Art Review: Elliott Kaplan
So I bet you're asking why I'm writing about art. I'm not sure, to be honest, but I couldn't sleep the other night and I ended up writing the following. I'm hardly qualified to discuss anything like this, but still I felt like it was worth posting. Hope you enjoy it. If you are interested in seeing more from Elliott Kaplan, head on over to his website.
“Can of Soup” (which you can view here) is a five-part series of photographs by Elliott Kaplan and was recently displayed in an exhibition entitled “Individual”. Elliott had this to say in terms of its context:
“These portraits of soup cans, the infamous sign of mechanization courtesy of Warhol, serve to further examine this line between the uniform and the individual. Each can bleeds a different soup, showing the difference between interiors and exteriors. The soup, however, is not unique: millions of cans of that same soup exist. What makes each can different from the others is also what makes it the same as others.”
The perspective that this brings to his latest exhibition’s theme of “Individual” is both obvious and important—it sheds light on the tenuous relationship between individuality and conformity. But I believe that the significance of “Can of Soup” extends beyond the relationship of each individual soup can to all other soup cans, creating multiple levels of meaning whose depth and complexity serve only to reinforce the theme of individuality versus conformity that Kaplan sought to capture. What makes this possible is the can’s reflective surface, in which we see a glimpse of the photographer responsible for the photograph.
This reflective quality is significant first and foremost because art, by nature, is an expression of the individual. Art seeks to make a statement and, though there are many ways within many mediums in which to do so, it is ultimately the statement and/or meaning that makes a piece of art personal to its creator. The statement is the obvious extension of the creative individual; indeed, without individuals, any sort of statement whatsoever would be hardly worth making. In a (hypothetical) society ruled by conformity and an absolute lack of individualism, any statement that could be made would already exist in the mass consciousness, ingrained in each member as a byproduct of the society and culture experienced daily. Art only exists because individuals exist—thus, art is inherently individual and the creative output of an artist reflects his or her individuality.
The can’s reflectivity is no coincidence and relates directly to this claim of artistic individuality. Working as a symbol of mechanization and conformity, there exists a sort of irony in the fact that (within the photograph) the can reflects the artist, or the individual. On yet another level, the viewer of the photograph, while he/she is viewing, can only perceive the photographer as he is channeled by the can’s surface—that is, filtered by a symbol of conformity. This intrusion of the commercial into the realm of individuality itself raises questions concerning how trustworthy a human perspective on individuality really is and whether or not there exists in everyday life instances of conformity mirroring individuality.
And so we have a soup can, which, independent of the soup shown bleeding in the photographs, is clearly a symbol of commonality—but, in its reflective surface, we see the artist responsible for the photograph. In short: an artist (or an “individual) reflected by a symbol of conformity within a piece of his own art (or his individuality, whether it be whole or partial, made manifest).
What further blurs the line between individuality and conformity, however, is the distortion of the photographer on the can’s surface. While the figure is undeniably the photographer, he is blurred and rendered unrecognizable by the can’s bent and textured surface, warped by an object meant to represent conformity. The true paradoxical complexity of the photograph becomes clear at this point:
An individual expresses his individuality by taking a picture of a common object that he has altered to make an artistic statement, but at the same that common object has severely distorted the artist. This cycle—from artist to art to conformity to skewed perspective and back to artist—reveals the true hidden meaning of the “Can of Soup” series.
What this cycle actually represents is the complex web of individuality and conformity we experience in our everyday lives, in any culture or society. He who seeks to assert himself as an individual only ends up getting skewed by abounding forces conformity. The symbols of conformity themselves are malleable, but are still limited (if only by their physical state) in terms of their expressive potential. The creator creates but, in creating, is created. In “Can of Soup” there are two artists—the artist outside the photograph and the artist within, trapped in the reflection of the soup can. The irony of this duality as a result of individual expression only highlights the constant struggle between individuality and conformity expressed in these photographs.
What Kaplan has done, then, is present viewers not with a definitive statement on the status of individuality in contemporary society, but rather with a picture of a struggle, a microcosm of the forces at work in our lives every day. Capturing this struggle so expertly, however, is an artistic statement (and achievement) in itself, emphasizing the inevitability of this paradox while, at the same time, bringing its own process of creation (as well as its own meaning) into question. A powerful statement—even a frightening one (Kaplan himself admits that he was not expecting to discover such an ephemeral and interdependent relationship), when one considers how far this complex web truly stretches.
- Dominick Duhamel -