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  • Exotica
  • Sally Grizzell Larson (bio)

We in the West have always felt the compulsion to collect and preserve artifacts of the exotic. In turn, we have been quick and efficient in transforming the once authentic into an artificial or genericized experience, often for the purpose of constructing the illusion of a personal sense of high style and worldliness. The journey from ordinary to seemingly exotic is often and easily mediated by a third party in the form of interior designers—purveyors of taste who reciprocate influence with the editors of the glossy publications that help shape our desires and set the tone for the unattainable perfection of this romanticized and self-gratifying fiction.

Unlike sixteenth- to eighteenth-century European cabinets of curiosity, which, with their specimens of natural objects more often than not elicited knowledge and wonder (though they, too, were an indulgent activity for the privileged), these contemporary domestic tableaux remain exclusively ornamental. The presence of an ostrich egg on a living room bookshelf might suggest trips abroad, but is in fact a prop, a department store purchase made for a client by an interior designer who has a certain "look" in mind.

Just as the drafting of a map can not only give an overview but suggest territorial authority, the act of transforming the domestic space into one with a fabricated sense of the exotic is reminiscent of colonial aspirations. In this instance, however, the colonization is achieved without the personal commitment of arduous physical effort or the gritty risk-taking of actual occupation, with real and often bloody resistance. The only investment necessary is financial. As a result, the original, messy colonial experience, for example, becomes abstract and marginalized to the point of inconsequence—an example of our taste inadvertently reflecting the history of our imperial politics. [End Page 96]

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Figure 1.

No. 3 (House & Garden, April 1993)From the series Exotica Lambda print, 30 x 23 in., 2004

[End Page 97]

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Figure 2.

No. 12 (Architectural Digest, July 1997) From the series Exotica Lambda print, 25 x 30 in., 2004

[End Page 98]

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Figure 3.

No. 63 (Architectural Digest, April 1995) From the series Exotica Lambda print, 30 x 26 1/2 in., 2004

Sally Grizzell Larson

Sally Grizzell Larson is a visual artist whose photographic work has been exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Yale University Art Gallery, and Centro de Cultura in Malaga, Spain; and published in Rethinking Marxism—A Journal of Economics, Culture and Society (University of Massachusetts, Amherst), and the books Photography Reborn (Abrams Press, 2005) and Writing the World: On Globalization (M.I.T. Press, 2005). Her videos have been screened at Anthology Film Archives, the Museum of Image and Sound in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the Berkeley Film and Video Festival. She lives in Philadelphia.



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pp. 96-99
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