August 6, 2010

“Totemoticon” Sculpture – Lawrence, KS

When I was walking down Massachusetts Street with a friend of mine the other evening, I saw a smiley face. That was surprising to see on the corner of 8th and Massachusetts, but there it was. A pillar of faces made from punctuation marks and one of them was smiling at me. It was “Totemoticon” by Yuri Zupancic.

“Totemoticon” by Lawrence resident Zupancic is part of the 22nd Outdoor Downtown Sculpture Exhibition by the Lawrence Cultural Arts Commission. The Outdoor Downtown Sculpture Exhibition is an annual juried exhibition of sculpture founded by Jim Patti in 1987. This year, eight sculptures can be seen around Lawrence, including this work by Zupancic and other Lawrence residents Jan Gaumnitz, Matthew Farley and Jordan Briceland.

I think the title and the concept are both wonderfully clever. The play on words provides insightful commentary while also being lighthearted as a pun. The juxtaposition of sacred, ancient imagery – the totem – with the inane, technological expressions of our modern age forces us as viewers to examine how we express ourselves now. As emoticons become iconic imagery and text-speak abbreviations become poetic self-expression, I think the idea behind the peace is a powerful commentary on what is “expression” now compared to what expression once was.

The artist himself explains:” The pairing of ‘Totem’ & ‘Emoticon’ demonstrates that symbols of communication and sacredness can persist in new forms. The specific emoticons (faces rendered in punctuation marks) used are ones from Japan, where their pictographic written language has given them a head start in viewing written language as representational art. I hope that everyday someone will learn a new emoticon from the ‘totemoticon’ and use it to express themselves via text message, email, etc. Thus, subtly expanding new media vocabularies and ways of thinking about language and communication.”

The problem I have with the piece is that the name and concept are cleverer than the actual sculpture. It looks like three white wash boards with different emoticons painted on the sides. Because that is all it is. I think the name is great, the concept is great, but the actual execution of the sculpture just seems amateurish to me. When it comes to sculptures that attempt to place the inane aspects of our daily lives into an artistic context, I like the work of Claes Oldenburg. Oldenburg is known for creating very large replicas of everyday objects (for example, the Shuttlecocks I visited earlier in this blog). These pop art productions would display everyday objects in large and interesting ways so the mundane became fascinating to look at.

When I look at “Totemoticon,” I feel like it is missing that spirit Oldenburg had to push beyond what the actual object was and into something more thought provoking and intellectually challenging. I feel like “Totemoticon” is a pop art first draft, it needs something a little more to elevate it to a more aesthetically complex and visually striking work.

Total Distance Traveled: 3 miles
Total Time Traveled: 10 minutes
Soundtrack: 93.7FM The Bull


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