Marnie Weber and a Giggle of Clowns

ImageMarnie Weber

Giggle of Clowns, 2009

Mixed Media/Audio Installation

A Wake of Giggles

“To be happy is a very dark journey.” – Marnie Weber

Currently on view at MOCA Grand Avenue as part of the museum’s Room to Live collection, Marnie Weber’s Giggle of Clowns introduces to its audience a modestly sized, somewhat clustered group of clowns loitering near a central female figure at heights wavering around 6ft. tall. Giggle of Clowns, aside from its initially macabre presence, presents its viewer with a sort of comedic melancholy that lingers long past its audience has since moved from the ever present glare of the sculptures’ piercing glass eyes. In her MOCA Art Talk, Weber briefly discusses each of the character’s histories that played a part in the ultimate creation of the giggle, or group. The incredible range of these stories spans anywhere from impaled circus workers to the ever lingering presence of the Spirit Girls, a group of female rock musicians who normally don lightly spray painted masks (indicative of their lifelessness) and wigs vaguely reminiscent of a cheaply made Victorian doll while never actually speaking (as seen within Weber’s film The Sea of Silence, 2009), on a mission to fulfill a never seen through theatrical rock and roll career. The installation of these clowns seems to stand as a reflection of a period prior to the resurrection of the Spirit Girls, as the group appears aimlessly static, surrounding what Weber dubbed to be the lead spirit girl, whose eyes remain eternally pried open, while her body lies bald, mute, and exposed. The central Spirit Girl, caringly positioned atop a table strewn with moss and flowers, lies still while slowly being engulfed by her surroundings, fixed in a state of embalmed purgatory while being put on display for her clown followers through what the viewer can only assume to be some sort of transcendent wake. Interestingly, when a clown dies, it’s customary for his and/or her fellow clowns to attend the funeral service(s) while outfitted in their clown regalia. Giggle of Clowns blatantly, yet effectively, utilizes this by placing a twist on the recreation of the traditional “clown wake”. The background audio Weber’s installed then reverberates the soft crying and laughter of clowns on loop atop a base of circus music. The 11 clown sculptures surrounding the central Spirit Girl, each maintains his/her own identity, while simultaneously conforming to the overall group identity of a circus clown. The material of the clown sculptures themselves, as Weber explains, are mannequin bodies, the majority of which are outfitted with clothes that have either been thrifted or purchased through specialized clown apparel retailers. The faces molded atop each of the eleven mannequins are heavily painted masks of the elderly, each holding within it two glass eyes. Each clown existing as an extension of Weber’s own alter egos, the clowns range in personality from the standoffish, worn mother clown outfitted with tightly wrapped hair curlers and a loosely fitted floral pastel bath robe to the more playfully interactive clown outfitted in a frilled blue dress, actively participating with the presence of the Spirit Girl corpse by coyly offering a bird cage containing a sickly grey rat. Interaction with the clowns, however menacing their mere presence may be, stands, oddly, less daunting than standing before the perpetually wide eyed face strategically hidden within the expressionless flesh colored mask of the lead Spirit Girl. The blank demeanor of the corpse alternatively serves to reflect that which gazes upon it, which may largely account for the unnerving sense of dread that arises from standing so close within its gaze. In relation to the Other and our own sense of identity, “if we are not faithful to ourselves, approaching the other proves to be impossible. What we could then experience would only be appropriation, leading us astray from what it proper to each world as well” (Irigaray p.8). Because of this, each interaction with the Other, or the corpse/giggle of clowns, differs greatly for each individual. While some may come to view the piece and proceed to distort its implications by confusing it with something only relative to themselves, others may come to find a sense of homogeneity between the sculptures and themselves, permitting the world relative to themselves, as well as the world relative to that of the work, a sense of cohabitation.

-April Baca


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