Chosen Artwork: Neo-Geo (Chundo and Battina)–
Artist: William Wegman
Found in: New School University Center Library (6th floor)–63 5th Ave
William Wegman, mainly a photographer, but also a dabbler in various art forms and an author of children’s books, is an artist best well known today “for creating series of compositions involving dogs, primarily his own Weimaraners in various costumes and poses” (Wikipedia). His work Neo-Geo, featuring his dogs Chundo and Battina, who were the offspring of his own second dog that he used (called Fay Ray) for his art and photography (following the death of his previous dog, Man Ray, in 1982), was created in 1993, and represents a work he created towards his late or more “modern” period, as it is closer to the present than the past. Neo-Geo, at least in terms of portraiture, is not a departure from Wegman’s past work, since most of his famous art involved dogs starting from the time he began to be recognized nationally and internationally in museums and galleries during the 1970s. (His work is now permanently included in museum collections– his dogs even made a debut on Sesame Street). However, the work’s choice of materials and thematic elements is interesting and is not something Wegman had tackled too often prior to this work alongside several others like 18, and Study. Having been done using etching instruments, the work appears, at least to me, to be a photo-etch on light-sensitive polymer plates that allowed the content of Neo-Geo to be replicated, almost exactly as in Wegman’s photography work with Polaroids, especially in the case of 18, and Study. Knowing Wegman was a photographer, the fact he came across innovations in etching technology is not surprising. All three works, compositionally, look nearly identical despite being done out of different materials– with photo-etching simulating the photo quality of Polaroid shots, something I find very remarkable. Getting into my own interpretation of the work itself (calling back to a thematic departure from Wegman’s work before then which featured humans heads being replaced with canine ones), I think Wegman might be commenting, at least on a superficial level (if not a subversive, deeper one) on the public education system in the United States. The two dogs, Chundo and Battina, that were used for the work, perform the role of students sitting in their desks learning in class. Above the dogs is a chalkboard with what appears to be heavily distorted, and contorted image of a map of the United States, which brings into question whether our nation’s schools are, likewise, distorting certain “facts” or aspects of America and how it is perceived around the world, and teaching the “distorted histories” and geographies of our country to children who must obey the system like loyal dogs– children who will grow up still thinking Columbus discovered America after “sailing the ocean blue”, that the Founding Fathers were “good people”, or that our country expanded without hurting anyone, rather than realizing the truth that the Vikings had landed on American shores centuries prior, that most if not all of the Founding Fathers were slaveowners, and that Manifest Destiny as well as the election of President Andrew Jackson were contributing factors to the near genocide of the Native American population, the Trail of Tears, and their continued desires to claim a land as their own, even to this day. The artwork also brings to mind the concept of geography– which is interesting considering the artwork is called Neo-Geo, as in Neo-geography. This concept of “Neo-geography” might convey the idea that our definition of what geography is and what it constitutes is rapidly changing and is more amorphous rather than static (borders between countries change all the time or are sometimes not rigidly defined), with the rise of the Internet and GPS systems and how we have become a far more global society than in the past, blurring borders and separations between lands and countries. The distortion of the US so that it appears more bloated than it actually is may also refer to distortion in traditional cartography and even in maps of the world, where inaccuracies are always present but especially in the size of certain countries or regions through the bias of cartographers or through simple distortions that appear when trying to express in a flat surface a spherical world. The Mercator projection of the world map always portrays Western countries and countries in the Northern Hemisphere as far bigger than the actually are, and far larger than those in the Southern Hemisphere, which has caused viewers– and thus students– to hold assumptions about certain countries as somehow being greater than others, evoking a sense of “geographical nationalism” as opposed to globalism. Politics, propaganda, and social manipulation are at play here, as well as psychology. Similarly, the Peters projection does the opposite– portraying Southern countries and continents as larger than they actually are, which has a similar effect on viewers in convey the “true” representation of nations around the world.
Mary Jane Smetanka and the staff of the Star Tribune had this to say about map distortion (source cited):
Smetanka, Mary Jane and Staff Writer. “Maps Bias our View of World, Experts Say.” Star Tribune, Mar 31, 1991. https://login.libproxy.newschool.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/418263055?accountid=12261.
“Map inaccuracies are one of the things that make maps political. “You can lie with them,” said Gregory Chu, director of the University of Minnesota’s cartography lab.”
They also said this, which is very telling of how maps can distort our view of the world:
“It reflects an East Coast mentality,” he said. “When they’re put in their real locations, the center of the country moves far west, and that’s important to people on the West Coast and even to us in the Midwest.” Complete U.S. maps show that Hawaii lies west of Mexico, not California, and that Alaska is a neighbor of the Soviet Union and Japan, Lanegran said. Those kind of facts change the way people think of the nation and its place in the world, he said.”
“Even the way maps are divided reflect a world view. Western maps usually put Europe at the center. That’s not true elsewhere: In China, that nation is the center of a world map.”
Neo-Geo is not just about our education system as a whole, or even about adorable dogs entirely– it may actually communicate our warped view of our country, and our world, through cartographical bias and map distortion motivated by politics and geographical entitlement or a sense of nationalism. And the worst part is it occurs not only in the textbooks of American schools, but in the schools of Asia, Europe, Africa, Oceania, and Central and South America– everybody having a distorted view of the world that places their respective countries over others. And we students have to listen to them like a loyal dog to his or her owner. William Wegman the artist, author, and photographer, might be more subtle in his art than we think, and thematically, this work in particular is distinct from his usual art.
Below are my images and drawings of Neo-Geo across four days for the assignment (one of them, shown above, is done on Illustrator in a minimalist style: