specifically to be photographed. But Skoglund was one of the first artists to present both sides of the picture. Her images have become American icons in two media, works which, when seen in concert, encourage us to reflect on the meaning of photographic truth and, when viewed independently, retain their integrity and power as commentaries on our culture.” (Goldwater, 1988)

  • Create a full-size environment to be photographed.
  • Include people if they are important to your idea.
  • Display the environment beside the photograph.

            OR

  • Create a small environment to be photographed.
  • Display the environment beside the photograph 

Make a descriptive  narrativeRelating to the telling of a story, or the telling of events, etc.  to accompany Fox Games

Look at the photograph and let your mind wander.

Study animals and their behaviours and create a papier-mache animal

Pick a particular animal that you can watch, draw and photograph over a period of time to understand body  formIn its widest sense, total structure; a synthesis of all the visible aspects of that structure and of the manner in which they are united to create its distinctive character. The form of a work is what enables us to perceive it. Form also refers to an element of art that is three-dimensional (height, width, and depth) and encloses volume. For example, a triangle, which is two-dimensional, is a shape, but a pyramid, which is three-dimensional, is a form. Cubes, spheres, ovoids, pyramids, cone, and cylinders are examples of various forms. Also, all of the elements of a work of art independent of their meaning. Formal elements are primary features which are not a matter of semantic significance — including colour, dimensions, line, mass, medium, scale, shape, space, texture, value; and the principles of design under which they are placed — including balance, contrast, dominance, harmony, movement, proportion, proximity, rhythm, similarity, unity, and variety. (Artlex.com)  and movement.

  • Make a number of studies of the animal in motion.
  • Pick the position and movement that appeals to you.
  • Cut newspaper into strips.
  • Mix up a manufactured paste or combine flour and water to the consistency of a batter or paste.
  • Dip the strips into the paste mixture and remove excess paste with your fingers.
  • Apply a number of layers.
  • Display the finished works hanging from the ceiling on strings of fish line.

For more information on using  papier macheA material, made from paper pulp or shreds of paper mixed with resin, wallpaper paste, or flour and water (2:1 by volume), which can be molded or modeled into various shapes when wet and becomes hard and suitable for painting and varnishing when dry. Other substitutes (less likely to mold or mildew) are white glue and water, liquid starch and water, and methyl-cellulose paste and water (one 2 oz. package per gallon of water). (artlex.com)  as a material to make an artwork see:

  • Scroll down and click on the fortune teller for interesting facts on paper.

Work with the idea of  camouflageThe means, effect, or act of concealing someone or something — making a person or thing indistinguishable from his or its surroundings. Also, deception, and disguise, usually for either aesthetic or defensive reasons. Numerous living things owe their species' evolutionary success to camouflaging aspects of their appearance. Humans have employed camouflaging colours, textures, materials, or patterns in the design of numerous artifacts in order to conceal them. This is in some ways the opposite of emphasis, a kind of simulation of transparency or erasure. Modernist architect Frank Lloyd Wright (American, 1856-1959) often built with materials found on a building's site to increase the degree to which it would blend into its environment — to make it less visually intrusive. Costumes designed to reduce the visibility of hunters and soldiers are among the most overt human applications of camouflage, each style intended for use in specific environs. It was in the late 19th century that military uniforms began to be designed to make soldiers appear drably inconspicuous. Before that time, uniforms were typically bright and bold. Since the late 20th century, camouflage fabric patterns have been chosen increasingly for reasons other than concealment. Sometimes, ironically, camouflage designs have been employed in persuit of fashion — to make their users stand out.  (Artlex.com)  or illusion

Work with  illusionA deceptive or misleading image or idea. (Artlex.com)  and perception, like Skoglund does with her foxes. Have one object in your artwork different from all the others but don’t make it readily apparent, making sure it blends in with the background colours and patterns.

OR

Repeat a  patternRepeating lines, colours or shapes within a design.  using the same colours and forms. Have one piece of the  patternRepeating lines, colours or shapes within a design.  a different  colourProduced by light of various wavelengths, and when light strikes an object and reflects back to the eyes. Colour is an element of art with three properties: (1) hue or tint, the colour name, e.g., red, yellow, blue, etc.: (2) intensity, the purity and strength of a colour, e.g., bright red or dull red; and (3) value, the lightness or darkness of a colour. When the spectrum is organized as a color wheel, the colours are divided into groups called primary, secondary and intermediate (or tertiary) colours; analogous and complementary, and also as warm and cool colours. Colours can be objectively described as saturated, clear, cool, warm, deep, subdued, grayed, tawny, mat, glossy, monochrome, multicolored, particolored, variegated, or polychromed. Some words used to describe colours are more subjective (subject to personal opinion or taste), such as: exciting, sweet, saccharine, brash, garish, ugly, beautiful, cute, fashionable, pretty, and sublime. Sometimes people speak of colours when they are actually refering to pigments, what they are made of (various natural or synthetic substances), their relative permanence, etc. (Artlex.com)  or shape. What happens? Yes, It is more noticeable and becomes a focal point in your  drawingDepiction of shapes and forms on a surface chiefly by means of lines. Colour and shading may be included. A major fine art technique in itself, drawing is the basis of all pictorial representation, and an early step in most art activities. Though an integral part of most painting, drawing is generally differentiated from painting by the dominance of line over mass. There are many sorts of drawing techniques, varying according to the effect the artist wants, and depending on whether the drawing is an end in itself — an independent and finished work of art -- or a preliminary to some other medium or form — although distinct from the final product, such drawings also have intrinsic artistic value. Preliminary drawings include various exercises (e.g., contour drawing, gesture drawing, figure drawing, drawing from the flat), as well as sketches and studies, cartoons and underdrawings. (Artlex.com)  or painting.

Communicate ideas in your own work

According to Gloria Picazo, “The work of Sandy Skoglund sets out to explore the welfare of the North American middle-class, but also its sufferings, starting from a reality she makes hers through strategies involving hybridization of  aestheticPertaining to a sense of the beautiful or to the science of aesthetics.  supports, but also the inclusion of signs denoting humour (Patients and Nurses, 1983), irony (Fox Games, 1990), subtlety (Germs are Everywhere, 1983), the absurd (Spoons, 1990), the banal (The Lost and Found, 1986), solitude (Fernes, 1980), and finally anguish (Maybe Babies, 1983). (Picazo, 1992)

  • Look for images of Skoglund’s works online and determine if you agree with the previously stated observations. If so, what signs does Skoglund use to communicate these messages? Can you think of other words to describe her works?  You can look for her works at:
  • How you would communicate ideas such as irony and the absurd using your own style, materials and techniques?
  • Pick one idea or emotion and use it as a starting point for your own work and investigation.
References

Author unknown.  Mary Shelley.  Wake Forest University Art Collections.  Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  Retrieved from the Internet on May 8, 2008 from:  http://www.wfu.edu/art/ac_skoglund_hangers.htm.

Author(s) unknown.  Sandy Skoglund.  Wikipedia entry.  Retrieved from the Internet on May 7, 2008 from:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandy_Skoglund.

Bowker, R.R.  Who’s Who In American Art 1989-90, 18th Edition.  Providence, New Jersey:  Marquis Who’s Who, 1989.

Goldwater, Marge.  Cross-References: Sculpture into Photography. Exhibition catalogue.  Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Illinois. 1988.

Picazo, Gloria.  Paradoxes of Photography-On the Work of Sandy Skoglund.  Exhibition catalogue. Reprinted in catalogue for show at L'Espace Photographique de la Ville de Paris, Paris Audiovisuel,Paris, France, 1992.

Roegiers, Patrick.  Color and Terror in the Monochrome World of Sandy Skoglund.  Exhibition catalogue, Barcelona, Spain, 1992, pp. 95,96.Reprinted in catalogue for show at L'Espace Photographique de la Ville de Paris, Paris Audiovisuel, Paris, France, 1992.

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning