Last year in my quest for ‘likeable’ art I have discovered a forgotten gem, which I will attempt to burnish for your use here. In a box placed outside a used book store, I found a publication from the early 1960s titled A Place to Live. It was a government-funded, multi-author study on agriculture as part of American society. In slightly poor shape and obviously harking back to an era of what could be perceived as a dilapidated ‘institutional’ style, it did not find a buyer for years on end, the $2 price notwithstanding.
The cover of the book was a painted farm scene by an anonymous artist. Perhaps on account of the pervasively general, as opposed to an eminently personal style of the cover, the artist’s name was not provided for any special adoration. At first glance, the image makes one think of a primary school textbook, which is an association that unifies the institutional nature of the commission with the childlike nature of the image. If we adopted a critical stance, perhaps we would find in it a certain childishness, but isn’t it many influential adults who could be accused of not being grown up, both in the time of the book’s creation and in today’s contemporary culture? Certainly the country scene as a representation of simple living as well as the naturalistic utopia of the 60s (which mirrored the chemical utopia of the 50s) make us think of a certain immaturity of the times, but one of which an incarnation we would also do best to identify in the present.
However, a political interpretation must not be abused and I myself liked this book cover from the very moment I saw it. At the same time, the images needed a certain valorisation, and so I decided to transform the book cover into art cards. Accessible to the touch as separate entities to play with and juxtapose in a sort of child’s play, they gained even more in simplicity and were divorced from the scrutinizing eyes of the Brotherly Institution. Children engage in ‘liking’ and ‘unliking’ things in an especially vivacious manner, and what represents a positive value for a child is presented here in a quintessential concentration of 'free likeability'. In the cards we find images of happiness, lollipop colours, simple content, sunshine, and an underlying innocence, all brought together in a wholesome synthesis.
But what can become personally touching in the cards is accessible also through the slightly ‘negative’ aspects associated with the images. Such aspects are found in the resounding nostalgia for our individual childhood and collective past, both tinged with a hint of sadness and a feeling of loss. The dirt clinging to the cards from the old 1960s cover also makes accessible to our memory the reminiscence of a happy and slightly horrific image: the dirty children’s faces and knees, soiled from the rolling around on the ground and engaging in other forms of tactile enjoyment. The unification of the cards' positive aspects and the negative ones hopefully creates a ‘deep’ experience, one that doesn't negate any part of the human experience.
The most satisfying moment, artistically speaking, was when a young woman to whom I handed the cards started playing with them, trying to unsuccessfully fit the cards into one single image, and her face became a child’s face in an expression of ‘like’. I mentioned something about the mother instinct, but she said: “C’est petit comme art, mais ce n’est pas ça”. In reality she herself had become a child, fascinated with play in a moment of utter innocence.
In the photos, three of five cards sized 2 1/2'' x 3 1/2'' are shown.