Sandy Skoglund (American, b. 1946) is a contemporary artist associated with surrealism and conceptualism.

Skoglund is most well known for her installation art and photography. Without the use of photography there would be no lasting record of the majority of installations. Due to the reliance on photography artists such as Skoglund and Andy Goldsworthy have also become masters of the photograph. (Skoglund experiments with many techniques in order to achieve the most accurate and aesthetically pleasing image possible.)

From 1967 to 1968 Skoglund studied in Paris and Provence, France. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Smith College in 1968. In the early 1970’s she earned her Master of Arts degree and Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa.

Skoglund stages entire environments. Some of her best-known work was down with Radioactive cats. The cats were painted fluorescent green and placed in a dark room, of Skoglund’s own creating, causing the cats to appear to be glowing. Skoglund’s environments often have a surreal quality to them. However fantastic they may be the installations are also painstakingly realistic where anatomy, movement, and the like are concerned.

Another series of work done by Skoglund consists of every element in the environment being covered in a particular item such as cheese-doodles (cheese flavored snack food) or fabric butterflies. Skoglund often calls upon members of the community in which the work is housed to assist in the installation of the installation. (She did in fact come to my community a few years ago and students at the Dreyfoos School of the Arts, where I was attending, meticulously helped in the set-up of one such environment. The exhibition was held at The Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, FL.)

Skoglund’s work also consists of Performance Art. Live people are often part of the environments. Live models are used in works such as the cheese-doodle-covered environment, The Cocktail Party.

Skoglund is also a…

  • Researcher- Before creating the actual works Skoglund studies physical and behavioral characteristics of the animals and humans she is going to include in her work. She understands the importance of scientific accuracy in creating a convincing environment.
  • Sculptor- The most common material used by Skoglund to create elements such as animals is a clay called plastalene. This is the same clay that is used by automobile and industrial designers.
  • Handler- Elements of the installation are created in her studio and then have to be shipped great distances, often overseas, before reaching their final destination.
  • Set designer- Since all of her environments are completely fabricated she has to choose and arrange every element involved, from the walls to the floor to furniture.
  • Prop person- Props are a small but certainly significant aspect of her work. Some of the props Skoglund has to purchase for her installations are salt and pepper shakers, baskets, candelabras et cetera.
  • Movie director- The actions of all the humans in the installations are scripted from where and how they will move to when eye contact should be made between them.
  • Costume designer- Skoglund also chooses what will be worn whether is a dress covered in cheese-doodles or a gray wig, she makes all apparel decisions.

Thematic Concerns: (addressed by Skoglund)

Whether it is intended or not Skoglund’s work often raises societal issues without taking a stance one way or the other.

Suburbia-

"I'm very interested in the idea of the normal and from that point of view, suburbia was a haunting experience. It's so empty of real content and engagements... It's always the same, a repetition of brand new homes, the smell of Formica, the same sterility." – Skoglund

Her views about suburbia can been seen in works such as The Green House, Germs Are Everywhere, and The Gathering House. The Green House is a room completely covered in raffia grass (which is similar in appearance to Astroturf, but feels softer) with many different breeds of painted blue plastalene dogs. Skoglund considers dogs to be a reflection of the way humans have made animals in their own image. (Critic Meg Hamilton interprets the dark emerald green of The Green House as a sign of materialist greed and desire for security.)

Germs Are Everywhere is a room where every element, except for the live woman and blue plant in the foreground, is painted a shade of bright green. The room is also covered with “germs” that in actuality are pieces of chewed gum. Skoglund chewed each piece of gum herself, twice, after soaking it in water. The gum containing her own teeth marks was then affixed to the installation with apoxy.

Gathering Paradise is the exterior of a house and the backyard completely painted pink and crawling with black plastalene squirrels and crows.

"…nature'srevenge against culture…the title of this work underscores its irony. The suburban ideal—a life balanced between city and country is a carefully domesticated setting—is undone. Nature in the form of the horde of cute little squirrels, refuses to accept its role as decorative accessory, instead it blindly multiplies, mocking the suburbanite's dream of order and with it all our fantasies of mastery and control." – Eleanor Heartney

The Environment-

The human relationship with the environment is addressed in Fox Games, a chrome dining room with red foxes. At one of the tables sits a women with a fox fur coat draped over the back of her chair. Skoglund chose to use a fox because she wanted some sort of four-legged wild animal and after considering the use of other animals such as wolves she choose the sly fox because it has “symbolic resonance for Western culture.” Fox Games raises issues of territory concerning modern urban society and nature. Whose space is this? Are the foxes invading the dining room or was the dining room built where the foxes used to hunt?

Food-

Food is one of the mediums Skoglund uses most. She has included corn, peas, raw bacon and hamburger, strawberry jam, chewing gum, raisins, cookies, and more. The use of food addresses American society’s obsession with the resource. Not only the over-use of food in America, but also the increasing problems of anorexia nervosa and bulimia among teenagers. Food, like color, has psychological and emotional connotations.

Other Artists Fond of Food:

Lynn Aldrich Doug Hammett Janine Antoni

Religion-

Maybe Babies is a dark room filled with blue and pink floating plastalene babies. A common interpretation of this installation is an allusion to the Catholic religion. However, when questioned about this Skoglund commented on the many meanings that she did not intend to imply.

“I sculpted babies and I thought I was being completely descriptive and sort of coldly analytical and how babies actually looked, except that they were bigger… I was definitely trying to get beyond the stereotype Gerber baby and the happy baby and all that kind of thing. I don't think that childhood is a happy time. I think that we fortunately grow up to be some kind of adult and make ourselves happy, but I don't think we are born happy at all. That's my feeling. And I think that American society wants to see it the other way around, which is that we're born happy and then we descend into some kind state of trouble and contamination which is also very Catholic and involved with sin and that sort of thing… I thought I was just being very descriptive and I thought it was funny, a rather funny piece you know, that these babies are wandering around. I painted them pink and blue because I wanted to talk about gender but that led to purple which lead the viewer into thinking that they were bruised. So, that's been one interpretation of that piece. Another interpretation has been about abortion, and nothing could have been further from my thoughts.”- Skoglund

Skoglund was inspired by:

Ed Ruscha William Wegman John Baldessari

Sources and Images:

Official Site: www.sandyskoglund.com http://www.seattleartmuseum.org/exhibitions/hallmark/timeline/skoglund.htm http://www.batguano.com/bgma/skoglund.html http://www.getty.edu/artsednet/resources/Skoglund/index.html

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