An Artist™ Critiques Peridot and Lapis’ Art From “Beta”
By: Sam Quattro
Hi. My name is Sam and I have a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Interdisciplinary Fine Arts with a concentration in Sculpture.
Most people can walk into a museum, scoff at an abstract expressionist painting and question its merit as art, and call it a day. I, however, cannot. My degree essentially means that I know how to use various power tools with minimum anxiety and that I know how to talk about art on a level that most of the population cannot. I don’t know how many papers, hours of critique, and mandatory gallery trips I’ve had to endure, but I have a BFA and damn if I’m not going to use it. What better way to do that than to critique two cartoon characters, Peridot and Lapis, on their artistic endeavors.
So a bit of art history 101 here before we get started on the actual work: art is broken up into movements. That is, people who worked with similar themes/techniques at around the same time are lumped into a category together and given a name. It’s mostly done by academics in retrospect in order to easily group together art on a timeline but sometimes it’s intentional, like the Futurists who had a manifesto to head their movement. I find it interesting that Peridot and Lapis call their art “meep morp.” I mean within the context of the show they don’t know what art is so they just call it meep morp, but I can see this being a declaration of a new movement. Meep morp, art done by literal aliens who don’t know what art is. Anyway, let’s get started.
First off we have Peridot’s piece Wow, Thanks. Peridot states that it “represents the struggles of inner-communication. The tape is the ribbon that binds our experience on Earth together.” Peridot is already using some artspeak which I find impressive. I mostly gather that it’s a piece about her relationship with Lapis since that was the last time we saw the tape recorder now used in this piece. How they’re, not necessarily stuck, on earth together. Its broken state is the vestige of animosity Lapis had towards Peridot. It reminds me of the work of Tracy Emin, specifically how she uses personal objects/experience in her work. Specifically Wow, Thanks reminds me of Emin’s My Bed.
My Bed is simply what it states; Emin’s bed with the addition of various personal items surrounding it. I’ve read people deem it as being intentionally shocking, but I don’t feel that way. I feel that the piece is more driven by needing to share something, not expose but just have it out there. I mean, my bed and the surrounding area doesn’t look too much different from this. Nonetheless, it’s that element of sharing personal information via found objects with personal meaning where I connect these two pieces. I think that maybe Wow, Thanks could be arranged in a different way. Honestly, it looks more like a display case configuration of a tape recorder. Peridot could also maybe try having some of the audio of the tape playing while we’re viewing the remnants of the recorder? That could be a bit too much and be too much information happening at the same time, but it’s worth trying to see if it can better express the idea of struggles of inter-communication. Especially if the audio is distorted. She could even do away with the pedestal and make it a whole room installation akin to how My Bed is displayed, with the recorder on the floor in the middle and audio playing. But like I said, might be too much and she’d have to play around and see if it could work. Art is like a puzzle more often than not, trying to fit together different elements and see if they work out to your overall message.
Overall, I think that Wow, Thanks is successful. I like the ribbon element and what it represents within the inter-communication bit. I think that it works as being a piece about Peridot and Lapis’ relationship and the object itself says what Peridot wants it to convey. The presentation is my only real issue but that can be played around with, more so since it’s in the round and not on a wall or anything. Not everything has to be on a pedestal, makeshift or not.
A Baseball Bat & The Leaf Steven Gave Me
I’m going to group these two Lapis pieces together due to their similarities in content. Lapis is also working with found objects here but her use of them are a bit more like Marcel Duchamp. Duchamp was famous for his readymade pieces, the most famous of which is probably The Fountain, a urinal which he turned the wrong way and signed with a fake name.
So what Lapis is doing here with A Baseball Bat and The Leaf Steven Gave to Me is very Duchampesque. She just took two objects, slightly altered them, and is presenting them as art without any depth or ulterior concept. They are a collection of baseball items tied to a stick and a leaf sticking out of the dirt. This is a whole thing within the art world, the merits of conceptualism and if it truly counts as art. Can anything be art if a self-proclaimed artist says it is? Honestly, I don’t put a lot of stock into that debate; the opposition is just a bunch of traditionalists trying to stunt creative growth if you ask me and the people making the actual work can be overly pretentious. This kind of art is hard to critique for me. Personally, I’m not much of a fan of the whole readymade thing, I usually like a bit of deeper meaning in my works. But there’s nothing wrong with aesthetics for aesthetic’s sake. Without that idea, most of the crafts, fashion, and design worlds wouldn’t exist. I enjoy these works as I would enjoy a knick knack at a thrift store; they have a look to them and someone probably likes it, but it’s not for me. Just a part of the thrifting experience.
Theses pieces also remind me of Alex Da Corte’s work. He’s actually a fellow alumnus of my alma matter (he graduated 12 years before I did) and I’ve heard him speak before about his work. I remember him saying something to the effect of how he’ll put different, seemingly random objects in an installation because they remind him of a friend. This is basically what Lapis is doing here. Da Corte is one of the most aesthetically driven artists I’m aware of and he’s a pretty big deal, so there’s some roundabout validation of her work for you.
I Just Feel Trapped
These last three pieces are more within the realm of what I make so this should be fun. Lapis’ I Just Feel Trapped is a piece of video art that’s sort of also an installation. I guess it’s more of an object though. Labeling aside, Steven guesses that this work is about all that time that Lapis spent trapped in a mirror, which she denies and says that she just really likes Camp Pining Hearts. I don’t see why it can’t be both. Artists use pop culture to convey meanings and messages all the time.
We can trace this trend back hundreds of years, one example being Artemisia Gentileschi using the (now out of canon) biblical story of Judith beheading Holofernes as a way to convey her feelings towards her rapist. Then of course there was pop art, but that was more about consumerism than anything else. Nowadays we have people like Cory Arcangel using different forms of video based media to get a message across, such as his piece Super Mario Clouds which is pretty self explanatory. Arcangel hacked a Super Mario Brothers cartridge to only display the clouds. It opens up similar themes of confinement in a digital space that Lapis is trying to express in I Just Feel Trapped.
Lapis’ piece is too on the nose for me. It’s like…you see this kind of work in art school all the time. Using cult pop culture as a tool is the stereotypical “edgy” sort of thing people do mostly for the sake of being different and without much meaning behind their choices. I’m guilty of doing this in some of my work. I can think of a bunch of my fellow classmates, friends, who have done this. I think if maybe there was a statement to go along with this piece I can get behind it more. There needs to be more thought put into this.
I had a professor say to me once that you don’t paint a tombstone if you want to make art about someone who died; you use metaphor. Metaphor is a powerful tool and I think that it is essential in having successful pop culture based works. Super Mario Clouds has metaphorical meaning, Judith Slays Holofernes has metaphorical meaning, I Just Feel Trapped doesn’t. It is just a blunt statement using an arbitrary choice of medium. Again, I could get behind this if there was more thought put into it and maybe a statement (akin to what Peridot was saying about her work Wow, Thanks) to go along with it, an more in depth explanation of the artistic choices made here. Without that, it falls flat. It’s on the line between meaningful and not meaningful and that is frustrating. Even people like the previously mentioned Marcel Duchamp have extensive explanations as to why he did the readymades. Making blunt/on the nose art work is okay, but I feel like you need to be aware that that’s what you’re doing. This piece is actually my favorite of the bunch, which is why I’m going on and on about needing more from it.
Occupied is a collaborative piece between Peridot and Lapis, Peridot stating that it represents the time that she spent imprisoned in Steven’s bathroom. Personally, collaboration is my favorite method of working. I’ve done it many, many times (NSFW) throughout my academic career and even my senior thesis was a collaboration. But collaboration is hard. You need to find people who will bring out the best in you and challenge you in a good way, not in a mandatory group project way. A lot of artists are turned off from collaborating either because it’s a big ego thing or something else, so I’m glad to see that Peridot and Lapis could set aside whatever differences in order to make a work of art together. This collaboration has more set boundaries than the ones I’ve participated in: Peridot is the one with the concept, Lapis is the one making the physical work.
Within the art world, especially the sculpture world, there is a practice of outsourcing work. People like Jeff Koons, Donald Judd, Damien Hirst (whose work The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living is pictured above), and Andy Warhol have all done it. They had the ideas but didn’t make the objects themselves, usually employing an army of interns to do the physical work. This is an aspect of art that kind of drives me bonkers and makes me roll my eyes with the straight up pretentiousness of it all, but I wouldn’t say it isn’t art. Just not my personal practice. Anyway, that’s what I think is on the sour end of the spectrum; having other people doing the work for you but not really crediting them. Occupied is more on the sweet side, Peridot makes it a point to say that it’s a collaboration and it’s not all her. Lapis is involved too. I supposed that is probably because of the performative aspect, Lapis waterbending the toilet water is just as much apart of the piece as the toilets themselves.
I have to wonder how Peridot felt about her imprisonment, because the piece feels more like an expression of jubilation and unity than its name would suggest. Peridot did start to become more intertwined with the group after the bathroom episode, so that isn’t that far of a stretch. I would probably workshop the name and maybe think more about why Lapis is there other than her water powers being handy. Like I said, the performative aspect of Lapis moving the water is just as much apart of the piece as the toilets themselves. What does that add to the work other than “I needed water to be manipulated and she has that power”? If Lapis is only there for that purpose, she could be hidden when showing this work or something like that. I just don’t see the correlation Lapis has with Peridot’s bathroom stay other than the functional water element and it needs to be thought out more.
Last but not least we have Peridot’s performance One Gem Metal Band. She states that it’s purpose is to “impress the shirts right off of you” while its execution does the opposite. She assembles all of these instruments around her, counts herself in, and only ends up blowing the harmonica and pushing the other instruments away, afterwards exclaiming that that’s as far as she’s practiced.
This reminds me of composer John Cage‘s affinity for accidental sound and silence. It also strangely reminds me of Franko B’s piece Don’t Leave Me This Way (NSFW). Franko B is a guy who worked with his own body and blood for years and years and Don’t Leave Me This Way was a break in that expectation the audience had for blood. It was just him, naked in the center of a room with the only distractions being light and sound. Visually, Peridot’s One Gem Metal Band is similar to B’s piece. Conceptually, I feel like One Gem Metal Band is Peridot using the new expectation her viewers have of her, use of her metal powers, and breaking that with being less than impressive, just as B has done in his work.
Performance art is difficult to pin down, just as readymades are. I feel One Gem Metal Band is clever enough; it’s not trying to directly talk about an event and I think with that it has the upper hand from Peridot’s previous pieces that could use more fine tuning. There’s really not much to it so there’s not much to say about it. It’s not a particularly powerful work of art, I’m not falling to my knees with emotion, it’s more of Peridot just goofing around without trying to assign any meaning to it. And with that lack of intended meaning, it doesn’t really have the opportunity to succeed or fail. It is what it is, another piece in the show, another performance in the ether.
And there you have it. I’m going to call this more of a studio visit than a gallery exhibition, given that the barn is kinda Lapis and Peridot’s studio and they didn’t make a big wine and cheese deal out of showing the work. These works can benefit from a few more helpful eyes being on them and giving feedback. Hopefully the next time we visit the meep morps there will be better, more thought-out work.