Susan Graham                                                      

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"A Universe With Edges Would Be All Right If Only I Didn't Dream
     installation for "5 x 5" at the Whitney Museum at Altria,  2002

 
Statement about the piece, printed in catalog accompanying the show:


The Charles Ray piece I have chosen (Puzzle Bottle, 1995) has an air of introspection:  the sculpture is of the artist himself, tiny and nonconfrontational, unlike the other Ray pieces I am familiar with.  The figure is isolated in the bottle, shoulders slightly hunched, looking ahead contemplatively.  The pity might feel for the man trapped in the bottle, though, is mediated for me by the title “Puzzle Bottle”, which refers to the ship-in-the-bottle trickery of the piece.

I told a friend I was thinking about how the figure sees the world from the bottle.  She said, “Do you know the quote from Hamlet-the one about the universe in a nutshell…” and something about infinite space. *  That conversation drew me to start the outer-space images and to start thinking more about limited or unlimited space.  By the time I actually got the quote, I knew what I wanted it to say, or what I wanted it to mean, so I roughly paraphrased it to suit my needs.  This version became the title of my piece.

My impulse was to make images of what the man envisions to be outside the bottle.  Considering his contained state, I imagined the most escapist fantasies.  I made photos of space exploration vehicles, satellites, skies, and such, simultaneously with the films, sometimes shooting the same scenes in both mediums.

The Humor of Ray’s work, the scale, and the loneliness of the man’s situation inspired me to make the films just a little bit funny or awkward.  I see an inverse relationship between the way Puzzle Bottle and my photos and films use scale.  For his piece, Ray made a miniature of himself and limited its space by containing it in the bottle, emphasizing its smallness.  For my photos and films, I made miniatures out of sugar and provided vast skies and landscapes for them, creating uncertainty as to their real size.  Both uses of scale create tension between reality and unreality.  They ask the viewer to engage in a suspension of disbelief:  to believe that there is a Lilliputian man who might fit through the neck of the bottle—or possibly just grew there—and to believe that the miniatures or the spaces they inhabit might actually be real.

* “Oh God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams,” from Hamlet, ed. Louis B. Wright and Virginia A. La Mar (New York:  Washington Square Press, 1958), 2.2.270-72.

charles
                                                          ray puzzle
                                                          bottle
Charles Ray, Puzzle Bottle, 1995.  Glass, painted wood, and cork.  13 3/8"x3 3/4"x3 3/4". collection of Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

*for a statement about the work click here

*for more images and comments from this work, see the featured artist page from the Man Overboard web site.

whitney
                                                installation
whitney
                                                installation susan
                                                graham
deep space
                                                cyanotype susan graham satellites in
                                                clouds photograph susan
                                                graham
landscape morning
                                                cyanotype susan graham atmosphere
                                                satellite flyby susan
                                                graham