"Exhibiting You" - Story

Welcome to Oblivion

By: Lee Puffer
Submitted: 04/16/2009

By using domestic products, figurative elements, and images emblematic of sunny Southern California life and American optimism, I address aspects of the human experience that are sacred, taboo, or under recognized. In this body of work, I investigate the concept of the “vanishing woman.” This woman, as she ages and/or becomes a mother, is slowly disappearing, becoming absorbed into her surroundings and losing her identity as an individual. This happens, socially and cultural, if not literally, for a variety of reasons. In the mass media (television, print, especially advertising), images of women over the age of 35 begin to evaporate. Our culture is obsessed by youth and beauty to the point that we cease to see people who do not represent this ideal. That we do not see a person or group of people communicates that we do not value them, that they do not matter in our culture. Representation and visibility equal value. I suppose women “of a certain age” become less important to our society because their value as a sexual commodity diminishes as they age. This is not the only reason. Some women disappear into motherhood, careers, and marriages. By this I mean their identity as individuals is subjugated by their roles as mother, wife, and employee.
The work consists of vertical stacks of hand built ceramic parts referencing the human figure. In order to confront the viewer on her own scale, these figurative stacks are life size. Effectively, the sculptures are self portraits. I use myself and my experience as a model. I also base some of the forms on an idealized mannequin form in combination with other domestic objects. I find this significant because while I am translating my own life into the work, I am also striving to give representation to the rest of us facing this oblivion by abstracting and obscuring my personal narrative to give a greater voice to the larger group. And as I stated earlier, representation equals value. With my sculptural monuments to motherhood and aging, I am adding value to the experience of vanishing. The exhibition is entitled “Welcome to Oblivion,” as if oblivion were a vacation destination. Imagery alluding to California landscapes in the sculpture reinforces this idea.
Referencing the body, yet fragmented, the work communicates a variety of human emotional states with humor and irony. I choose to include the body parts most often connected to sexual desire and western cultural stereotypes of beauty – the face, upper and lower torsos and hands. Using the figure as a framework, the work offers critical analysis of both personal and cultural phenomena such as consumerism, substance abuse, marriage and motherhood.
Throughout human history, artists have made sculptural depictions of the human figure. Figurative sculpture is the favored medium of political and public art, of monuments and memorials. For this reason I have chosen the figurative elements included in the sculptural work. I draw on our culture’s knowledge of the role sculpture plays in honoring our most revered individuals and make sculptural representations of everyday women; mothers, grandmothers, wives and working women, to honor and validate their experiences.

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