29, 1975 American Embassy, Saigon
Mixed Media, 24"x19"x20", © Margaret Adachi 1997
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Think of the Kennedy assassination and a flood of memories come to mind. I can recall the round-the-clock television coverage and the general somber mood and silence everywhere. Mostly though, a series of images pervades. You might remember some of them. L.B.J., one hand raised, the other on the Bible, takes the oath with Jackie beside him still wearing her bloodstained suit. A flag-draped coffin lies in the Rotunda. A young widow in a long black veil stands with her children. These images come to our consciousness from much-publicized photographs so familiar they have become entwined with our own experiences of the event. They emotionally encapsulate a period as vividly as a snippet of music or a particular smell.
As with other members of the "boom" generation, the historical events that happened during my lifetime have been well-documented. This extensive documentation has been distilled down to a few dramatic photographs used by the media as visual references. These images serve as a kind of shorthand in our collective memory, synonymous with names like Kent State or Ruby and Oswald.
In Trolling for Truth I am exploring the relationship between these media-made cultural icons and our recalled memories of these seminal moments. What defines these episodes as "seminal"? Are we reacting with gut feelings to the events themselves? Or are we responding to the photographs, the power of the visual image, thereby creating new cultural idols? In this day and age it may not be possible to separate our experience of any event from our recollection of the images associated with that event but it is imperative that we recognize the difference.
Pret-A-Poulet (Mustard Green)
Partial Installation View, © Margaret Adachi 1997
Why did the chicken cross the road? Was it to get to the other side as any second grader will tell you? But is this really the answer or one so commonly recited that it's become a call-response reflex with a rim shot (da-dum-da)? We don't think of these old jokes as serious questions but their humor often masks the seeds of more puzzling riddles. The questions we ask over and over are perhaps the ones that most bother us; the ones for which there are no satisfying answers. Some of the questions I ask myself have to do with the contradictions of life. How is it possible to want two conflicting, often opposable desires? Why are we drawn to the things that repel us?
Lately I've been considering the uncomfortable, less palatable (and not nice) aspects of consumption. We at the top of the food chain can avoid acknowledging our participation in the life/death, eat/be eaten cycle. We can sustain our little deceptions by purchasing a conveniently headless roaster or even more abstract, the edited parts in the "best of fryer." Nobody likes the thought of eating Clara the Cluck, yet who would deny the pavlovian response that passing under a KFC vent can trigger.
I seek to integrate these differing sentiments into a more comprehensive point of view. By focusing on the troubling aspects, I work to transform the subject matter into a more familiar, non-threatening object. The trick is to domesticate without totally stripping out the recognizable, repugnant character. This doesn't necessarily lead to a happy ending. The best resolution I can hope for is an acceptance of a paradox that may never completely make sense.
In shaping these chickens I needed to know more about their form, to learn about chicken anatomy in a tactile way (something beyond what can be revealed in a drawing or diagram). I wanted to feel the volume and see how the body moved. No live chicken was going to allow me to touch it. The easiest method was to study the roasters and fryers picked out of the butcher's case. Over the kitchen sink, I manipulated the joints, discovered how the ligaments were connected, and saw for myself where the hard and soft parts were located. I felt a link to my forebears of the Early Renaissance who secretly examined cadavers for insights into the human anatomy but unlike those artists, I eventually ate my studies.
The poultry sculptures I have made are clean and dry. There is no blood, no stink and no salmonella. Okay, they're headless but they're upholstered, housebroken, and ready to be hung safe and sound into our domestic delusions. Some look less like plump fowl and more like headless human babies. Working so intimately with these "bodies," it's only natural to think about the similarities between human and chicken anatomy. This kinship piques questions that nip ever closer at the heels of my soul. Where are these dressed fowl going? Trotted out season after season, the reincarnated "new" collection is put on display, to be desired and admired until their brief shelf life expires. What is their destiny? Each possesses individual traits beyond just differences in fabric. Gestural characteristics, even without the heads, display a lot of personality. The chickens move forward, driven by their cable. However individual each might appear, each faces the same fate, to live and die, to become our sustenance that we may go on living.
Are we so different? In our own brief lives we are consumed by our own desires and obsessions. Perhaps we can avoid looking at the larger cable that drives us by focusing on the details of our lives (hence the adage, God is in the details). Like the riddle of which came first, the chicken or the egg, there are no definitive answers here.
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All text and artwork are © Margaret Adachi.