Marcia Lea, Once Upon an I Con (2012)

Jane Hook’s sculptures subvert idealized role models and bring them crashing down to human reality. Hook holds a Fine Arts Degree from the Ontario College of Art and Design, as well as a Masters of Social Work and an undergraduate degree in psychology. Her life experience, as well as her work in the fields of art and psychology, have lead her to investigate the difficult reconciliation of reality with unrealistic ideals. She examines idealizations found in art history, toys and popular culture and transforms familiar objects to make empowering statements about societal expectations and self-awareness.

Hook uses humour and well-executed material techniques to create sculptures that reference historical ideals as well as contemporary popular icons such as toys and iPods. She uses many methods and materials depending upon the requirements of each individual concept. Michelangelo’s God becomes small, naked and trapped. The eternally teenage Barbie toy is depicted at age 70. Rodin’s Thinker is no longer powerfully muscular and deeply intellectual in appearance, but small naked, dwarfed by his environment and helplessly bound. Gods and heroes are shrunk to vulnerable toy size.

Hook’s creations may be vulnerable but they also appear more real than the original images that inspired them. Much like sculptor Ron Mueck, she aspires to create objects that appear so human that they could not be human. Brigette Always Wanted to be a Superhero, captures even in the very title the futility of many of the roles that society sets as an ideal role model. By definition, super-heroism is beyond mere humans.

The Venus de Here and Now is a particularly complex piece that allows for multiple readings. Hook makes clear reference to the Hellenistic Greek statue known as Venus de Milo. Hook, however takes definitive action to ensure the viewer that this is a 21st century re-interpretation of this goddess of love. Utilizing her versatility with material and technique Hook has used a blow-up sex doll for the casting process and then further altered the statue to reflect both the original statue and her own statement. She has then painted an acrylic imitation veneer of marble to further reference the original statue while delving into aspects of consumer kitsch. The small air valve at the back of the sculpture can remind a viewer of the massive inflatable sculptures of American artist Jeff Koons. In this series he created larger than life sculptures based upon children’s inflatable floating devices and birthday party balloon animals. While both Hook and Koons are working with the presentation of everyday toys in a new manner that completely alters their interpretation, Koons’ work does not so much criticize aspects of contemporary consumer society so much as acknowledge it.[1] In contrast, Hook’s work specifically targets role models that are predestined to be unattainable.

One interpretation of this sculpture is that this Goddess of Love, this expression of ideal love, is ruined and compromised by the state of sex and love in the modern materialistic world. On this level the piece works very effectively. There are however, alternative interpretations.

The original statue was created in Hellenistic Greece and is believed to be a re-interpretation of earlier Classical Greek versions of the goddess of love from the fourth or third centuries B.C.E.[2] This was a statue that tried to depict ideal beauty and ideal love. These were the unattainable ideals of both Classical and Hellenistic Greece. A woman of these Greek eras would have found it no easier to attain this perfect ideal than the modern woman. In the case of ancient Greece the role models were gods and goddesses. Indeed, the Greek philosophies of Plato codified these impossible ideals. To Plato it was the Idea, an ideal concept that existed somewhere, that was pure and good. Richard Rushton writes that in the Platonic view, “there is a realm of perfect forms that is subsequently and ultimately behind what is behind appearances (the real of Ideal Forms).”[3] All manifestations of the Idea in the real world were mere copies that did not achieve perfection. This applies to people as well, we are the imperfect copies of an Ideal Form.

If the Venus de Here and Now is viewed with Platonic concepts in mind, it brings a sweeping new read to Hook’s sculpture. Maybe humanity’s tendency to set self-defeating unrealistic goals is not a 21st century dilemma, but rather an aspect of human nature that needs to be considered and understood. For thousands of years humans have been creating idealized forms, daring mere humans to live up to these ideals. As with all of Hook’s sculptures, this piece raises powerful questions about how we deal with the distance between our dreams and our realities.

All four artists in this series of exhibitions transform an original narrative and create an entirely new entity that offers viewers an opportunity to view their environment in a new way. These artists have done this by creating simulacra.

Plato was not only concerned with the Ideal and the copy, he also created concepts of further hierarchies by distinguishing between a copy and a simulacrum. As Gilles Deleuze and Rosalind Krauss write of Plato’s theory, “A copy truly resembles something only to the extent that it resembles the Idea of the thing.”[4] Plato viewed a copy that varied from or transformed the original as a simulacrum, a bad copy, because “the simulacrum is an image without resemblance.”[5]

During the 20th century and the 21st century, this negative concept of the simulacrum, the altered copy, has been challenged both philosophically and artistically. Deleuze and Krauss write that, “The factitious is always a copy of a copy, which must be pushed to the point where it changes its nature and turns into a simulacrum (the moment of Pop Art).”[6] By deliberately changing the appearance of objects and presenting them in new ways, artists have found a way to make perspective-changing statements.

Kim DiFrancesco took historic artistic portrait compositions and substituted canines for humans, altering how the viewer sees traditional portraiture and how we view animals. Elizabeth Barrett Milner portrayed her everyday environment in a dream-like story of past and present. Fausta Facciponte searched out discarded dolls to transcend the barrier between the viewer and the viewed, creating a heightened sense of self-awareness. Jane Hook placed toys, heroes and gods before the viewer in a form so altered that their power to influence people has been replaced by the people’s power to influence the icons. These artists have changed the original narrative and created an altered copy that can open up thought and discourse. “It is that masked difference, not the manifest resemblance, that produces the effect of uncanniness so often associated with the simulacrum.”[7] Exhibitions like these allow viewers the opportunity to walk away from the artwork with a view on reality that is ever so slightly, ever so richly, altered.

Curatorial Statement by Marcia Lea, M.F.A.

Executive Director and Curator,

The Glenhyrst Art Gallery

Brantford, ON