Taking advantage of my new proximity to the University of California Irvine campus, I took it upon my self to attend Kayleigh Perkov’s recent talk “Desire, Made Manually: The Graphic Album Collection.” Their poster advertising the talk had me at “light refreshments will be served.”
But seriously, the Visual Studies program in the School of Humanities seems pretty great and I’m looking forward to attending more talks there in the future. Slowly, I shall overcome the culture shock of not using hallways in SoCal (therefore making it rather difficult to find numbered rooms—and making it so that the bathrooms are basically outside), mostly by harassing undergraduates until they point me in the right direction.
Here, I offer you my notes from Perkov’s 5 December 2013 talk, accompanied by some images culled from her presentation and the Internet.
* Grandma disclaimer: this talk was about naked people. The images are part of Perkov’s archival research. If nudity is not your thing, read at your own grandmotherly risk! *
Desire, Made Manually: The Graphic Album Collection
Kayleigh Perkov volunteered to present her work in progress as part of the UC Irvine professionalization agenda for students to practice presenting, get feedback from other researchers, and engage in interdisciplinary dialogue. Professor Bridget Cooks, Director of Visual Studies, introduced Perkov and her respondent, Professor Thomas Boellstorff.
I was the weirdo “member of the public” in attendance, but I did RSVP and everyone seemed cool with me being there, though they kept referring to something called “Week 10,” which was meaningless to me as I have mostly escaped term designations while I sit at home, alone, and write my dissertation.
The presentation showcased Perkov’s work with the graphic albums collection at ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives in Los Angeles. In particular, she considered collages that spliced images of gay pornography with advertisements from home décor magazines, which were impressive to say the least.
She spoke about the effacement of effort put into the collages, as well as the excessive repetition of the cutting and pasting processes around codified subjects. This pre-PhotoShop-photoshopping visual experience was the fruit of a laborious process of tactile engagement.
During the Q&A, someone asked how she located these source materials, and apparently her first encounter with these graphic albums (consisting of hundreds of home & garden magazine variety images spliced with pornography) was entirely serendipitous and due mainly to ambiguous archival cataloguing. She was working on another project with “graphics,” came upon an archival entry that read “graphic albums,” called them up, and found a treasure trove of collages.
She situated the imagery the context of photomontage and decorative arts work in art history. Some examples include Sears-style stock photography backdrops commonly found in family albums or souvenir postcards, the historical practice of leaving a carte-de-visite, and the fantasy collages of Mary Georgina Filmer (circa 1860):
As part of the critical discourse about the role of art, Perkov argued for the reclamation of devalued work, as these supposed “paper scrap” collages represent hours of cutting and pasting, meticulous handiwork conducted during leisure time. In particular, the albums she was considering used collage to bring the human figure back into the standard illustrations in magazines like Home & Garden, which were devoid of people.
These collages also drew on a keen knowledge of artists, including Jackson Pollock and Yves Saint Laurent. She argued that the albums are “bound with glue and cultural history” considering the destabilizing elements of meticulous x-acto knife work, tactile experiences in the archive, the anonymity of the donated albums, and the covers of the albums (which are the same as those used for family photo collections) in contrast with the highly eroticized contents of laboriously handmade, hybridized, altered worlds. She spoke about the visual pleasure of discovering this collection, as well as in the making of the tangible fantasy worlds.
Overall, it was a fascinating talk followed by an equally fascinating discussion, and I’m looking forward to learning more about her work and the work of other students at UC-Irvine!
Other key words mentioned by the respondent and during the Q&A, for visual culture scholars following along at home (I’m talking to you, Mrs. MA): irony and play, intimacy, seamlessness / seemingly / seam-ful-ness, erasure, Monty Python’s psychedelic aesthetic, pastiche, bricolage, postmodernism, translation, juxtaposition, Marx, Freud, race (as the images showcased white men in domestic, middle class spaces), contradiction, tension, humor, the uncanny, kitsch, queerness, sex and fine art, Graingerizing
Other great images that came up during her talk (and my Google searches afterward):
Yves Saint Laurent, “Mondrian” day dress, autumn 1965.
Harold L. Dittmer, Unknown (Man with diamonds), c. 1950.
All this bricolage encouraged me to finally finish decorating the IKEA coffee table sitting in the middle of our living room: