In the confusing stage our culture has come to, it is not uncommon for artists to try to make sense of it through their work. Two such artists, Lauren McCarthy and Katie Torn, have created pieces that try to reason with our inner thoughts, and how they are outwardly expressed. Both artists use modern digital technology in the process of creating and displaying their art.
Lauren McCarthy studies every day social situations that many can relate to their personal lives. She considers herself to be a designer, a programmer, and an artist and holds a Master of Fine Arts from UCLA. She creates game like tools to manipulate these social situations, many geared towards fluid conversations with limited awkward moments. While uncomfortable moments are meant to be limited in her experiments, she says that they fascinate her. More specifically, she is interested in the moments when patterns of social interactions are broken.
Works of Lauren McCarthy go past theoretical experiments. Although she doesn’t make her projects into marketable products, she does produce the zany instruments. One example of her work is the Conversacube. The Conversacube is a small box intended to get conversations started, and to train its users on how to interact with one another. It gives instructions to the participants to “notice, “react”, “touch”, and a variety of other basic motions one might go through in a conversation. McCarthy is making a comment on our generation that perhaps we have lost the skills necessary to have fluid social interaction. Social commentary is laced in many of her works.
Another work that demonstrates McCarthy’s style well is Happiness Hat, made in 2009. The happiness hat is a crocheted hat with an arm attached to the wearer’s cheek. It is able to detect whether the subject is smiling or not. If not, a small motor near the nape of the neck drives a sharp metal point against the wearer’s skin, causing moderate discomfort. Once a smile has been restored, the pain is instantly relieved. The object of such a hat is to train the wearer’s brain to always smile, and by always smiling, the wearer will experience an over-all increase in their happiness.
Katie Torn is also a modern artist, and has similar motives to her art as Lauren McCarthy. She primarily makes digital prints, many of which are animated. Her art comes without descriptions, only brief titles. The rest of the interpretation is left entirely to the audience’s discretion. Katie has a master of fine arts from the University of Chicago, obtained in 2012. She now lives in New York City working as a professor. Her work is self described as, “digital prints that reflect observations on American consumerism, culture, and its impact on the environment and human body”. Her work is said to have elements of Cubism and Futurism.
Torn’s work reflects messages expressed by The New Aesthetic. Both collections explore how our lives and the digital world are becoming one. The New Aesthetic gives numerous examples of how intricately intertwined we have become with our computers and smart phones, ranging from pixels in our 3-D world to the seemingly vast knowledge our devices carry about our lives. Torn’s piece The Calm Before the Storm is a video that shows a city scape with rotating pipes expelling dark smoke. There are trees trying to grow around the buildings, and it is unclear as to whether they are taking over the buildings, or if the buildings are crowding out the trees. Above the trees is a woman’s head, and the woman is frowning and crying pink gunk. This piece shows an unhealthy relationship between industrial technology and nature.
Another of Torn’s pieces, the one that will later be compared to McCarthy’s Happiness Hat is The Queen of Intrusive Thoughts. This is a moving statue with the focus on a green face perched near the top of the statue. The face shows signs of agony in its bared teeth, its pouted lips, and in the arms that are rubbing its temples repetitively. The statue is covered in a chaotic mess of colors, and includes rapidly flashing lights inside of the “chest” cavity. The flashing lights escape the body in a number of places. In addition to the arms that caress the temples, there are two that escape the mid-section and grope the air mindlessly. Although there is no caption to explain her piece, we can gather from Torn’s video that the sculpture represents repressed feelings of stress, ones that are manifesting into physical ailments. The title of the piece, The Queen of Intrusive Thoughts, supports this claim.
The two pieces The Queen of Intrinsic Thought and The Happiness Hat, although very different in the nature they are expressed, have similar inspirations. Both pieces deal with mental health, and suppressed feelings. The Happiness Hat is a proposed method of dealing with those suppressed feelings, while The Queen of Intrinsic Thought is a visual representation of those nasty thoughts. McCarthy says of her hat, “A smile is a simple action that has the power to make you and everyone around you feel better. Just using the muscles to smile can make you feel happier. Seeing someone else smiling triggers mirror neurons in your own brain, causing you to unconsciously smile yourself.” Although this is a nice theory, she does follow with the concession that fake smiles are often used to cover up what we are really feeling. There is no mention in the video or the description as to whether the happiness hat succeeded in making McCarthy (the guinea pig for the hat) feel happier.
Although the message of the pieces is similar, the way they are represented are starchily different. McCarthy’s piece is a video explanation of a product she produced, while Torn’s piece is an abstract moving digital print. It could be considered a video as well, but if the clip is stopped at any moment it is almost indistinguishable from any other moment of the clip, save that a few pieces that shifted. McCarthy’s video also differs from Torn’s clip in its humor. The idea of a hat that stabs you every time you stop smiling is preposterous enough to be mildly humorous. Although the intentions of the piece are not humor, it certainly seems to have been a driving them. Torn’s clip, on the other hand, can better be described as dark and disturbing. Its perfect symmetry, strange color combinations, and human limbs in odd places give the clip an extremely eerie effect. There is very little humor that can be detected in The Queen of Intrinsic Thoughts.
McCarthy and Torn, although commenting on similar topics through their work, go about this commentary in very different ways. Their styles are so different they can hardly be considered parts of the same branch of art. McCarthy’s pieces are humorous and ironic, while Torn’s pieces are dark, trippy, and, many of them, concerning to an unprepared viewer.
· "Lauren McCarthy | Eyebeam.org." Eyebeam. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Aug. 2013.
· "Katie Torn | Eyebeam.org." Eyebeam. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Aug. 2013.
· Bridle, James. "The New Aesthetic." The New Aesthetic. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Aug. 2013.