Carol Bove recreates an intellectuals bachelor pad from the late 1960s or Early 1970s. Without jealously, nostalgia or posturing, her coolly rendered installations thoughtfully represent the philosophical, moral, esthetic and erotic ethos of an era that transformed culture.
Clusters of vintage paper-backs, pristine period magazines and hard-covered photography books such as Ed Langes 1966 Nudes in Color chronicling his participation in nudist colonies, and volumes of back and white studies of lithe girls with Godard-like bangs or proud afros are neatly assembled on natural wood shelves with chrome and aluminum detailing exemplifying the eras penchant for sparse, pure Scandinavian design. The paperbacks range from the 1972 sociological study conducted by an undercover academic, entitled The Hippie Ghetto: The Natural History of Subculture, to Soul on Ice, Black Panther Eldridge Cleavers 1968 collection of essays. Hanging nearby are faint, ethereal drawings of beautiful girls evoking the clean skinned, big-eyed, sprites once found in Playboy, Hustler and magazines before plastic cuties became the pornographic ideal. In early examples, each girl was accompanied by Boves hand-typed transcriptions of her mothers recollections of the era that still defines youth. More recently, the texts have been pieces of literature from the period, ranging from the Ho Chi Minh Prison poem to a passage a paragraph-long description from Mark Vonnegut's diary telling of his mescaline-induced descent into madness.
Bove was born in Geneva, Switzerland in 1971. After graduating from New York University, she had her first solo exhibition with the Bronwyn Keenan Gallery in 2000. She has been with TEAM Gallery since 2001 and her show, "Momentum I/Carol Bove," can be seen at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston through Sept. 6, 2004.
Ana Finel Honigman: Do feel like you are establishing one consistent character who could inhabit your installations - say a suave, slightly cocky, grad. student studying comp. lit or sociology in 1972?
Carol Bove: What a funny question and a nice reading. I can't say definitively "no," because I do really want to get to know that person. But I don't want to create a phantom author or a surrogate, exactly. I think I want for every detail to feel minutely considered but for the authorship to also be so restrained and austere that it almost creates a void, too. Do you think that's possible?
AFH: I do, in the same way that a meticulously neat apartment seems occupied but not inhabited. Are you trying to maintain a sense of detachment because you are representing the esthetic and ideological concerns of an era you only knew second-hand?
CB: But, I did experience that time first hand, as much and in some ways more so than people in their 50s; for them it was the 'salad days' but my consciousness was formed in the early 70s, and as they say, the 60s really happened in the 70s. I think the sense of detachment comes from my wanting to create a contemplative atmosphere and to make space for other people in the work.
AFH: Which makes sense, since your work seems almost like a homage to contemplation with the books, displayed pictures and clean aesthetic. Do you intend your book selection as a "recommended reading list" for your viewer to consider at home?
CB: I never thought about it that way. In fact, I don't think I can recommend all of those books. Some of them are totally amazing and I want to share them with the world but I'm noticing that my art-making M.O. is usually: "check out this thing I found!" But some of the books are just interesting. I try to explain how they're interesting by putting them into a context.
AFH: And some of them are only interesting in context, as artifacts from their era, right?
CB: Well, almost nothing is inherently interesting. The more apparently boring ones are sometimes my favorite puzzles. I just think, 'why on earth was this so popular? It must be more interesting than I realize.' I have to fill in a lot of details about the culture that surrounded and appreciated it, in order to be able to appreciate it myself. I have to come to it on its own terms and figure out what it needs for me to reciprocate.
AFH: What have you learned about taste and trends through this process?
CB: That's such a hard question. I mean, I know a million little details about the period but I don't like to generalize. Maybe this is a good example of an interesting detail that could suggests trends: in Joan Didions White Album, she provides the packing list she uses when she travels for an assignment. It's very short - unfortunately I don't have the book here in front of me, but it's something like: bourbon, typewriter, yellow notepad and pencil, blanket, skirt, leotard, stockings, shoes. Then she directs the reader's attention to the stockings. She makes the point that with this uniform, she can choose to wear the stockings or not and pass on both sides of culture.
AFH: That is a very telling section but I was putting my question in more general terms - less about the particular time and more about the development of taste in any era. Do you feel that your work has helped you developed a keener sense of what defines an era's tastes and what trends become emblematic of an era's mythos?
CB: It's caused me to think of taste as an expression of group intelligence and to notice that group intelligence belongs to its moment. I'm interested in our group mind/consensus reality/spell above all, but it's impossible to see when you're surrounded by it. I probably have more practice thinking about the passage of time than a lot of people. But I'm sure whatever trends become emblematic have more to do with our current concerns than what actually happened and I try to leave our current concerns behind in order to be more receptive. So maybe the answer to your question is no.
AFH: Which is interesting since the 60s and 70s were also the time when academic discourse was focused on the way history is constantly being revisited and revised. Are you particularly interested in post-modern theory or does that fall outside the work?
CB: I'm interested in it. I wouldn't say that it falls outside of the scope of my work since my education took place at a time when everything was a text. It's part of my training and influences the way my thoughts are patterned.
AFH: What about the actual texts you display with your drawings, how to they relate, in terms of narrative and esthetics, to the rest?
CB: One thing about the text pieces is that I want them to have a particular "look." I guess that's really true of everything I make, but with the text pieces I think about the idea of making an artificial "Conceptual Art" patina. What has to go into that patina? Why is it so sexy? Type on paper is a good place to look for subtle aspects of "period eye" from the sixties because I think that, as a form of presentation, it was thought to have no content. Most of the text pieces probably correspond to my interset in instructions. I really love the instructions esthetic of the sixties and seventies because it allows for a balance and contrast between the form and then what's suggested. They can have a tone that's very austere and then, once you follow them; enable some far-out or intense mystical, or sensuous experience.
ANA FINEL HONIGMAN is assistant editor at Artnet Magazine.