A Thousand Words

By Kushner, Rachel | Artforum International, November 2000 | Go to article overview

A Thousand Words


Kushner, Rachel, Artforum International


Jim Shaw TALKS ABOUT HIS DREAM PROJECT

I dreamed I was in a Japanese gallery and the first room was filled with miniature landscapes with veils over them, and fans were blowing the veils. That room led into a hallway that looked like a Polynesian bar made out of half columns, and it became a curving form like a teardrop. From a certain vantage point within the teardrop, I could see a pastiche of stereotypical images of Native Americans: the "noble savage" sort of depiction mixed with the modern stereotype of Indian gambling. In the next gallery was a small show by Jeff Koons of a statue of either him or me running and a painting of that statue as well as some bas-reliefs, including one of a small boy who was removing or putting on a Santa Claus mask, and paintings that reproduced the bas-reliefs exactly. This dream was the last straw in a sense, because it took me a full year to execute all the artworks in it (while the dream itself probably lasted all of five seconds).

Ever since we bought our house in Los Angeles, I've been suffering from buyer's remorse. I used to be a relatively carefree renting bohemian with no debts, but the moment I signed this piece of paper I was the landed gentry with an enormous debt burden. So the specific plots of land under the veils at the beginning of the dream are related to that. My neighbor told me a Native American saying: You think you own your stuff, but your stuff owns you. And I have a lot of stuff. I'm getting into stereotypes of Native Americans here, but that's what these works are about--as well as something to do with the Trail of Tears and the dismemberment of nomadic lands.

The last two parts of the piece, the Indian pastiche painting and the Jeff Koons sculpture, are about fixing the eye in a particular position and relate to the idea that you own what you see. I have always been a renderer, and my stock-in-trade has been photorealist rendering, which is a sort of sick adolescent ability to mimic something, and through that mimicking, own it. To some extent the whole "My Mirage" series [1986-91]--which is a semi-autobiographical multiple-piece narrative--and some of the pieces in the dream project could be seen as mimicking the art of others, from James Rosenquist and Oyvind Fahlstrom to the films of Pat O'Neill to Mad Magazine. I see that as part of the perversion and tragedy held within this particular dream: the limited power of rendering and the sadness of that. Another source for the Koons sculpture came out of my confusion about a painting on the cover of Flash Art [Summer 1997], of Jeff Koons riding a balloon animal down the street. I somehow thought that was one of his pieces, not realizing it was part of a series of satirical paintings that Flash Art used for its covers. Misconstruing is sometimes more interesting than knowing the truth. I would hear rock lyrics as a kid and sometimes get them so wrong that they didn't make any sense--and those were always the most interesting lyrics. Sort of like dream logic, which is all about puns and getting a parallel version of something.

Watching a PBS documentary about Mormonism, I kept thinking, When are they going to get to the part about multiple wives? But that didn't come on the original tablets, it came in revelations. …

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