Monday, December 11, 2017

Angela Sprunger I've Got it All! December 2017 The Ridges

Angela Sprunger's December 2017 performance I've Got It All riffs on Traci Emin's Polaroid photograph of the same title in order to say something about artists, children, money, and feminism. Emin's claim to fame comes from her excruciatingly intimate and personal work that explores her sexuality and working class identity. I've Got It All, a 43" X 49" C-Print which shows Emin, garbed in a low cut Vivienne Westwood Dress, seated spread-eagled on a red floor while attempting to gather a pile of British currency that seemingly spills from her loins. The photo/performance, made shortly after Emin was shortlisted as a nominee for the Turner Prize for her 1998 installation My Bed, a recreation of the artist's filthy unmade bed, in which she spent her time after the dissolution of a relationship, seems to speak to Emin's triumph over her working class background that included a single mum, a rape, two abortions and several miscarriages. By 2000, the year that Emin made I've Got It All, Emin had also "made" it as an artist, a rising star on the contemporary art scene and part of YBA/Young British Artists group. She really did have it all, her private life proving to be an unending source of material for art that garnered her recognition and monetary compensation. And yet, as blogger Holly Marie Armishaw suggested, I've Got it All also suggests that Emin's art work substitutes for children, something that Emin never wanted. Emin, who has been pregnant several times, never carried her pregnancies to full term. But she has realized her art career, a career that she thinks would not have been possible had she had children.

Emin was 37 at time she made I've Got it All, about the same age as Sprunger. Like Emin, Sprunger is also childless and an artist, but that is where the similarity ends. Sprunger is still a graduate student with a relationship to the art world that is very different than that of Emin. Sprunger's performance I've Got It All, a performance that finds its expression in the actions of the artist rather than an oversized C-Print, is, if anything, much more ambivalent, with pink plastic pregnancy tests replacing the bank notes and coins. There is an emphasis here on the materiality of femininity and fertility that backs off from the excessive debasement of Emin's version. Sprunger's I've Got It All is messy, but not overly so.  

The piece begins with Sprunger, garbed in a pinkish dress that resembles a hospital gown and seated in front of a matching pinkish curtain, rummaging in a box of "stuff" that eventually ends up strewn all over the floor. The "stuff" includes condoms, tampons, a timer, and pregnancy kits in individual packages. Sprunger opened the kits, wrote something that turned out to be "I've Got It All" on the back of each one, and then disappeared behind the curtain with a cup in hand. Reappearing with the cup a few minutes later, Sprunger dabbed her urine onto each pregnancy kit, set the kitchen timer, and waited. Once it dinged, Sprunger sat up, placed the kits back into the box, and distributed them to the audience.

Unlike Emin, Sprunger doesn't have past pregnancies (at least that we know of) or a lot of money. She had a hand-made, unhemmed dress rather than a designer dress. The pregnancy kits, all reading negative (although many of the audience members weren't sure how to read them), seemed more like a declaration of a willingness to be childless, in spite of living in a culture that is very suspicious of women who don't have children. At the same time, the pregnancy kits, a staple of those who are infertile, point to the outsized desperation of those women who think they don't have it all if they don't have children, and spend a lot of money trying to change that. There is a certain irony in Sprunger's I've Got It All--she doesn't really, but it doesn't matter, especially since she decides to give away I've Got It All to her confused audience.

At the same time, Sprunger's work also points to a rather welcome return to ideas about art making that were around in the 70s, when Rosalind Krauss wrote about the significance and originality of the grid in modernist paintings and Agnes Martin painted grid after grid, each new grid somehow saying something new about originality, the ideology of western vision, and the craft of painting. Sprunger is a printmaker, an artist who has dealt with the idea of multiples in the past. Previously she has made multiple iterations of milk cartons, perfectly folded so as to mimic the real thing, and colored in shades of pink, much like the pregnancy kits and accompanying props in I've Got It All. What is perhaps lost in the initial viewing of this piece is that Sprunger is continuing to make multiple prints--in this case, pregnancy kits with a negative result, her urine producing the ultimate modernist gesture--the line, which is stark and geometric in its unable-to-be-reduced-to-anything-else purity. And in fact the pregnancy kit, pictured below, is a rather interesting modernist construct--the pinkishness obscuring the wonderful and non-utilitarian geometry of what is essentially a dipstick for predicting fecundity, and, as it came out in casual conversation after the event, cancer as well.