Extreme size proportions as a means of alienation and irritation in English art and literature
Ron Mueck, Lewis Carroll, Jonathan Swift, Slinkachu
Pre-University Paper 2012 21 Pages
- Biographical background
- Mueck's methods
- About the artist
- Biographical background
- Personal life
- Mueck & Swift
- The differences
- Diminishment or magnification?
- Interpretation of Man in a Sheet by Ron Mueck
Seeing the bigger picture
Every child knows giants and dwarfs from fairy tales: Jack the Giant Killer, Little Thumbling or The Valiant Little Tailor. The centre of attention is often the contrast between power and powerlessness, the weak individual fights against the strong, superior villain.
In English and European literature, these motive used to be very popular, but later it developed in British art's tradition in a particular direction.
Jonathan Swift was the first author who portrayed the previously untouchable giants in a realistic way; his Lilliputians are the complete opposite of the friendly dwarfs one has got to know while reading Snow-White. He used the extraordinary sizes to point out problems of British politics and society; Gulliver was drastically shortened, censored and forbidden. Nevertheless, its offspring were popular childrens' books, although the work's true message was lost.
When Lewis Carroll wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland he made some drawings to make his illustrator, John Tenniel, understand what his work should look like. Tenniel's illustrations became famous because they support the text's surreal character in an outstanding way.
Apart from that, the book opened up a whole new dimension for children's literature. It was stigmatised as “nonsense“.
Against this background the figures with extreme proportions in the art of Australian sculptor Ron Mueck and British street-artist Slinkachu will be examined and compared to Swift and Carroll.
Both are certainly not the only artists particularly in British 20th century art , there can be found a great number of artists who use small-scale and large-scale figures as artistic means to display alienation and irritation. Some of these forerunners are Duane Hanson, Chuck Close or Jake and Dinos Chapman.
Mueck was born in Melbourne in 1958, he is the son of German immigrants. His father worked as a toymaker. In 1983, Ron Mueck left Australia and moved to London. Jim Henson hired him for his team of puppeteers for episodes of the Sesame Street and the Muppet Show. Before he became a sculptor, he had worked at the children's television in 1986. He was also responsible for the special effects of the film Labyrinth starring David Bowie. In 1990 he founded an advertising agency based in London, where he produced sculptures for advertising purposes.
Since he was committed to take all pictures from a predefined angle, he became dissatisfied and frustrated with this activity. He began to become interested in art. In 1996 he had the chance to prove his talent when his mother-in-law, Portuguese artist Paula Rego, asked him to produce small figures for an exhibition of her work in the Havard Gallery. After Rego's mediation he and the famous art collector Charles Saatchi became friends. Saatchi began to collect Mueck's works and ordered new ones. One year later, Mueck had his personal breakthrough when he made Dead Dad which was part an exhibition by the Royal Academy of Arts named Sensation. Today he lives and works in London.1
Hyperrealism is one of the most important art forms which emerged during the last 30 years. In contrast to the antique's idealism it is using the phenomenon of extreme proportions not to demonstrate power and wealth but to parody or alienate this kind of glorification.
Mueck also parodies the act of creation with his work.2 Although his characters are ultimately only dead objects, they convey the impression that they have a certain vitality. The same principle applies to the nations Swift presents. The mere fact that a nation such as Brobdingnag can exist next to mankind without being disturbed confuses him, since it does not match his image of man as the crown of creation. Gulliver undertakes his journeys with the aim to broaden his horizon. Swift strained this cliché, and he turns it into ridicule.3
When being confronted with Mueck's work the reader is going through another change: even if he has a particular distance at first sight because he is irritated by the extreme size, his curiousity crosses the line of the figure's 'privacy' after a short while. The viewer has the chance to cross this line without being ashamed of violating someone's privacy, even though the displayed human is naked. The viewer's mindset towards the medium is characterised by a change which is based on his irritation.
To understand Mueck's love to details requires a description of his methods which reflect the artist's effort.
The creation is made in several steps: Mueck develops his ideas with the aid of small plaster models, then he models a rugged figure using clay. From this he creates a mold and pours them out with coloured silicone or fibreglass resin. In the last step, hair and eyes are added. The high precision of details plays an important role in the realisation of the characters, because every wrinkle, every hair and every pore is shown hyper-real. Mueck seems to allude to the real life, but he breaks this relationship down again by the deliberate alteration of the size ratios. Babies and children are two or three times as large while adults are shrunken to dwarf-like figures. The real role models become abstract objects which open a different kind of perception for the viewer. The size shift isolates the character from its environment and focuses the view on what is shown in the centre. In Man in Blankets (2000/01), the artist displays a tiny old man who is wrapped in a foetal position covered buy a bundle of clean, worn rugs. These rugs seem to protect and preserve him. Mueck conjures an image of need for protection, of vulnerability and of a slow resignation.4
About the artist
Slinkachu was born in 1979. There's not a lot of information about his personal life. He is a British street artist, photographer and popular blogger. He is best known for his Little People, works that he installs since 2006 at various locations in London. His art has been presented in a series of exhibitions in London and Norway.
His installations display scenes with painted model figures (Little People), which he places in the street area of London. These may show everyday situations or accidents. For example, a worker who stands up from a manhole (Drain Guy, 2007).
He is also working on installations with many different figures and other objects as in They're not Pets, Susan (2007), in which he shows a man with a hunting rifle and a young girl staring at a dead bumblebee. According to the magazine "Art", his characters stand for the "isolation and loneliness in big cities." Another project by him is the Inner City Snail Project. It shows snails he placed in the city. These snails are equipped with miniature graffiti or other decorations. Slinkachu explained his outstanding fondness for miniatures in the street using the following words: "I like the idea that almost no one sees my work. For we all ignore, intentionally or unintentionally, much of what surrounds us in a city."5
Carroll was born on January 27, 1832 in Daresbury, near Warrington. At school he had to play rugby; he disliked the school's rules which were all catered to sports.
He also also had no sympathy for the precepts he had to adapt when he went to university. From 1855 to 1881 Carroll taught mathematics at Oxford University. During this stay he wrote several mathematical treatises, including Euclid and His Modern Rivals (1879). Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was released in 1865 and became instantly a huge success. He was known to be an extremely meticulous, reclusive and eccentric person.
The book helped him to live out another side of his character – and allowed him to rebel at least linguistically against the established order. The sequel Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There followed in 1872.
Afterwards he published Phantasmagoria and Other Poems (1869), the long poem The Hunting of nonsense verse of the Snark (1876) and the two-volume novel Sylvie and Bruno (1889-1893).
In Sylvie and Bruno one can no longer find the same eloquence Carroll used to have when he wrote Alice.6
His correspondence with children became public after his estate was released. Carroll died on the 14th January 1898 in Guildford, Surrey. A Carroll Museum exists in the royal castle which is located close to Guildford.7
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll is a book in which the extreme size and proportions are used as a means of alienation. The protagonist is admittedly a young girl, but she shares many similarities with Swift's Gulliver. She is always aware of her own size and she discovers similar worlds on her journey. These worlds have utopian attributes, but they are also the stage for scenarious which makes them look worse than the actual world.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland revolutionized children's literature because it opened the door for entertainment for its own sake while it was different from all previous children's books.
Alice's size is a symbol for her desire to distance herself from the adults. She is fighting for self-assertion. Whenever she encounters the animals and their nonsense she has to overcome her feeling of inferiority in a world of adults which is inaccessible for her. But she is not just an example for the human maturing process, she also represents a modern woman who does not see through the organizing principles of the world in which she is born.
The absurdity of Wonderland is not strange in a satirical way like Swift's world, it is intellectual.
It is not unlogical in itself, it only represents a logic which is different from Alice's. Like Mueck and Swift, Carroll calls the concept of normality in question. The creatures of Wonderland do not tolerate any disturbance of their world view and defend it by using their own logic. In so far, they are very similar to the Lilliputians.
While she is asleep, Alice discovers a world whose laws are manipulable. The time, size and even the reality is changeable by her.8
Alice lives because of the contradiction between normality and supernatural. The colliding of two totally different worlds, a 'normal' and an 'unusual' one, is a well-known basis for literary constructions in fantastic literature; it exists already since the Romantic period. But it does not appear in children's books only.
Another aspect of Alice is certainly Carroll's cult status in the drug scene. It is not known whether Carroll took drugs, but some of his scenes seem to be a direct result of hallucinations he had while he was drugged. These parts of the book are the most surreal ones and contain the passages in which Alice's size changes.9
The size is also an attribute for youth. Alice is still a young child and as such, she is easily affected and just as vulnerable as Mueck's creatures.10 The strange animals frighten and the atmosphere of Wonderland frighten her. She feels alone and helpless while being captured in a world that is too complicated and impenetrable for her. The size also expresses the despair she feels because of her inferiority compared to some animals. It's no coincidence that the book was forbidden in certain countries due to a misinterpretation of Carroll's anthropomorphism. Carroll supposedly put humans on one level with animals.
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- Kunst Englisch Ron Mueck Alice in Wonderland Gulliver Gulliver's Travels Jonathan Swift Lewis Carroll Alice Swift Slinkachu Mueck history art culture humour literature