In Real Life is composed of two elements, a printed banner—an enlarged collage depicting a scene constructed of images appropriated from publicity materials for old movies, 1960s fashion magazines, a postcard from Yellowstone National park, and Disneyland advertisements—and an installation addressing drug culture, from its tools of consumption such as burned spoons to its mind-altering effects.
By appropriating these types of mass-media images, tools, and memorabilia, In Real Life focuses on the agents and technologies of what French philosopher Gilles Deleuze called “societies of control.” For Deleuze, societies of control are characterized by the constant institutional regulation of individual and social life. In societies of control, there is no distinction between working and consuming; mechanisms of command penetrate everywhere, becoming fully internalized; and there are no open times and spaces outside of an ever expanding sphere of network communication, production, and circulation of information.
For O’Connor, societies of control operate mainly through drugs and media. In her practice, she delves on the aesthetics of psychedelia, from its trippy colors and shapes to its behavioral patterns such as hypnotized states or forms of self-withdrawal. On the other hand, her work includes elements of Disney industry, from cartoon characters to its physical manifestations in Disneyland as well as national parks, resorts, and other archetypical American vacation destinations–this year marks the 60th anniversary of the 1955 opening of Disneyland, which O’Connor views as a paradigmatic space of total simulation.
For almost a decade, O’Connor has appropriated images from paper media produced during the 1950s and 1960s as part of an ongoing inquiry into the technologies and spaces of control and simulation. By titling her project In Real Life, a common phrase used in online communities to refer to the life outside the Internet, Kelly O’Connor juxtaposes her vintage archival imagery with current media slang, tracing the source of contemporary control societies to late mid-20th century recreational technologies.
In Real Life continues the main artistic strategies O’Connor has employed throughout her career, the defamiliarizing potential of collage and montage—practices that involve the combination, overlap, and juxtaposition of different realities—while raising questions about the parallels between drugs and media and their effects on contemporary culture.
Kelly O’Connor lives and works in San Antonio. She earned her BFA in Studio Art from University of Texas at Austin in 2005. Recent solo exhibitions include: Blinded by the Light (2014), David Shelton Gallery, Houston; Rock City (2013), Galveston Art Center, Galveston; Last Resort (2013), Women & Their Work, Austin; and The Rise and Fall (2012), Texas Contemporary, David Shelton Gallery. Her work has been included in exhibitions at Sala Diaz, Blue Star Contemporary and The McNay Art Musuem in San Antonio, and Ballroom Marfa.
Window into Houston is made possible with generous support from Jim Petersen, Jr. Launched in 2011, Window into Houston is a series of site-specific exhibitions commissioned by Blaffer Art Museum. Window into Houston takes contemporary art to the street to engage a broad and diverse audience in the creative process. This public setting provides artists hailing from Texas and beyond a unique platform for the creation of new work in response to the site and its location in downtown Houston and offers passersby ever new and fresh perspectives on the most recent developments in contemporary art made in and about Houston.
Image: Kelly O’Connor, Sugar World (2015). Collage. 30 X 90 inches.