- Resonance:The Essence of the Playing Field
Postmodernism is not a style but the tumultuous consequence of all styles, the place where the chapters in the history of art and folklore are crossed with each other and with the new cultural technologies.—Nestor García Canclini
In the course of this essay I examine Panyard, a mixed-media installation created by Nicole Awai and Terry Boddie in 2001. By investigating both the formal elements of the work and the intentions of the artists, I explore how their work partakes in a semiotic dialogue with some of the grand narratives of the history of art and particularly how the piece is a prime example of postmodernity as seen through the work of contemporary artists. The dialogue represents one of the most significant elements in the creation of this work, for it unveils a significant exchange of meaning between the young artists and the art historical concepts articulated by their predecessors. At the same time, the formal language of the work provides an important approach to (re)envisioning the celebration of carnival through a sophisticated reconsideration of the language of visual signs used in aesthetic practice of the 1970s in the United States and in "authentic" celebrations of carnival in the Caribbean. Finally, the work constitutes a dialogue with contemporary culture, both literally and metaphorically. [End Page 32]
The stadium, the stage, the arena, the boxing ring, the theater, the velodrome . . . once the performance is over and all players and spectators have come and gone, these locations all share a sense of having borne witness to an event. The spirit of the performance, the event, the convocation, remains somehow wedded to its space, reluctant to give up its vested position as an event, an existence, a record of life and future memory.
With their installation Panyard, Nicole Awai and Terry Boddie reference all of these disparate elements and fleeting reactions. Their five-part work, consisting of drawing, photography, sculpture, and installation, is a lingual designator of visual meaning. Occupying the sometimes privileged space of the outsider, the two artists operate from a unique perspective, one that allows them a vantage point from which to "write" their discourse. The influence of various media apparent in the work, the multiple references to the history of art and to celebrations of carnival in the Caribbean, the aesthetic language and the tone of the narrative all confer in the creation of meaning. In this installation Nestor García Canclini's description of the "managing" of current life becomes apparent:
Cultures no longer are grouped in fixed and stable wholes and therefore the possibility disappears of being cultured by knowing the repertory of "great works," or of being popular because one manages the meaning of objects and messages produced by a more or less closed community (an ethnic group, a neighborhood, a class). Now, these collections renew their composition and their hierarchy with the fashions; they are crossed all the time and, to top it all off, each user can make his or her own collection.1
The rearrangement of hierarchies is particularly significant for our purposes, as the expression of carnival becomes the decisive factor marking the development of the entire work of art. The crosscurrents of cultural influences apparent in Awai and Boddie's work illustrate how their work borrows from an ethnicized and racialized past that has asserted itself, via their installation, in the present. This presentation of difference is mediated through knowledge of art historical practice and through texts inspired by particular rhetorical "statements" or art productions. In particular both artists noted their attempts to engage with the history of minimalism and to use some of its formal tenets in the creation of Panyard. As a formal expression minimalism represents an approach that is seemingly antithetical and, yet, deeply appropriate to the presentation of the fundamental concepts behind the celebration of carnival. As art historian Anna C. Chave notes in her work on minimalism,2 the supposedly nonnarrative element of this movement's [End Page 33] production was nevertheless problematized by its "associations" and that references to these associations are apparent despite attempts to read the medium as...