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some thoughts on context

The following series of photos – “The High Life” – is by the London-based street artist Slinkachu:

"The High Life" (close-up)
"The High Life" (medium shot)
"The High Life" (long shot)

Since 2006, mainly on the streets of London, Slinkachu has been “remodeling” train set characters, providing them with props, and arranging them so that passersby might see them. Up close, the situations are recognizable: semi-nude women frolic in a ‘tub’ (above, for instance), while a butler brings them champagne. But from far away (which in the case of a project this small means from a distance of ten feet), the situations are not only unrecognizable, but are also unseen.

It’s the possibility that these works might remain unseen that contributes to their pathos; in and of themselves they’re ordinary. Some of the works are ‘charged’ in that they present, without irony, situations that might trouble or offend us, but most depict scenes that are everyday – an old man painting, or a young couple on a picnic. They don’t announce themselves, or declare their own importance, which conversely seems to endow them with importance. The ‘tub,’ for instance, is a bottle cap, but the women don’t seem to know it. They are unselfconscious, earnest, having a good time. We could destroy them in an instant, or we could let them be.

Edward Mullany is the author of If I Falter at the Gallows, Figures for an Apocalypse and The Three Sunrises. He is the recipient of a Barthelme Fellowship from the Inprint Foundation. He is also the creator of the comic strips Rachel and Ben and Excerpts From a Boring Man's Diary. He has a twitter and tumblr.

10 thoughts on “some thoughts on context

  1. This entire concept is amazing; the understated nature = yes.

    Your last line here makes me think of a poem by Ed Ochester from his collection Land of Cockaign:

    “In the dunes a few chicory flowers
    pale blue, easily
    could be destroyed.”

    I’d type the rest, but the book is in my bedroom and I don’t want to wake my wife in retrieving it. Anyway, the sentiment is similar.

  2. didn’t laurie simmons explore this very idea of useing figurines to create situations within her photography?

    1. you’re right – Slinkachu works in a territory similar to that of Simmons. a difference, I’d say, is that Slinkachu conceives of his work primarily as street ‘installation’ art, whereas Simmons stages her work primarily to photograph or film it. another difference is in the mood or tone of their pieces. Slinkachu’s sense of humor is more immediately apparent, though he isn’t interested solely in making us laugh. Simmons is more disquieting. no two artists have the same way of expressing their preoccupations, even if their methods are similar.

  3. Interesting– I definitely prefer “The High Life” better than the other two. I like your sentence: “The ‘tub,’ for instance, is a bottle cap, but the women don’t seem to know it.” There’s a kind of campy dramatic irony to the piece which makes me think of Ashbery’s poem “Mixed Feelings.” Here’s the beginning:

    A pleasant smell of frying sausages
    Attack the sense, along with an old, mostly invisible
    Photograph of what seems to be girls lounging around
    An old fighter bomber, circa 1942 vintage.
    How to explain to these girls, if indeed that’s what they are,
    These Ruths, Lindas, Pats and Sheilas
    About the vast change that’s taken place
    In the fabric of our society, altering the texture
    Of all things in it? And yet
    They somehow look as if they knew, except
    That it’s hard to see them, it’s hard to figure out
    Exactly what expressions they’re wearing.
    What are your hobbies, girls? Aw nerts,
    One of them might say, this guy’s too much for me…

    1. thanks for posting the Ashbery excerpt, Michael…I love the inexplicability of the situations – the refusal on the part of both artists to preface or explain their works.

      1. Definitely. Speaking of context, I love how A’s poem begins with the line “A pleasant smell of frying sausages” and then veers off without explanation. Ashbery, I suppose, is the king of veering off.

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