Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch’entrate. (Abandon all hope, ye who enter.) 2013 Cast iron, salvaged molds from a mental health facility
Catalogue Essay from THE eNth DEGREE
By K. Samantha Sigmon
“The narrative function is losing its functors, its great hero, its great dangers, its great voyages, its great goal. It is being dispersed in clouds of narrative language elements, but also denotative, prescriptive, descriptive, and so on. Conveyed within each cloud are pragmatic valencies specific to its kind. Each of us lives at the intersection of these. However, we do not necessarily establish stable language combinations, and the properties of the ones we do establish are not necessarily communicable.”
- Jean-Francois Lyotard, “The Postmodern Condition”
Joel Weissman’s playful pastiche of figurines subverts the individual object’s established symbology and grand narrative. By cluttering the space with these objects, he questions the legitimacy of linear progression. Each figure must be, because of its proximity and likeness to the others, relatable to each of the others. Our brains search to make these connections, questioning how a snowman is connected to a cat or to a religious statuette.
The figures, while simple looking and recognizable in form, complicate our view by causing us to defy our compartmentalization of objects and ideas. Forcing us, instead, to make our own connections to the images in clouds of narratives, overlapping, but not imposing, floating without a direct course. Our narratives become collectively disjointed. We may have seen similar images on our grandmother’s mantle above the fireplace, or on the kitchen table, or in a flea market, or been given one as a present. As we think, our minds form webs of storylines, jumping from and connecting to place and time without destination or scheme. We are constantly being bombarded by imagery, and when we see common images, like a reflex, we throw them into compartments that make “sense” to us. Weissman’s oeuvre asks you to stop and think about those objects that come automatically attached with specific significance.
These particular objects are cast in iron from molds originating from a mental hospital. Weissman attempts to draw out the history and memory of a place by reproducing the material objects once filled with meaning from the connections with the patients. Given this, when inspecting these objects, we see our own past and some other memory that is lost– of those who experienced these objects in a different context, intersecting with people we have never met and communicating in a way that words cannot.
In postmodern society, grand, established narratives separate from the object, break down into elements, and are interpreted in different ways. The kitsch figurines in this work are used as a vehicle to become self-aware of our individual and collective memories and histories. These figures purposefully remind us of our past, our youth. Weissman’s presents a part of his personal story in his selection as well; his grandmother made similar ceramic figurines. Thus these images connect to our past, the past of the original pieces, and the past of the artist. The materials and process also implies history -- the history of our great industrial cities, the power of iron, and the material culture of the household in cast iron pots or bedposts. Weissman uses his artistic medium to imply a new narrative in our memories, building new public dialogs and histories that are non-linear, ephemeral, entwined, and amorphous.