The Cold War – Sandy Skoglund

A picture speaks a thousand words it is often said. Even if we don’t hear all of them. Some pictures have more to say than others…some have over-much to say – others short, sweet, succinct.

A picture cannot be self-evident then? It can speak but it speaks in multiple tongues.

And in any case self-evident to whom?

Some listeners hear more, experience more than others do.To one a picture may elicit a warm fuzzy feeling of love and empathy; to another it elicits nothing they remaining cool and indifferent to it, yet another may have a visceral dislike to it.

One may be flattened in awe by it but another left feeling only existential ennui…

Each of us ourselves will sometime hear more or less depending on our moods and our current and passing preoccupations. Sometimes to our environment we are as a sponge, other times as marble.

Where we experience the art may also effect how we are affected – the company we are in, or if we are alone. We may respond better in a crowd at a gallery with friends and strangers or by ourselves at home with a paper print or online image.

But what about what we already know of the artist and their art?

Do you find knowing about what the artist thinks about it a help or hindrance? Do you need to find out what the artist says about their work/s first before experiencing it? Or do you prefer to experience it first without that knowledge only seeking out what the artist thinks about it afterwards?

The reason for these musings arise having happened upon a piece on My Modern Met about Sandy Skoglund called Incredibly Elaborate Non-Photoshopped Scenes posted up by one of their bloggers Eugene. The article presents a brief biography about this American artist and sixteen of her works. You can also access many more of her works on her website which includes video too, as well as a much more detailed biography/résumé.

The Cold Wharf - Sandy Skoglund

[Having read this again it seems I have deleted a few lines of text. This was over a year ago and I cannot remember now what I wrote but this is just to acknowledge that and the slight abruptness in the narrative of the next main paragraph!]

[Also when I first wrote this I was under the impression this piece was called ‘The Cold Wharf’ – I must have been very tired! – but have left the musing as it is for this piece was more about my impression of the piece itself rather than any objective reality pertaining to it. And I did later in the piece make reference to the cold war. Clearly it would have been a difference piece had I got my facts correct though!]

Though perhaps it was not that random and perhaps my sub-conscious and its silent hand led me to it above all others. Perhaps.

Like the other images though it was dominated by a palette of two bold colours. For The Cold Wharf these were red and gold. Or red and orange. Or red and yellow. Clearly I am confident that one of the colours is red at least!

The Cold Wharf has a sleeping man surrounded by an army of toy soldiers armed with toy rifles and toy guns. There are toy missiles too. These are many but all unattended. All of this artillery though is aimed toward the sleeping man.

Is he sleeping though or are his eyes just closed in fright, ostrich-style? He is prone on the ground but his hands are over his ears and he appears to have moved his head beneath the telephone table. Taking cover from the toy bullets, from the noise?

Are the violent images arranged against him real or in fact part of his dream, his night-mare?

Or where does this violence originate anyway? With him or with others? Where does his violence end and the world’s violence begin? Is this the violence of his own life – his mind, his home, his neighbours, his neighbourhood. Or the fictional violence of comics and books, computer games and action-movies seeped into his unconscious?

The violence visited from the second-hand daylight of his TV screen? The endless staged killings of crime shows and the common-place tidal wave of violence from news-programmes?

The violence of war and genocide and crime and matter-of-fact accidents.

Or is this a Grimm fairy-tale, the innocent play soldiers become sinister reality and about to turn on their Gulliver?

This image is a staged scene – everything in it I can assume is there for a reason.

Why is the dog there? Lying alongside him, so then the man’s pet and close faithful companion…mirroring his master’s actions, joining him in his doom.

And the telephone and its stand – are they significant, or at least have meaning? The telephone to provide a call for help, the SOS from all the violence. But it is inescapable violence so the telephone is redundant, a sign only of futility…

Do the colours themselves have any meaning – political or religious or other symbolism? Perhaps that depends on when the picture was taken. Red could mean China or the old Soviet Union, communism itself, and the reasonable or unreasonable paranoia thereof?

The gold makes me think of the sun and the red imagery of Japan so perhaps then the Rising Sun…I am assuming the prone man is American or at least Western then if I am considering his enemy to be from the East…he looks Caucasian but it is not that clear. Japan is now a friend of the USA but if this picture was set in the early 1940’s?…but then that telephone is not of that decade, far more modern than that. Perhaps it is a metaphor for the rise of Japanese industry and prosperity and the decline of the USA’s industry and prosperity.

And what of the title The Cold Wharf? Sounds like The Cold War but…

What do its words mean to me? Cold is obvious but the colours feel like a glow of warmth and of a radioactive heat at that, and ominously nuclear than solar.

The word Wharf though does not resonate with me… for now at least …

And what of this picture’s thousand words to you reading this post? You may hear similar words to what I hear but you may well hear something else entirely. You may indeed have no interest at all in what The Cold Wharf has to say.

For some that is the curse of art. For me it is its blessing.

7 thoughts on “The Cold War – Sandy Skoglund

  1. Hmmm. The comments are always interesting on your blog, Sam.

    This image to me, did not depict paranoia. Interesting, our differences. To me, because the person’s hands were on their head (although could be the same in paranoia, I realise) – but it just seemed to me they were trying to shelter themselves from what was around, but with their eyes closed, could not be seen.

    So in other words, they were in the war, and laying their head down, and putting their hands over their head, but regardless, the war still raged around them. And so it would be the morrow – still pointing at them, who had decided to walk their ground, and take up arms

    I’m not sure about the colours the meaning of the colours – except for red, that is.

    Art I have never been good at – never, NEVER been able to ‘interpret’ it, only ever been able to be impressed by it, or not. Sort of amazes me how people can talk about art, or wine, the way they do. They get it, it would appear, but I do not.



  2. I prefer the unimpeded/unhelped along visceral approach – the extra information can follow.
    That picture didn’t massively grab me – my mind wandered/investigated – he – I presumed the artist was a he – didn’t seem to use all the different soldiers from the pack – no lying down ones – maybe too hard to hold in place on the wall.
    The rockets – I wondered about the hours spent making them – toilet rolls – which brings my Granny (late Granny) to mind – she was a great one for collecting toilets rolls – the cardboard middle bits I mean – for any of her many grandchildren to use for craft purposes – like making those rockets. (I read later that you had noticed that the rockets were unattended – I guess they’re launched remotely or at least from a distance these days.)
    The man – awake – hiding – from the paint if he’s like most people – though I like the odd yellow wall – burnt orange even better.
    The poor yellow dog though – perhaps he’s part of the world from which the man has been alienated – his only interaction being with the pain or threat of the soldiers and rockets.
    Could it be an advert for paracetemol? Or a warning against drinking too much the night before – cos this is what it’ll feel like the morning after?
    Right – that;s enough aimless wittering for now.
    Like your blog though.


    • Thanks for your response and for liking my blog. Feel free to come back and witter anytime!

      Since writing this post I have had other thoughts about The Cold Wharf and realize I could probably use this thread as an ongoing discussion with myself! – however fascinating or not that might be for any one else browsing by!

      Your observation about my comment about the unattended rockets – I was clearly seeing them then as stationary whereas as you note they could be in motion on their way to deliver their fatal payload to the cornered man…


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