Or If a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words, Here's Half the Picture

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  •  On the MMPI Series:

    In this work, I’ve appropriated text from the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, an instrument used to assess personality and suggest the presence of psychiatric disorders.

    In psychology, the transitional object is one that facilitates the move from one stage of life to the next. A prime example of this would be the blanket a child carries on her first steps towards independence. Likewise, the work I present here marks a transition to using the objects of everyday life. The statements made by rearranging computer keys disappear into the gestalt of the keyboard, and are only discovered and decoded by fingering a subtle shift of the angle of the keys, or under closer examination by those who ‘hunt and peck.’

    Unlike the keyboards, where the text was informed by the object, the idea of the dinnerware was informed by the eight different statements fired into the glazing. My thoughts were of the context where certain statements might come to mind and be left unspoken. In another way the plates can be seen as a talisman or a suggestion to the unconscious mind, invoking one’s hunger or paranoia (I have a good appetite or Someone is trying to poison me). This is in contrast to the utility of the glow-in-the-dark text on the T-shirt, where the wearer might be afraid of the dark, but the text’s luminescence would keep it at bay.

    With the fishbowls, the tanks are stocked with betas, known for their anti-social behavior. The text further anthropomorphizes them with thoughts and feelings. While the statements could be attributed to the fish (which are at least animate), that same ‘voice of the object’ comes from the sheets of uncut currency  in which ‘money talks.’

    While working on a behavioral research study that recruited STD-clinic patients I was given a set of cards that reproduced photographs taken as part of the Tuskegee syphilis study. They were to be used for their visceral impact, a last resort to cajole recalcitrant patients needing treatment. While some statements echo the voices of clients and clinicians heard during my four years working in a public health setting, others speak with the voice of our current ethical research standards. Additionally, these cards—printed by the CDC—reframe some of the statements from a pathologising context in the MMPI to something legitimate and true. This change in affect (one’s emotional response) also happens when ‘I am worried about sex’ is printed on the condom wrapper: the positive affect promoted by safer-sex campaigns (e.g. condoms protect me) is transformed into a negative (i.e. worry about sex).

    In eight sets of embroidered pillowcases, statements relating to sleep and dreams function like thought balloons. For the sets that have been donated to auction fundraisers, the winning bidder could pick one statement, leaving the choice of the second pillow’s statement to the artist. In practice, all eight statements were paired with ‘Many of my dreams are about sex.’ This way the artist’s chosen statement could be seen as creating a semantic shift to the statement chosen by the winning bidder: I wake up fresh and rested most mornings because Many of my dreams are about sex, or My sleep is fitful and disturbed because Many of my dreams are about sex.

    Working with the constraints of a preexisting set of statements, I have used this series as an opportunity to bring a wide variety of materials into the context of my artistic production. This work has also been an opportunity to shift the meanings of language and objects, and bring into question the assumptions inherent in a popular instrument for psychological diagnostics and its use to draw the line between the normal and the pathologized. 

    -Michael Buitron, 2006