Caroline Picard Educates Our Town

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Here are things I pretend to understand:

Numbers longer than four digits


The word hegemony

The difference between broasting and roasting

Twitter direct messaging

Why the Beatles are important

The problem with free radicals

How to tell time


I got to thinking about these items while reading Psycho Dream Factory, Chicago writer/artist and Green Lantern Press founder Caroline Picards gorgeous new book. In the introduction, Lily Robert-Foley writes that the stories collected within the volume deal with reappropriated images, with copies that destroy the original; that Picards work makes an explosion between the point of origin and the point of arrival, thereby opening a new space.

Im pretty sure Robert-Foley believes CDF postmodern. Here are my clues:

-this word pairing: copy/original

-gathering tension between my shoulder blades

I kind of assume everyone understands everything better than I mostly because whenever I call my mother to ask how to hard-boil eggs she either says Same way as last time, or How do you not know how to do this yet? But just in case youre similarly confused about post-modernism, when I spoke with the seriously brilliant Picard about her celebrity-sprinkled book and the show shes concocted in conjunction, I swallowed my pride (also my gum, but thats another story) and asked her to explain post-modernism. Turns out even those who function within post-modernism are more concerned with making art than labeling it. As it should be. Now if only I can find someone to teach me how to pronounce San Luis Obispo.

Our Town Give me a one-paragraph crash course in post-modernism.

Caroline Picard I will fail miserably. [A teacher] showed me a Derrida art piece. He set up a chair in a gallery. Next to the chair he’d posted a photograph of the chair. Next to that he’d posted text: “chair.” I think my teacher said, “This is postmodernism.” I liked the teacher because she was an angry old hippy who cussed under her breath; because I liked her I believed I understood. The truth is, I wasn’t exactly thinking about postmodernism when I wrote these stories. I was thinking about how you can take celebrities and use them like dolls.

OT You do, however deal with the issue of sameness, which is kind of postmodern, right?

CP I got interested in appropriating images and manipulating them. I was thinking a lot about Woody Allen’s movies, how–particularly in his films with young people (like Christina Ricci and Jason Briggs, for instance) actors imitate Woody Allen’s style of speech and behavior. In Anything Else, you suddenly have more than one Woody Allen-ite in every scene. When Ricci and Briggs talk to one another they reflect a similar neurotic affect back and forth. When that happens, I feel like the narrative of the story collapses; as a viewer I’m suddenly more interested in the directorial conversations that lead to this display of sameness than I am in the actual movie. I suddenly wonder about the actors’ freedom [within this] narcissistic Woody Allen fantasy. Also, a book I was reading about Michael Jackson brought up this idea that everywhere he turned, he saw some version of himself. In a car, he would hear his songs on the radio, at the grocery store he might see himself in the tabloids. What happens to “the self” under those circumstances?

OT Why do celebrities fascinate us?

CP Im into thinking about their placement, particularly in supermarkets. Theyre all over the aisles before you check out–so clearly as a thing to consume. Also they’re next to candy; these images of lifestyle connect directly sustenance. At the same time, the worldview perpetuated by magazines like Us or Star is really narrow–lots of white people talking about babies and the celebration or collapse of monogamy. Who got what new plastic surgery. I feel like celebrities also represent a particular and pervasive idea of success–one that spreads through other fields. Fame and recognition is a measure of achievement. The marketability of oneself is more important (in many cases) than the integrity of what is being produced. The actor is legitimized if he or she gets a spot on a glossy magazine. In a more general way, those ideas of success speak to a very basic desire to be acknowledged, recognized and known but that impulse has become commensurate with human capital. Something to be bought and sold. One sort of amazing example, celebrity perfume. You can buy J-lo perfume, or Jessica Simpson perfume. A kind of purchasing of essence to fulfill some deep desire to become them.

OT Tell us about the gallery show associated with your book.

CP The show is called “Happiness Machines.” I like to imagine the [titular] “Psycho Dream Factory” makes the “happiness machines” (i.e. the drawings). Its in Pilsen at a former funeral home [now] called Roxaboxen Exhibitions. The show has a ton of drawings of celebrities and quotes from Tabloid magazines; they’re made out of super cheap materials, none of them are archival. They are perfumed (like fancy Cosmo magazines). I set up the gallery like a dollar store, except the only stuff for sale are drawings and books. The energy drinks are free.

OT Yeah, whats the deal with the energy drink?

CP The energy drink is also called “Happiness Machines.” It’s another piece in the show–kind of like a drinkable sculpture– and the cans are sitting in a pile in the gallery. I was into the idea of incorporating another marketing/promotional object for the show. Making an energy drink seemed like an interesting way to accomplish that. It’s like a literal representation of marketing strategies. Putting that in a gallery context was, for me, a way to think through how those objects function in our culture. I love teas or drinks or soaps that don’t describe how they taste or smell but how they’ll make you feel–like Vitamin Water, or the Rock Star energy drink.

OT What if Im too dumb to understand any of this? What will I take from the book?

CP I have a basic belief that anyone can read anything and get something from it. If this book doesn’t engage you, then probably it doesn’t speak to your aesthetic. Of course, I want everyone to like this collection, but that’s probably unreasonable. Weve talked a little bit about how the narration can be disorienting, but I don’t think that’s because it’s “smart.” I just think it’s asking you relax and trust it’ll go somewhere. I feel like you read or hear poetry all the time and have no idea what shit means, but if you stop trying to “figure it out,” you can kind of just swim in the images. That can be pretty fun.

Happiness Machines runs through June 25th at Roxaboxen Exhibitions. Learn more here.

A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for a number of web sites and print publications. Her debut novel, Herself When Shes Missing,” is forthcoming from Counter Point Press. She is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicagos StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She’s kind of looking forward to it actually.

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