June 4, 2003
Sketchbook: Living Arts exhibit plumbs the depths of the American Dream
So what is this thing we call "The American Dream?"
If one believes the advertising this country has produced, then the American Dream is a house in the suburbs, fully equipped with all modern conveniences, including a spouse in some way responsible for the requisite 2.12575 children.
If one believes the literature of America, then the American Dream is the right and the ability to cut and run, to leave behind these manufactured comforts and start anew some place else.
The art of Erika Nelson, which goes on display Thursday at the Living Arts Space, 308 S. Kenosha Ave., deals with both ideas.
The manufactured American Dream is skewered in Nelson's installation, "Domesticated: A Deconstruction of The American Dream." It is made up of items Nelson calls "Genericana," arranged in a setting designed to call to mind the floor-plan of a ranch-style house from the 1960s and '70s.
The installation, Nelson writes in her artist's statement, "derives from a need to know how things work." Some of the specific questions that inspired Nelson to create this work included "How does America work?" "How does all this stuff that I surround myself with . . . make me what I am?" and "How am I a product of my culture?"
Nelson's reactions to those questions, she writes, "take physical form in assembled vignettes that incorporate such Americana trappings as bingo cards, lawn flamingos, Astroturf and fake flowers," which she uses as "symbols of the situations I've experienced."
The vignettes that make up "Domesticated" focus on situations dealing with communication -- or more precisely, the lack of communication, the awkward silences of family and the memories of those silences -- in an environment designed to feel like walking through an empty furnished home.
As for that other kind of American Dream, that is what Nelson is more or less living these days. Formerly an instructor in textiles at the University of Kansas, she now travels in a converted bus that holds her unique rolling museum of "The World's Largest Collection of the World's Smallest Versions of the World's Largest Things."
Nelson will return to Tulsa later this month to participate in Living Arts of Tulsa's New Arts Camp. The "Domesticated" exhibit closes June 28, and the items will be auctioned off.
For more information, call Living Arts of Tulsa, 585-1234.
By JAMES D. WATTS World Scene Writer
Erika Nelson’s work, “Domesticated: A Deconstruction of the American Dream,” goes on display at the Living Arts Space, 308 S. Kenosha Ave.
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