For those of you who are unfamiliar with this term, I’m referring to this: “&”
Beautiful in their own form, but these babies carry a lot of conceptual inherent symbolism that would be missed if you looked merely at form: And.
A simple conjunction, by most grammatical standards. We don’t think much about using the term; it comes naturally as we speak. For instance, talking about my day yesterday, I could say “Abby & I went to the train station to pick up Emily, and then went to the Carraig”. The first “and” implies a relationship between myself and someone else. The second implies a relationship between one event and another.
So much hangs on such a discounted term. I mean, do we really even know how many times we say “and” in a day? Do we really even care? Would anyone describe the word as amazing, beautiful, the best word to ever exist?
I think about this in light of my work. As I examine the relationships I enter in to, with friends, family, etcetera, I find it difficult to ignore the term “and”‘s presence, and the inherent connection it puts between myself and the person I am talking about.
You and I. We’re connected, if only for that statement in that moment.
It doesn’t quite have the same meaning as “You. Me.”
I delve a lot into existence (both mine and in general), in dealing with these relationships. And in dealing with existence, I tend to struggle a lot with the losses I have faced and have had to watch others face, as a compassionate human being. Something that sort of occurred to me, then, is this existence and use of the word “and”.
It, in itself, is so general, but also becomes so specific. In terms of Gonzalez-Torres, the ‘and’ there referring to Ross & Felix. The connection signified by that ‘and’ meant the world to Torres, and certainly Ross as well. (G-T was famously quoted in a number of interviews talking about his work, and eveything, coming down to Ross; “First and foremost it’s about Ross”).
For me, that ‘and’ would signify a relationship between myself and someone else, with a completely different value on it. The word is the same; it’s spelled the same, written the same, maybe even in the same font. But it doesn’t mean the same thing. It implies the same thing, generically, implying a relationship or connection. But the connotations of that relationship are completely different, depending on the subjects on the left and right of the word. But they are connected by that ‘and’.
For instance, for another art history reference, “Willem deKooning and Jackson Pollock are post-war abstract expressionist painters”. The “and” there still implying some sort of connection (which is then described shortly after the term), but not nearly the kind of connection there is between Felix & Ross. But there it hangs, regardless, between the two figures. Instead of reading “you did this, but he did that”, separating the two figures, it connects. “you did this, and so did he”.
I love the term “and”, for all that in can imply and symbolically represent. (Forgive me, but i love semiotics, semantics, the whole gang…I included linked definitions, in case you are unfamiliar with the terms) So generic. So specific. So pragmatic. So practical. So emotional.
But what becomes of “and” when “Felix & Ross” becomes just ‘Felix’? Relationships, even if they are healthy, seemingly solid, well built things, are vulnerable and fragile. In the blink of an eye, a relationship can go from perfect to non-existent. Perhaps someone leaves by choice, or even with hesitance. Perhaps someone leaves not by choice, but by fate, destiny, God, whatever you believe it is that controls the universe. In the case of Felix & Ross, perhaps Ross dies from AIDS in 1991 (by perhaps, I mean he did, but I’m speaking hypothetically…it would work the same, say, if Ross had left Felix for someone else, etcetera).
So we no longer say “Felix &”, and break awkwardly, we just say Felix. “Felix and Ross lived in New York” doesn’t turn into “Felix & lived in New York”; if I said that you would assume I had forgotten to name the other person. No, it turns into “Felix lived in New York”. No ‘and’. No connective terminology. Just singular; solo.
Really, our entire vulnerable nature in being human, as well as our relationship’s entire vulnerable nature in being a product of a connection between humans, can be described and summed up by the vulnerability of this “&”.
One thing changes, one thing breaks, the “&” gets dropped. Whether it be by choice or by fate, the ‘and’ is gone as well.
What does this have to do with my work?
I’ve been thinking about this, looking at it in possible ways, exploring this. So I started building ampersands out of vulnerable materials (using the materiality of the object to reflect the conceptual significance of the form), to examine just how fragile and tenuous this relationship, this connection, can really be. It’s not so much that I’m encouraging a negative reaction, or advocating for you to bury yourself in a hole somewhere and never let another near you in order to protect yourself. It’s merely an exploration in looking at the fragility. I use the term fragility rather than weakness, because I don’t necessarily look at fragility as some physical/emotional/psychological deficiency of an object or idea, as weakness often times finds it’s connotation with. It’s merely a characteristic of reality, positive or negative.
The first one I did was in soap.
(Logistics: I used Helvetica type face, as a result of my obsession with the documentary, as well as its perceived neutral face and clean legibility—not the cleanest carving, I’m aware, but it’s soap, for one and I’m not a sculptor)
and then, in order to reflect the tenuous relationship between the signifiers to the left and right of the “&” as well as the fragility and vulnerability of the ampersand itself (in signifying the term ‘and’), I let it run under water for one minute. As cliche as it sounds, things really do seemingly change on a dime, in a minute, etcetera (insert more cliche psycho babblery here), which is why I chose the time, (enough to damage without dissipating completely as a way of talking about the physical dissolution while leaving a “ghost” or “cast shadow” behind; the result, often times, when the ‘and ____’ gets dropped) and here’s what I got:
(Sorry for the shit pictures… they’re from my phone until i can relocate my camera… also, thought i should video tape the destruction next time, a la Oscar Munoz….I sure do have a thing for those contemporary Hispanic artists).
Yep. I have some ideas for some more, as well as some re-visits I’m sure I’ll be making to clean up the technique but here’s where I am.