The simplest way to explain what I do as an artist is to say that I make up absurd lies that I then try to convince people are true by making all kinds of believable evidence (ceramic artifacts, documentaries, tintype photos, scientific charts, life size natural history dioramas, scholarly articles, press releases, etc.) to support them. I do this because I’m interested in how people consume information and how every day facts (some of which are actually lies) get perpetuated and legitimized by cultural institutions like the sciences, the media, museums, and so on.
For the past five years my main absurd lie has involved an endangered animal called the North American Obeast. My most visible role in the project is performing as the obeast itself—a fictitious genus of endangered mammals.Wearing one of six different muumuus, I embody three species of male and female obeasts that superficially resemble each other in the way that zebras, mice, crows, and other fauna do. Obeasts are studied by an pseudo scientific organization called the Museum for Obeast Conservation Studies (MOCS), which does traveling natural history museum exhibits around the world to teach the public about obeast conservation efforts.
Conceptually, the work satirizes the cultural anxiety that surrounds the so-called obesity epidemic. The hateful rhetoric and stereotypes surrounding fat create a toxic cultural environment that contradicts and hamstrings its concurrent emphasis of health and wellness. Obeasts perform fat as our culture represents it: simple-minded, undisciplined, endangered yet threatening. By enacting the stigma and dehumanization of obesity literally, the everyday stigmatization of (and anxiety about) obese people may become darkly humorous, rather than merely pitiable.
While MOCS still dominates my thoughts and studio life, one of my side projects has begun to gather steam. In 2014 I began a series of paintings that I’ve been calling ‘pepper spray affirmations.’ Because I see my work as categorized by concepts rather than by media, these feel like an extension of the MOCS project rather than a departure from it. Ultimately MOCS is a response to and commentary about how social attitudes and habits make achieving whole-self wellness/contentedness next to impossible. It’s about how stupid and mean we are to each other and ourselves without even thinking about it. The pepper spray affirmations are exactly the same. I plan to post and flesh this series out more on this blog so please stay tuned.