Friday, October 10, 2008

Fetish, (fĕt'ĭsh, fē'tĭsh), noun.

In one of my classes we read about a piece by Mary Kelley called Port-Partum document in which she self-describes her work as relevant to the "cultural fetish of motherhood." Basically, she makes little dioramas with pieces taken from her kid's childhood-- the first pair of baby shoes, transcribed dialogues, locks of hair and clothes, etc.. Yesterday Michele came to visit my studio after she got out of work and we talked about what I had up on the walls. I was surprised, at first, that the words she was using were reminiscent of Mary Kelley's vocabulary-- implying an erotic and fetishistic undercurrent my work. So I looked it up:

fetish, (fĕt'ĭsh, fē'tĭsh), noun.
  1. An object that is believed to have magical or spiritual powers, especially such an object associated with animistic or shamanistic religious practices.
  2. An object of unreasonably excessive attention or reverence: made a fetish of punctuality.
  3. Something, such as a material object or a nonsexual part of the body, that arouses sexual desire and may become necessary for sexual gratification.
  4. An abnormally obsessive preoccupation or attachment; a fixation.

We talked about the word in my class with Jordan Kantor as well, and concluded that it's one of those words whose definition has DRASTICALLY changed with the evolving social climate. Kantor gave the example of the expression"mission accomplished:" where the expression was once connected with victory and the moon landing, it has changed to be connected with the Bush war and our involvement with another country's affairs, and now it is connected to the shame of having failed at that mission and the failure of the current office. "Fetish" is a word that was first used commonly in the 1600's by Portuguese explorers to describe the relationships some tribal groups in Africa had with objects believed to have spiritual presence (I think it's pretty important to point out that they probably neglected to realize that the word could also be applied to the Catholic idolatry dominant in their own nation).
Today the word is used for objects that possess some sort of sexual aura for a person, a theory backed by our good man Freud. Here is his theory for the formation of a foot fetish: a kid is crawling around, looks up his mother's dress, realizes that she doesn't have a penis, looks down, sees her foot, and kablammee! Foot fetish.
I'm critical of the etymology of the word, but am starting to understand how a fetishistic relationship is in my work. I do believe there is a spiritual presence in objects, which is how I choose which ones I'm interested in. I do believe that my connection to objects comes out of a desire for connection to something, fueled by a little bit of loneliness. I also agree that the spiritual presence of objects could just be a perception of mine-- I like this picture I've posted because the mother is feeling terribly proud of being a mother, but her kid is totally out of it and obviously wont remember this day. The experience seems to be a relationship between two people, but it's really just the staging of one of them in what she believes to be true.
I would describe my interest in objects, my method of drawing them, and their occupation in how I perceive my world as a fixation. And I think that this is all terribly romantic and possibly problematic bias that I'm working with-- the marriage between me and the objects I own.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There's also the notion of commodity fetishism which I think makes some sense with regard to the work. This notion comes from Marx. In a nutshell it has to do with mass production of commodities and the shift that happens when commodities take on a life of their own (like a religious fetish, for example). Anyway, probably worth looking in to.