Sandy Skoglund’s ‘inappropriate behaviors’

The first thing you would have noticed was the noise. The gallery at Rockford College’s Clark Arts Center was thunking and clanging like any factory in town used to, and inside were the workers manning the machine. Or maybe they were the machine. One slight blonde woman is directing operations, pointing out places that need more or less, and the workers have plenty of suggestions about just how to hammer so that the screws won’t pop out of the floor.

About 40 local artists had the opportunity to assist Sandy Skoglund with an installation last week that revolved around Rockford’s long and screwy history. (No more bad “screw” jokes, I promise.) Her concept: create a monochromatic blue living room with figures, all covered with several hundred thousand screws, in a single day.

Screws hammered into the walls and floor, screws glued on to a living room set, and screws glued on to blue figures inhabiting the room. Viewing the installation, you enter the artist’s strange world where function is reversed and becomes spectacle. An everyday scene made monumental by everyday things…are you looking into a living room or into space? The screws on the wall easily become constellations and galaxies that stretch into infinity.

The piece is distinctively Skoglund: part performance, part sculpture, and part photography. Her body of work is composed of similar installations on a grand scale of commonplace things juxtaposed in everyday scenes in a way that is anything but usual.

Daily life is invaded, its surface transformed. In doing so, the mundane becomes sublime. Her work may involve figures in a room covered entirely in bacon, swarming with synthetic squirrels, or swamped in popcorn. The photographs of her installations have become popular images, having a certain degree of commercial exposure on postcards and posters and the like.

By late afternoon, we are finished. There are many sore arms and smashed thumbs, and some volunteers have taken to the idea of becoming part of the scene and begin to glue screws to their clothing.

Skoglund gathers everyone into line for the performance: we will walk through the blue space we’ve worked so hard on, doing the forbidden, not just touching but damaging the finished piece with footsteps. I hadn’t known this performance was also part of her work. It seems wrong, but yet so deviously fun.

Skoglund had promised an interview, easily agreeing to answer just three questions. And she kept count.

TRRT: Which is the end result you have in mind when you’re creating your work: the installation, the performance, or the photograph?

Skoglund: All three are in mind. I love looking at the installation, this room, the screws. Having pushed ourselves all day and looking forward to the performance and interaction with it. It’s the same process for the photographs. There is an interrelation of medium, bouncing back and forth. There is a sublime, transcendent quality that I like to stretch.

TRRT: But it seems so wrong to damage art…

Skoglund: There’s a hostility in the process of making art, going through the struggle of creating it. It’s very satisfying to turn on it and abuse it [in the performance]. It’s a transgression.

TRRT: What common or repeated themes does your work share?

Skoglund: The overriding theme is spectacle, the spectacular. Often, I look at invasions and the natural Vs unnatural, like gluing screws with the points out or hammering them…inappropriate behaviors. Otherwise, themes are specific to each piece.

TRRT: Which is your favorite piece?

Skoglund: That’s four! I don’t have a favorite. But I’m always glad when a piece is done. I don’t like my work anymore when it’s done. I like going forward. Completed work feels like the past, I don’t dwell on it.

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