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STATEMENT OF WORK
Income inequality and the wealth divide have intrigued and fascinated me since encountering some of their more memorable incarnations in the writings of, oddly enough, two different Robert Franks: the “wealth” journalist behind Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich, and The High-Beta Rich: How the Manic Wealthy Will Take Us to the Next Boom, Bubble, and Bust; and Robert H. Frank, a professor of economics at Cornell and author of books including The Winner-Take-All Society and Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class. (Neither to be confused, by the way, with legendary photographer Robert Frank). The former Frank wrote about the bankruptcy of a billionaire and his wife, as well as about the lines of traffic into Aspen from outside the city, the only neighborhoods the people who provided services to the city could live in; H. Frank has connected the house-buying of people at the top of the income ladder with its effects on middle-income families who are spending more and more of their income on housing and less on other key expenses.
As ‘wealth’ Robert Frank’s writings became a gateway to the subject through the lens of the very wealthy and their societal impacts, so went the imagery in my work: explorations included (chronologically) a billionaire bankruptcy, an extremely ambitious residential development project that was shut down by its wealthy neighbors and has for several years sat in purgatory, and high-end real estate advertisements. In the last couple years, I’ve shifted away from ‘Richistan’ and focused on something far less salacious, and more reflective of Robert H. Frank’s work: affordable housing. The buildings I’m currently re-presenting are part of a series of properties owned by a single non-profit company in Santa Monica. I see their depictions as commemorations of their very existence, albeit with whiffs of reality.
The process I use – building up a dense web of a mask from painter’s tape in varying widths, rips and thicknesses – has a painstaking, brick-by-brick aspect that feels appropriate to honor these culturally humble structures. Working with the cyanotype medium (one of the older photographic processes, often known via its use in blueprints), which has a white to cyan to dark indigo spectrum, provides a limited structure to work within, and against, that is appropriate to the limitations of affordable living, or what also might be described as low-cost living with middle-class quality of life…or is it? We don’t know exactly what the interiors of their housing are like, though the fact that they’re able to live in Santa Monica is presumably some kind of victory, a privilege in itself, especially in relation to the historic housing crisis L.A. is currently in. Part of the objective is simply to raise awareness of these buildings, of this category of buildings, of this lifestyle…in a formally and aesthetically considered Trojan horse. Palatability, in this case in the languages of visual art, remains the way in. And in art historical terms, it’s a modern representation of the home of the serf – as opposed to the lord and his fiefdom – albeit a serf who exists in the murky class system of the U.S.
Currently I am segueing from an exploration of accumulations of stuff to the accumulation of influence and power, or the inability therein. My next series is called, "The people I know, and the people THEY know," which is about the circle of influence, both in reference to Steven Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People mass bestselling book, as well as the more familiar vernacular version of that circle. MS 1/17/12 HTMR, the abbreviation for "Hot Tub Mystery Religion," is a real organization, if you will, who's main organizer appears to take it quite seriously (or so I gather from our email correspondence). Others would claim that the whole thing is a joke, though they must admit it's a rather extensive one. Rather than visit its headquarters, interview its members, and take part in its rituals, I chose to use my imaginings of the whole enterprise as a jumping off point; a forum in which to explore the intersection of hedonism and religion, spirituality and materialism, Zen and people with a high ratio of water in their chart. Don't be alarmed: you may not be proselytized to. Michael Shaw- 1/15/07